Last updated May 29, 2019
Amb. Yamamoto presenting credentials to President Farmaajo on Nov. 17, 2018 in Mogadishu.
By The Star Staff Writer
MOGADISHU — The U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yukio Yamamoto, who admits to be both “persistent and patient,” has nowadays taken on too many conflicting responsibilities. He’s trying to ostensibly help Somalia recover from decades of wars and chaos. He’s working hard to fight China’s influence in the Horn of Africa region. And most oddly he wants to economically integrate Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea before he, if possible, unites them in confederacy.
What a real pity.
While it’s unlikely that the Ambassador will achieve any of these four endeavors, one thing is certain: Yamamoto’s kamikaze mission to unite Ethiopia and Somalia will not only be mission impossible, but will also leave him with egg on his face. The Soviet Union had in 1977 tried this high-wire act and failed miserably.
Yamamoto’s ill-advised regional integration initiative has the potential to beget wars, famines, displacements and to impede Somalia’s march toward recovery. The integration project ominously seems to jibe with Ethiopia’s hegemonic tendencies in the Horn of Africa region – and Yamamoto is fronting to mask the real agenda behind it.
It appears that the U.S. has finally decided to get its real intention of creating a greater Ethiopia out into the open after a decade-long sanction on Eritrea and a quarter-century of chaos in Somalia failed to put these two inherently anti-Ethiopia nations under Addis Ababa’s tutelage.
The good news is, Somalis and Eritreans are not falling for Yamamoto’s sophistry.
During the scramble for Africa, Ethiopia had an outsized ambition of controlling much of the East African region, including Khartoum, Sudan, and of having unrestricted access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It even wrote to the Europeans to ask for their support to seize parts of Somalia’s coastline.
Ambassador Yamamoto made no secret of his support for the defective economic integration agreement between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohmaed “Farmajo”and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that allowed Addis Ababa to invest in four Somali ports. That agreement, which was unveiled last June, is yet to be tabled in the House for fear of tossing it out.
The U.S.’s support for the bromance between Farmajo and Abiy — possibly recommended by Yamamoto, who’s trying to ward off any Chinese encroachment on the strategic Horn of Africa region — is another big, U.S. misjudgment that will, in the end, backfire. Both leaders may not stay too long, as opposition against them in their respective countries is increasing by the day.
In Somalia, President Farmajo’s endorsement alone is not enough to merge with Ethiopia. The man is fast becoming a national pariah and irrelevant. After all, he owes his survival to foreign peacekeepers and is so powerless that his forces can’t stop terrorists’ mortars from landing inside his palace. His ineptitude has appalled many Somalis who once adored him. It’s in Yamamoto’s interest, therefore, to drop Mr. Farmajo like a hot potato – before it’s too late.
There’s credible fear that Farmajo’s polices, such as the stifling of critics who constantly question his competency, his hasty decisions to auction the nation’s offshore blocks and inability to fix the spiraling insecurity could spark off an uprising that would engulf the country and destabilize it further.
Like his late uncle, the former President, Farmajo will try to clutch at any straw to salvage his embattled rule. His desperation to associate himself with America is akin to Barre’s last gasp attempt to prevent his inevitable downfall. According to a 1992 Washington Post report, Barre offered Somalia as a pawn in the East-West rivalry. Trusten Frank Crigler, the U.S. Ambassador in Mogadishu between 1987 and 1990, said President Barre boasted that he had told President Ronald Reagan that he would “bring you Somalia” to “do with it what you will,” the Post reported.
Yamamoto, a career diplomat who worked in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, shouldn’t be the one buttressing a regional economic integration among countries whose people openly hate each other. He can’t achieve the unachievable by exercising selective memory.
Somalis must forestall any attempt by Yamamoto to help Farmajo prolong his term or string the Somali public along with unworkable integration agreement. The two Americans – one of Somali origin and the other of Japanese heritage – should come clean on the rumors that the U.S. is determined to help Farmajo rule the nation unchecked in exchange for a free hand to the U.S. to do whatever it wants in the country.
Ambassador Yamamoto seems not to be too fond of history. Or at least he doesn’t seem to care much about the fact that Somalis don’t trust Washington’s initiative of regional integration. Yamamoto deludes himself if he thinks that Somalis and Eritreans, who were never strategic allies of Americans, would believe his words at face value.
The United States can’t sweep Somalis’ and Eritreans’ concerns about the clamor for integration under the rug. Both nations were until recently sworn enemies of Ethiopia.
The seemingly good relations among Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea are but skin-deep, brittle and deceptive. There is little that can prevent these countries, which have little close historical bonds, common values or aspirations, from relapsing to hostilities.
Already, the border between Somalis in the Ogaden region and Oromos of Ethiopia is a virtual war zone. Eritrea has recently closed its border with Eritrea for security concerns. If there were countries that are unlikely to coexist in full peace, let alone integrate, they’re the nations in this region, which is a tinderbox that can catch fire at any moment.
On January 26, Eritreans expressed outrage after the Ethiopian Embassy in Britain posted a photo of Ethiopian fans at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon holding up a picture of a map that showed Eritrea as a part of Ethiopia.
Calling the map “erroneous,” the Embassy later took down the photo and apologized deeply “to all”.
Many Eritreans, however, read sinister into the post, with a Twitter user, Fthi, demanding that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “refrain from using inflammatory statements regarding” his country’s sovereignty.
“At the very least it is very disrespectful to #Eritreans to suggest that #Eritrea & #Ethiopia don’t need different” army, said the Twitter user, referring to Ethiopian Prime Minister’s recent suggestion that regional countries, including Eritrea, should have one army and one Embassy.
Somalis have already paid a heavy price for U.S.’s impetuous, security-focused policy, and if Washington doesn’t change tack, it will ultimately be the loser because Somalis, who endured and survived decades of lawlessness and violence have the tenacity and stamina to ride out all foreign-backed ruinous policies. Washington had already lost many Somalis, who once held the U.S. in high regard despite its catastrophic policies toward their country.
President Farmajo and his fellow American, Yamamoto, may dabble in their integration project, but Somalis, of all political and social stripes, don’t believe uniting economically with Christian-dominated countries – Eritrea and Ethiopia — is a viable and suitable recovery path for their Muslim nation.
If Yamamoto’s aim is to destroy Somalia, he will soon have the blinding realization that Somalis are not milk and water.
Somalis know how to defend their country and teach unforgettable lessons to aggressors. Somalis calmly take all their enemies’ blows on the chin and quickly give them a bloody nose, precisely as they did to Americans in 1993 and Ethiopians in 2007-2009. America – or any other country for that matter – doesn’t matter a hoot to Somalis.
By espousing unrealistic economic integration in the Horn of Africa region, Yamamoto very much seems to be testing Somalis’ resolve and nationalism, but the result could look more like tempting fate than testing the waters.
Mr. Ambassador, America doesn’t need to hold fast to asinine policies that time and again proved their futility and now threaten to cost it the friendship of a whole Somali nation.
Somalis wish to have America as a partner, but America has to first stop its vicious attack on Somalis’ unity, respect its sovereignty and allow Somalis create a real, functioning government that is at peace with its neighbors — not a part of them.
In 1977, the Soviet Union tried to coax Somalia and Ethiopia into a federal system, with the Ogaden region and Eritrea, which was then a part of Ethiopia, becoming autonomous territories under the new dispensation.
At the behest of the Kremlin, Fidel Castro of Cuba mediated between President Barre of Somalia and Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia in Aden, South Yemen, which was then an independent, pro-Soviet state. Castro’s efforts, however, came a cropper, as none of the two leaders was bold enough to publicly endorse his idea, much less realize it. The idea’s natural death came when Somalia waged a liberation war against Ethiopia to retake its occupied territory, the Ogaden region.
Like Yamamoto’s regional integration initiative, the Soviets mooted the federalism idea to see if it can unite two rivals, who were then in its orbit, to minimize their insuperable differences.
The best Ambassador Yamamoto can do as an old hand in the region, which is both realistic and commendable, is to ask his boss, President Trump, to appoint him as a special envoy for the Horn of Africa region to help Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti weather the very difficult transition period they’re going through.
Or alternatively, he should conscientiously focus on Somalia’s peace efforts and block out unattainable regional ideas. “We will go to Somalia and we stay there until we get the job done,” Yamamoto told Somali-Americans before coming to Mogadishu.
Somalis are waiting to see if he would make good on that promise and help them stand on their own feet once again. Or if the U.S. would trigger a new conflict, like it did in the recent past when it sanctioned Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia.
As a seasoned diplomat from an Ivy League institution, Yamamoto should have known better than to propose an idea that will surely sink like a stone. Laying oneself open to unnecessary criticism is not the mark of a sharp-witted Ambassador. It may be in Yamamoto’s DNA to loathe China, but he will not succeed fighting it through Somalia.
Mr. Ambassador, you cannot yoke together a menagerie of irreconcilable ethnicities in a new regional order. It’s a no-brainer. Isn’t it?