Is Larry André serving in the Best Interest of the United States in Somalia and Somaliland?

On May 26th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met to discuss several legislations. One item on discussion is one of the most consequential Acts in recent memory that will tip the balance of geopolitics and geo-economics in favor of the United States and increase its influence in the Horn of Africa—The Somaliland Partnership Act—and is scheduled for debate on the Senate floor on June 9th.

The Somaliland Partnership Act, with bipartisan support from veteran senators Risch, Van Hollan, and Rounds, is the result of Somaliland President Mr. Muse Bihi Abdi’s visit to the US back in March 2022 who was enthusiastically received by both house senate and congress leaders; this legislation and President Bihi’s trip were almost jeopardized by US Ambassador to Somalia Mr. Larry André who has been working behind to pressure President Bihi to delay his visit the US initially and when rebuffed asked if the delegation can to keep their visit as low key as possible in Washington DC; shockingly enough when Muse Bihi ignored Larry André’s unprecedented diplomatic pressure, the U.S ambassador to Somalia sought to undermine the trip by reaching out to Garowe Online for an interview to downplay the significance of the trip.

It’s important to note that Garowe Online has falsely claimed that visas were denied for members of President Bihi’s delegation and that the trip itself did not amount to anything as they were not invited by the United States government, a notion that Mr. André’s bizarre interview has reinforced. It is also important to note that decisions on visa applications are extremely sensitive and given Mr. André’s cozy relationship with the Puntland-based outlet Garowe Online, which has deleted its tweet bragging that they have obtained this sensitive information from diplomatic sources it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he may be the source of the leak of this sensitive information. Leaking visa-related information to gain political leverage is extremely dangerous and maybe something that the US Inspector General may want to look into.

Garowe Online, of all media in Somalia, is a shady and propaganda media owned by Mohamed Abdirahman Faroole, son and media advisor of the former autocratic leader of Puntland State Ahmed Farole, and current Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni. In 2009 Garowe Online media owner was given a free rein to crack down on political rivals and media and free speech in Puntland state; Further, more Garowe Online media spreads disinformation about Mogadishu and Somaliland’s ambition for recognition. This was followed by a non-diplomatic and never seen move by a sitting US ambassador wearing sportswear with the Somalia flag took a photo op with current caretaker Prime Minister Roble to coincide it Somaliland President’s high-level meeting with the US government in Washington DC.

Keep in mind Larry André’s aggressive campaign against Somaliland’s diplomatic outreach to the United States was happening in midst of Somalia’s last-mile election, which demanded his undivided attention. Sadly, the United States Ambassador, Mr. André who has been in the country for a few months, continued his media campaign by giving an interview to Voice of America Somali service, this time he went out of his way to send a message to Somalia unionists and nationalists by stating that America has maintained “One Somalia” policy since 1960, failed to mention Somaliland obtained independence on June 26th of 1960, five days before Somalia gained independence and was recognized by 35 countries including a congratulatory message from U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Christian Herter.

Despite all of this, Mr. André is intent on keeping Somaliland as part of Somalia despite his country’s reproachment with Somaliland and the consequential legislation working its way through the Senate that may lead to an important base in Berbera for US Africa Command.

This brings up two important questions; first, why is Larry André moving heaven and earth to block Somaliland from pursuing closer ties with the United States and recognition? The answer lies in his past diplomatic career; before Mr. André became an ambassador, he served as Political Counselor at U.S. Embassy in Nairobi from 2006 to 2008, infact he established the Somalia Affairs Mission in Nairobi in 2007, allowing him to be involved in several high-level meeting between US Department of State officials and the Kenyan government to witness two former Kenyan presidents advocate for Somaliland; at one point President Moi discussed recognition of Somaliland, while President Kibaki who was sympathetic to Somaliland situation suggested at the time to aid Somaliland to join African Union as an observer and pursue Somaliland recognition through IGAD countries- fast forward 17 years later and Somaliland is in a much better position and the path to recognition is gaining momentum and is being discussed in many important fora including the British, Canadian parliament, and even US Congress and Senate. This is problematic for Larry André, the principal architect of the defunct “One Somalia” policy which has not served in the best interest of the United States.

Somalia, as a diplomatic post is a career killer and any ambassador sent there is likely heading to retirement after his term is up, and rather than working in the interest of the United States, these ambassadors and diplomats superimpose their biases and interests to chase a mirage of a lasting legacy, which makes them act like colonial governors negatively impacting Somalia’s domestic and foreign policy, case in point Larry André’s predecessor Mr. Donald Yamamoto, who was the chief architect of the disastrous Ethiopia invasion to Somalia which he has later apologized, he has emboldened former Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo who has become a depot overnight who has melded intelligence and security services with Al-Shabaab and has been accused of murdering political opponents and waged an economic war against Somaliland Somaliland including the weaponization of aid and blocking livestock export that cost Somaliland economy an estimated 2 billion dollars, all the while being inexplicably obsessed with pressuring Somaliland to sit down with Somalia on a fresh round of fruitless talks.

The second question is would Mr. André stay on Yamamoto course and prioritize Somalia-Somaliland talks? during his Senate confirmation hearing, speaking in indiscernible generalities he said “ I will continue the work of Ambassador Yamamoto to bring to bear the full range of tools to help Somalis defend themselves and rid their country of terrorism” either Biden administration completely oblivious to Donald Yammato record of diplomatic malpractice or have 100% supported his actions, but one thing is for sure Larry André is following the footsteps of Donald Yamammato when it comes Somaliland-Somalia politicization; this was evident his recent interview with VOA Somali on May 26th that he was impressed with Somalia new president prioritization after his second meeting; despite all the challenges lie ahead of the current Somalia administration led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the new president quickly appointed Somalia drought envoy, and Somalia-Somaliland Talks envoy; the former is completely understandable since Somalia is in the midst of devastating humanitarian crisis, but the later appointment was likely on Larry André wish list and he may have pushed the new president to prioritize the talks higher than restructuring the security services to get them in a position to take the fight to Alshabaab.

From the geostrategic perspective, the Department of Defense’s interest in the Horn of Africa to deter China and Russian influence supersedes the State Department’s and especially Larry André’s ambition and whatever unknown grudges he harbors against Somaliland, this was evident when General Townsend’s visit to Somaliland is a sign that talks between Somaliland and the United States on the possibility of a US base there are a lot more advanced than either party is admitting and that the Berbera Airport is likely to be AFRICOM’s future base in the Horn of Africa.

After General Townsend’s historic trip to Somaliland, Mr. André’s most likely contribution was a statement that was later issued by AFRICOM that referred to Somaliland as the Federal Member State of Somalia and stated that it is dealing with it under the auspices of the Federal Government of Somalia and its constitution. AFRICOM later walked back the unnecessarily harsh language that has caused an uproar but once again, Mr. André’s rigid mindset on Somaliland and its independence seems to be set in stone even at the potential cost of a valuable military real estate for the United States in the de facto nation.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration is sending mixed signals when it comes to its commitment to keeping the Horn of Africa in its sphere of influence where the State Department is openly appeasing the Somali government by reaffirming the “one Somalia policy’ much like the “one China policy” while on other hand US government is directly engaged in negotiation with Somaliland to have security and maritime cooperation in the Gulf of Aden, which is akin Bush and Obama era US dual-track policy. These internal opposed views of the US government on the region and Somaliland has as one point spilled onto the open where the US Foreign Relations Committee come down hard on the diplomatic folks on their adherence to the obsolete One Somalia policy.

Biden admin or future US government has to choose either risk losing Somaliland, a Horn of Africa geostrategic partner that not only controls its demarcated territory (former British Somaliland), yet democratic and stable for the last 30 years but unrecognized or stay the course and pursue Larry and his predecessor Yamamoto’s failed adventures in Somalia where the United States, despite the heavy investment of blood and treasure, has lost all influence to China where it is reaping untold riches from Somalia. 

Somalia’s new government facing down the compounded effect of an emboldened and resurgent Al-Shabab and ISIS terrorist organization that has been checked for the last five years, while Somaliland, although stable, is entering a tough election year; such complex dynamics in fragile states require a deeper understanding of a lot of moving variables and an ambassador that is not tainted by the viewpoints of shady media that carries the political interest of select view. At this juncture, Ambassador Larry André is no longer an honest and an impartial party but is part of what ails Somalia in general and his obsession with the “One Somalia” policy to appease those who have recruited him to their nationalist cause and will most assuredly put the interest of the United in gaining a valuable foothold in the Strait of Bab-Al-Mandab at an extreme disadvantage and will damage its relationship with both Somalia and Somaliland in the long run.

One of the undesired and embarrassing outcomes of the ill-informed policies of the United States is an episode reminiscent of Iran-Contra where Puntland Security Forces who were trained and equipped by the Central Intelligence Agency have joined in the very piracy operations they were intended to confront and disrupt and have been implicated in the trade illicit arms that flow into Somalia and Somaliland from Iran and Yemen but also the main sources of instability in Puntland, this US taxpayer operation that came off the wheels was run from the US Embassy in Mogadishu under Yamamoto while he was cozying up to Farmajo and to date, Larry André has yet to address it. Just like a consent decree, the United States government and particularly the State Department should consider monitoring Larry André’s policy-making decisions, and ascertain it aligns with the United States interests and does not harm its foreign policy and relation with Somalia or Somaliland, two fragile states that are immensely vital to the to US interest’s in the Horn of Africa and Indian ocean.

Guled Ahmed is a Resident Scholar with the Middle East Institute and an expert in Horn of Africa Security and Development.