[Somalia President Hassan Sheik Mohamud at the United States Capitol in a bipartisan meeting with Members of Congress, January 15, 2013]
by Hassan H. Mire
Thursday, February 14, 2013
As Somalia moves to “sovereign nation-to-sovereign nation” status with the US as former Secretary Hillary Clinton remarked recently, we know that the “beginning of a new foundation [for Somalia]” is here, and it’s here to stay as the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh, said at his speech at Minneapolis Conventional Center. Somalia has entered a new-era, an era that will define its image as a sovereign State in the coming decades: An era that demands a new thinking of how Somalia conducts its foreign diplomacy abroad and at home.
The world Somalia has just entered is a complex world, a modern world where the old formulas and models of conducting foreign policy is no longer an option. It’s an era that globalization and technology has exponentially increased global interdependence in both security and economics and that has involuntarily pushed nations to closely monitor each other’s intents. Somalia isn’t exempted in this calculus. To give you an example, last year when I visited Mogadishu, I was informed about a job, a well-paying position for someone in Somalia. I was told that I could be paid around $66, 000 a year, if I am willing to document and translate what Somali Media, Websites, and Facebookers say about Somalia’s current state including personal opinions, for people who had an interest of collecting information for intelligence purposes. This isn’t an unprecedented case; In fact, it’s a common practice for countries to closely watch each other’s public discourse for matter of self-interest, and this makes diplomacy more complicated matter.
This multipolar world that Somalia has entered has capitals ruled by various men with contrasting interests who would scrutinize every door Somalia knocks, every bell it rings and ever papers it signs for their own selfish ends. If Somalia doesn’t diplomatically challenge these groups to secure its interests, it will always remain on the periphery. This reminds me the words of an old friend who said to me awhile back, “it’s smatter to bite the beehive than the bee,” in other words, don’t wake up the giant while you milk the cow. We live in constantly changing world that is too selfish and too sophisticated for our poor and tender nation to demand compliance from. However, by using what the political scientist, Joseph Nye, calls, “soft power” (the ability to get what you want without using coercion/smart diplomacy. In other words, “going-Chinese”), which is our only option, Somalia can achieve its objectives with non-lethal compromises here and there for the sake of a better future and peaceful co-existence with its neighbors and the world. Remember, as Western International Relations saying goes, there are no permanent enemies and nor permanent friends but rather permanent interests that every country pursues in international relations. This is what former Foreign Minister of Britain said to his government in 1822, “Britain shouldn’t consider the wishes of any other government, or the interests of any other people, except in so far as those wishes, those feelings and those interests may, or might, concur with the just interests of England.” This is still relevant today. In short, to get what Somalia wants, its politicians and diplomats have to comprehend the reality on the ground, and as equals with their counterparts, diplomatically strive protecting and advocating the interests of Somalia.
The icing-on-the-cake: the recent recognition by the US government, in a nutshell, opens the doors for Somalia’s national government to seek more recognition and more international support from other sovereign States and international organizations including financial powerhouses and developmental agencies. It ends the dual track system that the US activated two years ago to reach its objectives inside Somalia. This dual-track policy allowed Puntland and Somaliland to bargain as equals with the Federal government. Nonetheless, how the new Somali government uses this opportunity depends upon the inventiveness and adaptability of its diplomats and the sort of foreign diplomacy it pursues.
As practitioners of diplomacy often say, diplomacy means conducting relations between sovereign states and organizations, and the diplomats are the messengers, who in good faith, carry their nation’s foreign policy in far flung corners around the world promoting and guarding the interest of the nation’s citizens and government. Unfortunately, however, Somalia’s diplomats abroad mostly seem to be relieved from the character and the leadership that diplomats in the modern world are ascribed to.
It wasn’t long ago that I read an article that accused a Somali ambassador of extracting bribes from Somali citizens. The same people whose rights he’s supposed to represent abroad. Equally important, when I visited Somalia’s embassy in Beijing, China, few occasions last year, I was welcomed by a young Chinese woman at the embassy who said she was the secretary of the ambassador. She was the sole worker at the embassy beside the ambassador as she told me -- China has the second largest GDP in the world, and it is the number one investor in Africa and has the potential and means to assist Somalia economically, but yet, we don’t consider the embassy there important! And why does a foreign national work at the embassy and have such access? Then, there is that infamous incident in Zambia; don’t mention the bribes that we Somalians have to pay when we seek for business documents and identity cards including passports from Somalia’s embassies abroad or the ridicule we face when we present to other embassies Somalian passports. The lack of sophistication and poor judgment of the country’s diplomats abroad and the government at home, as it appears, is present on those different accounts above. It is safe to assume that this is a uniform practice across Somalia’s embassies abroad. Still I would like to believe that these diplomats are, unfortunately, the unsuspected victims of an old diplomatic culture. The reason why this is common for Somalia’s diplomats abroad is that most lack the basic sine-qua-non of ambassadorship together with their staff because their appointment, as the story goes, wasn’t based on personal merit but family and personal ties (whom-you-know-politics). Of course, there are those diplomats who deserve praise for their service for the nation but regrettably, they are too few to count.
So, what can Somali government do to change this pattern?
Foreign diplomacy demands secrecy, savviness, and people that understand of global trends such as politics, economics, ideas and social issues that are taking place around the globe. Diplomacy necessitates people with the knowhow, creativity, and intuition to lead the cohort. It’s generally accepted that aspiring and potential diplomats (the ambassador and the rest) need to have academic background mostly in social sciences, humanities. They are generally well-traveled, bilinguals, or at least well versed in the language and the culture in their assigned country, have statesmen’s personality, psychologically stout, are sociable, and have the courage to do what it takes to serve their nation’s interests. As the late British diplomat, Lord Palmerston remarked, a diplomat might break all the commandments in the Decalogue except the eleventh, which was, “thou shalt not be found out!”
Diplomats’ work is primarily to facilitate the diplomatic relationship between the nations, represent the citizens, and report general and sensitive information about the country he resides to his country. Most embassies these days have an economic liaison to help businesses, and technology experts to keep the NET info up-to-date and protect its networks from cyber-attacks.
The government, with consideration of increasing technical and the intellectual demands of embassy operations, is understandably hard pressed to find qualified individuals for diplomatic missions as well as the resources to facilitate embassy operations abroad. Recruiting is a huge problem. However, there are young, talented, patriotic and educated Somalis in Somalia and abroad that could be recruited and trained for the inner workings of modern embassies. To address the recruiting problem, technology could be the answer. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) could set up a website for a recruiting purpose. The Web could help the MoFA attract a diverse pool of citizens across the world without spending much needed resources for recruiting. This could help the MoFA to change its medieval method of “who-you-know” for recruiting potential diplomats. Accountability, fairness and trust should start at the MoFA hiring offices to give the agency a new positive reputation in global level. Louis Halle, an American diplomat in the height of the cold war observed that foreign policy of any nation is formed not according to the reality on the ground but rather “in reaction to an image of the world in the minds of the people making” those foreign policy decisions. If your leaders are inept and stupid, my Allah have mercy on your diplomatic decisions.
Diplomacy and our diplomats are Somalia’s silent warriors in a world where Somalia is mostly dependent on foreign goodwill and assistance. The third point I want to make is that every penny the government spends on its foreign relations counts, simply because Somalia doesn’t have the resources to have an embassy or a consulate everywhere even if Somali community lives there. Somalia has to be selective which nations and organizations it spends on her hard needed currency. To save few more shillings, MoFA should join embassies that are located in a close proximity with each other to save, to focus on prominent nations and missions, and to keep diplomatic missions in a manageable size.
This government represents something fresh, something innocent of past diplomatic mistakes committed by former diplomats. These fresh diplomats that are representing Somalia overseas and the foreign policy their government pursues are as equally vital to winning the war against lawlessness and poverty in Somalia in this multipolar world. Indeed their decisions will have huge implications on how the world perceives the nation decades to come. As matter of fact, in December 2012, the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) published its global guess saying in 2030, “no country – whether the US, China, or any other large country – will be a hegemonic power.” Thus, a smart foreign policy and honest, educated and clever diplomats are vital for Somalia’s success in international chambers to secure, protect, and advocate the nation’s interests abroad.
Hassan H. Mire
Studies Economics & Global Studies at University of Wisconsinmireh@my.uwstout.edu