President Obama Withdraws Nomination of FSO Katherine Dhanani as Ambassador to Somalia

Posted: 11:08 am EDT
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On May 11, the WH posted a notice of a withdrawal sent to the Senate on the nomination of Katherine Dhanani, President Obama’s nominee as the first U.S. Ambassador to Somalia in 24 years. An administration official reportedly told Voice of America that Katherine Dhanani, a career diplomat with experience serving across Africa, “turned down the nomination for personal reasons and that Obama will have to find another candidate.”  “She is withdrawing for personal reasons,” an unnamed administration official told AFP.  Could be the same administration official, telling reporters the same talking point.

WITHDRAWAL SENT TO THE SENATE:

Katherine Simonds Dhanani, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Somalia, which was sent to the Senate on February 25, 2015.

Ms. Dhanani was officially nominated by President Obama on February 24, 2015. (See President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991).  A month later, she had her confirmation hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC).  See her prepared testimony here (pdf).  As of the withdrawal date of her nomination, she has been waiting a total of 46 days for confirmation.

We don’t know what’s going on here but if you have to turn down the president for “personal reasons,” that typically happens before the nomination is announced and certainly before the confirmation process starts rolling.  What makes this even odd is this would have been the diplomat’s first ambassadorial appointment, the culminating point of a diplomatic career.

When Secretary Kerry made a surprise visit to Somalia recently, there was no indication that the then nominee was in his party.  What would have made sense was a quick confirmation so the nominee could have accompanied the secretary on his first ever trip to Mogadishu.  After all, she already had her confirmation hearing.  But that did not happen, why?

When asked about congressional and SFRC reaction to the Somalia trip, a Senior Administration Official told the traveling press corps, “I think it’ll be very positive.”

It’s so very positive that here we are barely a week after that Somalia trip and the White House has now withdrawn the nominee for the first ambassador to Somalia in two decades.

Was the SFRC upset enough to refused endorsement of this nomination that the WH has little recourse but to withdraw the nomination and start over?

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Secretary Kerry Makes Brief Stop at Mogadishu Airport, First Ever Secretary of State Visit to Somalia

Posted: 2:10 pm EDT
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On May 5, Secretary Kerry made a brief stop in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He is the first Secretary of State ever to visit Somalia.  He met with Somalian leaders at the Mogadishu airport but did not go into town. State Department official told the press that this is due to “a huge, huge logistical and security challenge.”

“The last thing we need is something to happen when the Secretary is on the ground. And I don’t think we have the confidence of taking him out of – off the grounds of the airport…

[W]e’re making plans to make our presence more enduring in Somalia. As you know, we announced a new Foreign Service career ambassador for Somalia, and once that ambassador is on the ground, our office will continue to be here in Kenya. But once the ambassador is on the ground, we’re going to have a much more enduring TDY footing in Somalia. We’re going to be there much more regularly with a bit of a – a bit more larger footprint.

 

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Below is a quick recap of US-Somali relation via history.state.gov:

1960 | Somalia achieved its independence in 1960 with the union of Somalia, which had been under Italian administration as a United Nations trust territory, and Somaliland, which had been a British protectorate.

1960 | Diplomatic relations were established on July 1, 1960, when the U.S. Consulate General at Mogadiscio (now Mogadishu) was elevated to Embassy status, with Andrew G. Lynch as Chargé d’Affaires.

1969 | The Somali army launched a coup which brought Mohamed Siad Barre to power. Barre adopted socialism and became allied with the Soviet Union. The United States was thus wary of Somalia in the period immediately after the coup.

1977 |  Barre’s government became increasingly radical in foreign affairs, and in 1977 launched a war against Ethiopia in hopes of claiming their territory. Ethiopia received help from the Soviet Union during the war, and so Somalia began to accept assistance from the United States, giving a new level of stability to the U.S.-Somalia relationship.

1980s | Barre’s dictatorship favored members of his own clan. In the 1980s, Somalis in less favored clans began to chafe under the government’s rule. Barre’s ruthlessness could not suppress the opposition, which in 1990 began to unify against him.

1991 | After joining forces, the combined group of rebels drove Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991. No central government reemerged to take the place of the overthrown government, and the United States closed its embassy that same year, although the two countries never broke off diplomatic relations. The country descended into chaos, and a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions began to unfold.

1991| The U.S. Embassy closed on January 5, 1991, and all U.S. personnel were withdrawn after the collapse of the central Somali government.

1992 | In December 1992, the United States began Operation Restore Hope. President George H.W. Bush authorized the dispatch of U.S. troops to Somalia to assist with famine relief as part of the larger United Nations effort.

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

A Marine sentry prepares to close the gate to the Joint Task Force Somalia headquarters during the multinational relief effort Operation Restore Hope. (Department of Defense/Joe Gawlowicz)

1993 | On October 3, 1993 Somali warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed’s forces shot down two Black Hawk helicopters in a battle which lead to the deaths of 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis. The deaths turned the tide of public opinion in the United States. President Bill Clinton pulled U.S. troops out of combat four days later, and all U.S. troops left the country in March 1994.

See Battle of Mogadishu (1993)

1995 | The United Nations withdrew from Somalia in March 1995.

2013| The United States did not sever diplomatic relations with Somalia. Through the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, the United States maintained regular dialogue with transitional governments and other key stakeholders in Somalia, and after January 17, 2013, with the newly recognized central government of Somalia.

2015 | In February 2015, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Katherine S. Dhanani as first Ambassador to Somalia since 1991. If confirmed, Ms. Dhanani will lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia but will be physically based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. See President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991.

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President Obama Nominates FSO Katherine S. Dhanani as First Ambassador to Somalia Since 1991

Posted: 18:17 EST
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We have not seen the official announcement from the WH yet, but on February 24, Secretary Kerry released the following statement on the nomination of FSO Katherine S. Dhanani to serve as the first United States Ambassador to Somalia since 1991:

President Obama, today, nominated Katherine S. Dhanani to serve as the first United States Ambassador to Somalia since 1991. This historic nomination signals the deepening relationship between the United States and Somalia. It also allows us to mark the progress of the Somali people toward emerging from decades of conflict. Somalia has considerable work ahead to complete its transition to a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation. The United States is committed to supporting Somalia on this journey as a steadfast partner. If confirmed, the Ambassador will lead the U.S. Mission to Somalia, currently based at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. As security conditions permit, we look forward to increasing our diplomatic presence in Somalia and eventually reopening the .

Traditional Hyderabadi marfa drum beaters await the arrival of Consul General Katherine Dhanani at the Pista House, Charminar. (Photo by USCG Hyderabad)

Traditional Hyderabadi marfa drum beaters await the arrival of Consul General Katherine Dhanani at the Pista House, Charminar.
(Photo by USCG Hyderabad)

According to her online bio, Ms. Dhanani succeeded Cornelis M. Keur as U.S. Consul General in Hyderabad and assumed charge of post in  September 2010. She has been a foreign service officer since 1990 and has previously served at US embassies in Georgetown, Guyana, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Mexico City, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lusaka,Zambia and Libreville,Gabon. She was also deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Harare.  She is a trained economist from the Kenyon College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She taught economics at the Grinnel College before joining the U.S. Foreign Service. During her tenure in Hyderabad, she blogged at A Diplomat in the Deccan.

Via state.gov

Via state.gov

Except for a Virtual Presence Post, the United States has no formal diplomatic presence in Somalia.  The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia last updated in October 2014,  recommends that U.S. citizens avoid all travel to Somalia.

Kidnapping, bombings, murder, illegal roadblocks, banditry, and other violent incidents and threats to U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals can occur in any region of Somalia. 
[…]
While some parts of south/central Somalia are now under Somali government control with the military support of African Union forces, al-Shabaab has demonstrated the capability to carry out attacks in government-controlled territory with particular emphasis on targeting government facilities, foreign delegations’ facilities and movements, and commercial establishments frequented by government officials, foreign nationals, and the Somali diaspora.  In February 2012, al-Shabaab announced that it had merged with Al-Qaida.

The current Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, James C. Swan previously served as the United States Special Representative for Somalia from August 2011 to July 2013, leading U.S. diplomatic, security, and stabilization initiatives that culminated in U.S. recognition of a Somali government for the first time in more than two decades.  In August 2013, James P. McAnulty was appointed his successor as Special Representative for Somalia.

The last Senate-confirmed ambassador to Somalia according to history.state.gov was James Keough Bishop (1938-) who was appointed on June 27, 1990. The appointment was terminated when the Embassy closed on January 5, 1991.

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