Somalia’s Tragic Foreign Policy

The Tragedy of Somali Foreign Policy

By – Ahmed Roble     

“More than ever, foreign policy is economic policy. The World is competing for resources and global markets.”   John Kerry.

Historical Background

The strategic location Somalia lies in the Africa continent makes it in a constant competition and battle against world powers onto whom will win over and well beyond independence can be referred to the travelers like Vasco Digamma, Egyptian and Indian merchants and beyond. The Union of British Somaliland, and Italian Somaliland have also had a considerable impact on how the foreign policy doctrine will be instituted at a time the world was under huge suffrage on whether, the new world order will be led by a capitalistic west, and communist Russia with its allies.

The newly independent Somali leaders lacked a foreign policy agenda toward the world, as the last two consecutive democratic governments of 1960-67 had lost much on choosing the right ally.  A great deal of the success of foreign policy depends much on a harmonized, stable internal politics which Somalia as well lacked at that time. The government reshuffles, riots, grievances and adaptability to self-governance in the post-independence are good example on how the internal politics was rough which at last killed a democratically elected president and ended the era of democracy in Somalia.

The foreign policy of military dictator Siad Barre followed suit and was a disaster as one can refer it to a leaked conversation in October 1976 Mr. Henry Kissinger had with the de facto foreign minister of Mr. Hussein Kassim. Henry extremely denounces the hypocrisy of Somalia’s portrait on the non-alignment. The miscalculated and subsequent war with Ethiopia and Russia’s back-stabbing had critical consequences that can be sensed until today. The 21 years of military junta was a farce and catastrophic as huge part of Somalia’s state failure was the lack of foreign policy principles.

Foreign Policy as a tool of State-building

The political development of the Somali state is becoming progressive after numerous years of reconciliation conferences, peacekeeping missions, federalization, Aid and enormous terrorism and security challenges. The country is reforming as debt relief initiatives, institutions buildings and democratization is underway under the watch-dog of the international community. The Somali leaders are forgetting or either failing again on the significance of collaboration with the world not only on the war of terror but on the state-building initiatives such as rule of law, federalization, human rights and deepening the local governance initiatives to foster and establish the state-building from the bottom.

Somalia was always a melting pot under a hot contest due to its strategic geo-location and marine resources but the lack of commercializing these resources into economic and political means had always been missing. The Somali leaders over the years also lacked vision with clear strategy, and misunderstood that political legitimacy does not come from foreign endorsement or petrodollar but rather, from genuine reconciliation, and democratic elections.

It is with immense need that state-building, including the establishment of functional administrative structures, the completion & implementation of a constitution in all parts of the country and the building of police and military structures are all part of the wider strategy to secure internal legitimacy. However, internal legitimacy which means the elected body responsible of the state-building agenda should not be confused with democracy.

In the Somali context I believe that, elections and democracy have to have be owned and are meant to be a reconciliatory initiative which represents the will of the people. The power shift after every 4 year heals the grievances of the long dictatorial and civil-war era the people encountered and seeks legitimacy from them. That democratic culture and governance engages in constructive relation not only with the neighbors but also with other states in Asia and the West which makes it the external legitimacy responsible on the deals of external engagement or in other words foreign policy.

Somalia is an African State in multiple reasons mainly on the geography, but it is also Arab state as it borders in the Gulf of Aden, It is Asian due to commercial relations and the Indian Ocean, It is again Western due to the major Diasporas living in the West. It is an incredibly diplomatic capital and if materialized in the perfect way with proper leadership mindset can alter and bring better condition than the current.

The Leadership of the federal governments of Somalia in the past two terms haven’t materialized all of the above content of intellectual, economic and geo-political capital and the least of all the HSM & Farmajo governments have not stated their views on the foreign policy. The Qatari diplomatic crisis was a good example and an examining moment on the state of affairs of our foreign and diplomatic condition. It is tragic that the country also lacks foreign policy cadres, and we witness the activities of the self-proclaimed break-away part of Somalia {Somaliland’s to engage with Taiwan, Guinea, UAE and potentially beyond which is a deafening failure for our cadres to harmonize, and lobby with a core concept in the African and international platforms.

Port Projects, Oil Merchants and Foreign Influences

The Military base at Berbera-Port and the deal of UAE’s DP World justifies the magnitude of desire and international interest in the Somali waters both by the Emirates, Ethiopians and beyond it. The Ethiopian Premier had also signed a deal to earn 4 port projects with the FGS and launched a pact with the Eritrean and Somali leaders to make an economic zone in the eastern African countries. The leaders of the three countries had extensively travelled and met more than 5 occasions and verbally stated the importance of cooperation and peaceful economic development within the countries but the essence of the theme comes about when will the rest of east African states will be added and their agenda on democracy, and elections.

The maritime dispute of Somalia-Kenya is another critical issue which waits the verdict of the ICJ and upon completion will pave the road for Somalia to produce its hydro-carbon but that comes after many messy issues are examined, and lastly handled within the boundary of the diplomatic win-win solution. Certain influences are deemed to push a sullied solution outside of the ICJ which will annoy the Somali public. The marine resources in Somalia will definitely need international cooperation through foreign direct investment, resource mobilization and technology from world powers, oil merchants but only by winning the hearts and minds of the public and Turkish engagement is a good example for the rest of all interests in Somalia.

It is now evident that both the Somali elite & leaders have to keep in the mind that how you trade the geo-strategic location Somalia lies is matter of live & death in this accelerating, disruptive and competitive age. The Challenges of the Indian Ocean between China and India, The rising and ever-increasing military base in Djibouti, UAE’s military, and port investments, and diplomatic proxy war with Qatar in the Somali peninsula and the lack of exit strategy for the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia shows a deeply intertwined and a connected dots in a dark whole beyond African continent.

The Foreign Influences was always in the political context of Somalia as some scholars argue that a hidden international hand had always meddled the Somali affairs while some reach to the extent that no president haven’t succeeded without the assistance of foreign influences including Aden Abdulle, Somali’s first president who was backed by the Italians, and in this 21st century Somali politics a bundle of evidence materials support a great deal about that analogy.  The Qatari influence in the Somali politics showed an outcry from both the politicians, intellectuals, and the public so much so that a former Intelligence Chief asserted that “Somalia must save itself from Qatar “in the American platform of the National Interest.

It begs nothing more but the question of leaders with national interest and how to shape the a Somali initiated, owned and driven diplomatic principles to save this approaching election, and take it to the African, and international platforms that Somalia sinking into a deep whole not known how long and how much it will take to be taken out. The African, Arab and international influences are more than ever fierce and competitive than ever and growing with absurd agendas. It demands from the elites, intellectuals and scholars to gather and propagate this danger and provide an alternate solution to begin with the incoming 2021 elections and beyond.

Way Forward

It finally begs no evidence how Somalia with foreign policy/diplomatic doctrine can shape its future and play a significant role in the international platforms but this comes after assuring that elections and democratic governance is a key pillar for the internal politics. Somalia has achieved many milestones over the years but no milestone is more important than the nascent democratic institutions built in the face of astonishing constraints.  The idea of electing the FGS leaders every 4 year makes the country’s fragile peace-building and state-building progressive & developmental.

The incoming elections must produce leaders with agenda not only on the security, federalism and internal politics but viable agenda on the geo-politics, foreign policy, the bitter & never-ending rivalry on the maritime disputes, Somaliland and Amisom.  Much of the problems from the Somali politics comes foreign meddling such as the nowadays tired Ethiopia, Middle East and beyond. This election must bring out leaders with fresh ideas on where our interests lie, who are friends are, what values are driven by our foreign policy and how can we as a poor, third world country sell utilize our resources. What allies can we have in converging, accelerating, and peek era in our humanity’s history? Curiously enough, the incoming elections with its leaders have to glance back the faults of our forefathers and try to drive a lesson in correcting  all the wrongdoings and disasters of the strategic diplomatic mistakes in the past.

Ahmed M. Roble

Ahmed Holds MBA with extensive experience in Public and Private Sector of Somalia. He can be reached at