While everyone was busy talking about impeachment, the re-establishment of the US Embassy in Somalia popped into my Facebook feed. It will probably garner no real headlines or much fanfare. It is really important, because it might mark a culmination of investment into Africa, and perhaps a turning point in how we view that continent.
Africa has been left behind by most of the industrialized world. Although it was critical for trading, it just never industrialized like North America, Europe or Asia has. It’s been left in the dark and had its share of crime, dictators and poor rule. This despite its critical location, abundance of resources and a people that have proven they can accomplish a lot when not held back by corruption and crime.
Africa, if done right, is important. China figured this out and is trying to buy up Africa through debt-diplomacy, hoping to secure a future for itself. The US has mainly viewed Africa as a place to practice killing terrorists. That isn’t a long term strategy though.
Since we’re already in Somalia, let’s have a long term plan. Somalia has a ton of advantages. It’s right near the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits, a critical choke point for maritime trade. Somalia reaches to the equator and has a large expanse of ocean, which is preferable for launching satellites. Somalia has some pretty significant untapped oil reserves. It also has good beaches, game reserves and plenty of archaeological ruins that would attract tourism.
The United States should be taking our focus out of Syria, where we will only ever pour more money and get nothing, and into Somalia. Encouraging companies to invest in Somalia and using some of the revenue to rebuild the security a government needs to survive is a start. Building a Somali Navy that is dedicated to stopping piracy would prevent us from wasting US Navy ships on a relatively low-combat mission. Pushing academic institutions to invest in Somali education and archaeology will begin the process of building an educated society that won’t tolerate high levels of crime in the future.
Somalia, given a better start, should be a thriving long-term partner with the United States. Let’s hope we can treat them as such and walk down that path before China beats us to the punch.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.