Voice of America journalist Harun Maruf reports that Somalia today received numerous military vehicles and military hardware from China. Chinese ambassador Fei Shengchao transferred the equipment to Somalia’s Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur.
The Biden administration might as well have signed the check. Somalia is among the world’s poorest, most corrupt countries. At least 20 percent of Somalia’s budget depends on foreign aid, and that number is likely now larger after former Ambassador Donald Yamamoto spearheaded efforts to forgive Somalia’s debt to enable it to borrow more from the Multi-Partner Fund to which the United States is also a major contributor. The U.S. State Department and USAID have invested billions of dollars into Mogadishu, even as Somalia’s president Mohamed Farmaajo signed deals with China that might have enriched himself, but came at the expense of Somalia’s economic future and the ability of its own fishermen to earn a living.
Certainly, Biden’s team is not alone in its neglect of Africa. Both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump also largely ignored the continent. What sets Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken apart, however, are their studied effort to ignore China. When Blinken visited sub-Saharan Africa late last year, for example, he gave an address in Abuja, Nigeria, in order to outline the Biden administration’s Africa policy. It completely ignored China, even as China has ensnared many countries with debt traps and captured top trading partner status with almost every African country. Blinken’s omission of China was purposeful. It fit his pattern of embracing policies shaped more by a desire to do the opposite of what his predecessor Mike Pompeo had done than in calibrating policies to the reality of American adversaries. Ignoring China does not make it go away.
The situation in Somalia is even more dire. Because Farmaajo has focused more on consolidating his own power extra-constitutionally than continuing Somalia’s transition, he has often used both foreign aid and military assistance to undermine political rivals rather than conduct counter-terrorism. This is why, during his administration, there is a direct proportion between assistance provided and al-Shabab’s revival. China’s provision of military aid to Farmaajo makes the situation even more volatile given both Farmaajo and Beijing’s hostility toward Somaliland. Farmaajo is hostile because the region reasserted its independence and helped end his uncle Siad Barre’s brutal rule. China seeks to undermine democratic Somaliland because it has resisted Beijing’s blackmail and cast its lot with Taiwan.
Biden and Blinken certainly care about American national security, but neglect bordering on strategic incompetence matters. Money is fungible, and the hundreds of millions of dollars transferred to Somalia under their watch now essentially fatten the coffers of China’s military industries. The reality requires two major policy adjustments. First, it is time to reduce drastically American military assistance to Somalia. What money does go to the country should go directly to its federal states than to its corrupted government. To pour money into a corrupt system does not resolve humanitarian problems; it exacerbates them, increases terror, and may bring military conflict closer. Second, the United States should not repeat in the Horn of Africa the mistakes it made with regard to Ukraine across administrations; it is time to provide democratic, pro-Taiwan Somaliland with the means to defend itself against a Chinese-backed regime that seeks its subjugation.
WRITTEN BYMichael Rubin
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005