U.S. Mission Somalia on Ordered Departure of “Non-Essential” U.S. Citizen Employees

Posted: 12:26 am ET
Updated: 1:09 pm ET
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We understand that the State Department did not/did not put US Mission Somalia on ordered departure. This explains the absence of a new Travel Warning. Our understanding is that the post directive was for embassy U.S. citizen employees to depart, and not all American citizens. It looks like the U.S. Ambassador to Somalia is based in Kenya, so we don’t even know how many U.S. and local embassy staffers are actually in Mogadishu. When we asked US Mission Somalia whether there is an updated Travel Warning, we were directed to its security message of November 4 with a link to the January 11, 2017 Travel Warning, which specifically notes that “There is no U.S. embassy presence in Somalia.” The most recent Travel Warning for Somalia is actually dated August 3, 2017 which similarly notes the absence of U.S. embassy presence in Somalia. So who were actually directed to depart? Can post “direct” the departure of just embassy employees without triggering an update in Travel Warning? Wouldn’t that run afoul of the “no double standard” policy? Is this a case of folks just not knowing what they’re doing? Other missions in the past have restricted travels of staff members from various parts of their host countries citing “no-go” or red zones where employees are not allowed to go. But U.S. Mission Somalia uses the words “direct” implying a directive and “non-essential” which is usually used in reference to evacuations.

In May this year, we blogged that the @StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M. Also see D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years.

On November 4, U.S. Mission Somalia announced that it has directed “its non-essential (sic) U.S. citizen employees” to depart Mogadishu until further notice due to specific threat information against U.S. personnel on the Mogadishu International Airport. The order came a day after AFRICOM announced that it conducted air strikes against ISIS in northeastern Somalia.

The directive for personnel  to go on authorized or ordered departure has to come from the State Department. Also U.S. Mission-Somalia’s original tweet says it directs “all non-essential U.S. citizen employees”; note that the corrected one says it directs “its non-essential U.S. citizen employees.” Who does that exclude? Everyone not under Chief of Mission authority? But all agencies fall under COM authority with the exception of those under the authority of combatant commanders, or has that changed?

We don’t know how many State Department U.S. citizen employees are actually in Mogadishu but the solicitation back in May to pre-qualify firms for design-build construction services for the construction of a Somalia Interim Facility in Mogadishu referred to a “20- acre site located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound” with “currently” three firms working on the compound: Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group.

As far as we can tell, no updated Travel Warning had been released reflecting the departure of “non-essential” employees from Somalia.  And folks, if you keep calling evacuated employees “non-essential”, we’re going to start wondering what were they doing there in the first place if they were not essential.

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@StateDept Plans to Build a “Somalia Interim Facility” in Mogadishu For $85-$125M

Posted: 4:25 am ET
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The State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is requesting submissions to pre-qualify firms for Design-Build Construction Services for the construction of an Somalia Interim Facility – in Mogadishu, Somalia.  OBO seeks to commission “our nation’s top constructors to produce facilities of outstanding quality and value.”  The estimated construction cost for this project is $85 – 125 million.

This project — available for full and open competition — is the design-build construction of “an expeditionary unclassified cast-in-place concrete facility that will contain office space, staff and guard housing, dining facility, secure perimeter, guard towers, compound access controls, and also morale, welfare, and recreation spaces.”

The 20- acre site is located on the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound.  The announcement says that the USG understands that access to the Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) Compound is extremely restricted and therefore “establishing a presence on the compound to execute construction of the subject project may not be feasible.

There are currently three firms working on the compound, they are Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group. The announcement includes additional information on airport access requirement:

MIA Compound Access Requirement. Based on the site access restriction described above and the compelling urgency and need for the earliest possible completion of safe secure facilities to house the diplomatic operations and the people task with protecting the mission, firms being considered for award under this acquisition are limited to contractors with established relationships and formal agreements that reflect the firm is authorized access to the MIA Compound for the purpose on construction. To be eligible for contract award, Offeror shall submit documentation either 1) issued by the MIA Authority evidencing the firm’s already-established access authorization to the MIA compound to conduct construction, or 2) showing a formal joint venture or formal partnership/teaming agreement with one of the firms with access and already working on compound (Bancroft Global Development, RA International, and SKA Group).

The announcement also includes the following:

To demonstrate performance of similar construction work for Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986 purposes, the offeror needs to provide information demonstrating that it has successfully completed in the United States or at a U.S. diplomatic or consular mission a construction contract or subcontract involving work of the same general type and complexity as the solicited project and having a contract or subcontract value of at least $63 million. The value of the construction contract or subcontract offered to demonstrate performance will not be adjusted for inflation, currency fluctuation, or any other market forces.

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D/SecState Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz, First U.S.Ambassador to Somalia in 25 Years

Posted: 2:54 am ET
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Below is an excerpt from the remarks made by D/Secretary Blinken at the swearing-in ceremony of the new U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, Stephen Schwartz . The ceremony was attended by the ambassador’s family and Ahmed Awad, the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Somalia to the United States.  Ambassador James Keough Bishop (1938–), our last ambassador to Somalia who served in Mogadishu  from September 19, 1990–January 5, 1991 also attended the event according to the transcript.  Via state.gov:

Somalia needs leaders who believe in this future and whose legitimacy to realize it is beyond question. The hope of political stability is ultimately not possible without the assurance of security. We have to continue to degrade al-Shabaab and deny them safe haven in Somalia. As the date of elections approaches, the United States will remain a strong partner to the Somali national security forces and to AMISOM.

It’s precisely because this moment represents so much possibility, so much potential, that President Obama has chosen as his representative a diplomat of unmatched caliber and a public servant of unrivaled heart. Sober and idealistic – (laughter) – is how one of his cousins, who happens to be a good friend of mine, described Steve to me. It was very good to hear that he has at least half the attributes necessary – (laughter) – to be an effective Foreign Service officer and ambassador.

From his first days as a Peace Corps volunteer advising a cooperative in Cameroon through decades of distinguished service in the Foreign Service, Steve has proven that true leadership is equal parts confidence and humility. I know this because we actually dug up a document that he once wrote for his team. It’s called “How to Be a Foreign Service Star.” (Laughter.) Now, to my colleagues who are Foreign Service officers, there’s a lot of very valuable advice here and I commend this to you.
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Today we have with us the flag that flew and the seal that adorned the U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in 1991. While we work to transition or mission from Kenya back to Somalia, it is our sincere hope, Steve, that you will have the opportunity to raise this flag in Mogadishu once again.

Deputy Secretary Blinken Swears in Stephen Schwartz as the New U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken swears in Stephen Schwartz as the new U.S. Ambassador to Somalia in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., on June 27, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken swears in Stephen Schwartz as the new U.S. Ambassador to Somalia in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., on June 27, 2017. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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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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