Kenyan Ambassador: World Will Not Be Stable Until Somalia Is

October 03, 2011

Kenya's ambassador to the United States says the world will remain an unsafe place until lawless Somalia is stabilized.

Speaking at the University of Virginia's Ambassadors' Speakers Forum in Nau Hall auditorium Thursday evening, Elkanah Odembo said the international community is not paying the kind of attention to Somalia that it is paying to places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. He said if that does not change, "We are going to pay dearly for it."

"I would like to be quoted, that until Somalia is a stable country, the rest of the world will not be stable," Odembo said.

Despite lengthy talks about the unrest on the sidelines of the United Nations annual General Assembly last month, UN members appear to lack the political will to quash al-Shabaab, a group of Islamic militants seeking to take control of Somalia, he said. "You don't see the kind of commitment, the political will to help Somalia to become a stable government. It's just not happening and I don't understand why.

"If we are going to such lengths to hunt for al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we need to go to great lengths to look for people who are going to cause terror around the world in Yemen and also in Somalia." Anwar al-Awlaki, a major al Qaeda figure who U.S. officials say inspired several terror plots against the U.S., was killed last week in Yemen in a CIA drone strike,

Somalia has lacked a central government since 1991, when civil war put an end to the government of Mohamed Siad Barre.

In addition to the lawless situation gripping much of the country, Somalia is suffering from a crippling famine and drought, its second in 25 years. The United Nations warns that 750,000 people could die by December without immediate intervention.

Neighboring Kenya has kept its borders open to Somalis seeking better conditions and now hosts the largest refugee camp in the world. "Dadaab Refugee Camp was meant to hold 80,000 refugees. As of last week, we have 570,000," Odembo said.

Kenya has thus far resisted internal pressure to close the camp. "We have been categorical that we will not close our borders and turn our backs to people who are fleeing a situation that is not of their making, 80 percent of whom are women and children and completely helpless," Odembo said to a round of applause.

His country is advocating that additional refugee camps be established in parts of Somalia "where we are now able to control the violence … because it is becoming not so sustainable for Kenya" to continue to house refugees, thousands of whom enter Kenya each day, he said.

Kenya has taken the position that Somalia should be divided into four autonomous regions with a transitional federal government that would be strengthened and enhanced, he said.

The ambassador said in the last 10 years, the African continent has made great strides economically by paying more attention to creating strong, regional economic blocs. "We have come to terms with the fact that with globalization and the global economy, Africa really does not stand a chance until and unless it positions Africa as a continent with all our resources, capabilities and capacities," he said.

Odembo was introduced by College of Arts & Sciences Dean Meredith Jung-En Woo, a classmate at Bowdoin College in the 1970s. Referring to him as "Eli," his college nickname, Woo reminisced about "how two kids, one from Korea, one from Kenya, can wind up on the southern coast of Maine, and then 30 years later, I'm a dean introducing an ambassador. We've done OK, Eli," the dean said with a smile.

The Ambassadors' Speakers Forum is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs. Switzerland's deputy chief of mission, Guillaume Scheurer, will speak Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. in the Dome Room of the Rotunda.

— By Jane Kelly

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications