U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) spoke this week at a daylong conference on Somalia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Senator Feingold—the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs—recognized the difficult situation in Somalia and expressed “optimism for a positive Somali future” in light of new developments both on the ground in Somalia and in the international community’s relationship with the country.
The senator’s policy recommendations were firmly in line with those outlined by noted Somalia expert and Davidson College professor Ken Menkaus in his latest strategy paper for Enough; both Senator Feingold and Professor Menkhaus emphasized the imperative of rebuilding the trust of Somalis toward the United States in light of the damage caused by the Bush administration’s failed policies in the Horn of Africa. During his own remarks in a subsequent panel, Menkhaus asserted that one way to build trust is by supporting the creation of a conducive and open environment in which political processes driven by Somali actors can develop. Menkhaus stressed that the Obama administration should set an example for other key actors by not imposing solutions or “templates” on Somalia. Instead, outside actors can encourage inclusive political dialogue and support capacity building at all levels of government, which could later allow for improved U.S. engagement in Somalia.
Enough’s John Prendergast also spoke at the conference, outlining options for U.S. and international engagement. In 2007, Prendergast and Enough’s Colin Thomas-Jensen authored this Foreign Affairs article on U.S. policy in the Horn. Tragically, the situation in Somalia only deteriorated further in the past two years. All of the experts at the CSIS conference agreed that it is time for a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward the Horn of Africa.
Watch a video of today’s conference, it should be available here soon.