Wednesday afternoon, a policy talk titled “U.S. Military and Counter-Terrorism in Africa: Is Anybody Watching?” took place in Annenberg Auditorium in front of about 50 students. The event was co-sponsored by Wallace House and the Ford School of Public Policy and discussed U.S. policies and strategies for state building in Somalia, as well as the lack of media coverage for Africa in America.
New York Times reporter Christina Goldbaum and Bronwyn Bruton, director of programs and studies and deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, spoke on the panel, which was moderated by John Ciorciari, associate professor of public policy and director of Ford School’s International Policy center and Weiser Diplomacy Center.
The event opened with remarks from the Director of Wallace House Lynette Clemetson, who introduced Goldbaum and her story which exposed a U.S. military raid alleged to have resulted in the death of 10 Somali civilians.
“Christina’s meticulous work won her the 2017 Livingston Award for international reporting,” Clemetson said. “She won for a series she wrote for the Daily Beast, in which she pieced together the details of a deadly, U.S. special force raid on a farm. That raid on August 25, 2017 became the most controversial operation since the infamous Black Hawk Down.”
Livingston Awards are American journalism awards at the University of Michigan given to young media professionals for local, national and international reporting. They are widely considered the largest general reporting awards in America.
Goldbaum illustrated her experiences when she first began reporting in Mogadishu, Somalia.
“I have been a journalist based in Nairobi for a couple of years when beginning of 2017 I decided to base myself in Mogadishu,” Goldbaum said. “As you said, I was the only Western journalist who were there, you might see someone who were there and who were bilingual and says they are the Africa correspondent for some network, and those are probably the only staffers in that region.”
Goldbaum said she started the investigation on her award-winning series after hearing about a Somali protest taking place in the nearby villages.
“They had this massive protest,” Goldbaum said. “Hundreds of people came to the town to demand justice and accountability for the operations that happened. I know this was something different, at least, so for a journalist, I thought this is something that’s worth looking into. So I did my investigation.”
What Goldbaum found in her investigation was ten Somali civilians were mistaken as Al-Shabaab militia, a jihadist fundamental group based in East Africa, and were massacred by United States Army Special Forces, which eventually led to her series.
Ciociari summarized the issues Somalia faces today and the challenges America faces in interfering with those problems.
“We got the question about what makes U.S. an ally to the Somali government,” Ciociari said. “How effective? What makes it lawful? What makes it legitimate? We also got questions about how to best advance prosperity and general welfare in a country in conflict like Somalia.”
Bruton explained the U.S. policies and historical development in the past decades that have led to the conflicts and chaos in Somalia today.
Bruton started with the Black Hawk Down operation and explained the general sentiment of fear against Somalia in the U.S., which was amplified by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and eventually led to a U.S.-sponsored invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia.
Bruton said she believes the U.S. invasion was the major cause of the emergence of Al-Shabaab.
“Like the government (Al-Shabaab) delivers services,” Bruton said. “It delivers humanitarian reliefs, it collects taxes and it offers legal force in the area it controls. Over the years, Al-Shabaab has grown rapidly from a small contingent group of young men into effectively the governing authority of Somalia. We classify it as an insurgency, which is absurd.”
Bruton said the U.S. policy in Somalia is to support a government which has been rated the most corrupted in the world and cannot survive after the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces from Somalia, alongside with seeking airstriking large Al-Shabaab large gatherings.
“Most people killed in these drone strikes are teenagers,” Goldbaum said. “What is the long term effect of that? People are not asking that question.”
Goldbaum and Bruton both agreed the state building effort in Somalia by the United States has been proven to be a failure due to instability and corruption.
“In Mogadishu, the Somali government can’t collect taxes,” Goldbaum said. “But there were massive bribes being paid. During the election in 2016 there were planes filled with money being flown in to pay off seats in parliament, which creates policy inertia in Mogadishu. That is the American presence Somali people see — what they don’t see is any legitimate effort of state-building.”
Bruton said the U.S. may not be the best partner to help Somalia in restoring stability. She thinks the best choice is to let Somalia solve the problem on its own.
“Since 1991 there has been numerous efforts of state building by the U.S. and other western countries but all failed” Bruton said. “Al-Shabaab succeeded because it did not try to build a secular government, what Al-Shabaab is done is an incredibly fluid structure, as fluid as the clan. This is not what the U.S. does, and we should stop trying.”
Another alternative solution Bruton proposed is to partner gulf nations with Somalia.
“Many gulf states had long trade history with Somalia,” Bruton said. “And they don’t have the sentimental package Americans carry about Islam.”
LSA sophomore Katherine Nachazel told The Daily after the event that she found Bruton’s proposals interesting and surprising.
“So we talked about the potential of having a coalition to aid Somalia and who should lead it,” Nachazeo said. “I think it is really interesting that Bruton said that it should be something that should come Somalia itself, or the potential partnership with the gulf states. That’s something I would have never thought of. It was a new perspective I haven’t thought about before.”
LSA junior Aaron Orelowitz also agreed and told The Daily Bruton’s proposal of disengagement was refreshing and important to hear.
“It is definitely a hard pill to swallow when it comes to U.S. diplomacy,” Orelowitz said. “Our administration isn’t thinking about that at all, it is important to hear that there are certain situations where the U.S. can’t be fully engaged and expect better results.”
The event ended with the panel addressing the question regarding the next steps for the U.S. Goldbaum said she cannot imagine the U.S. pulling out anytime soon.
“It’s hard to imagine the U.S. pulling out all the resources,” Goldbaum said. “The U.S. has been so entangled to imagine a scenario which America can leave yet there is a functional military. Even the Somali President is a U.S. Citizen.”