On Thursday May 18, 2023, the departing US Ambassador to Somalia, Larry E André, was causing a stir in Mogadishu. Diplomats from the United States have historically sparked controversy in the country, with relations with Mogadishu being handled from Nairobi for almost three decades after the fall of Somalia to warlords. However, Andre has been attempting to approach things differently during his year-long stint in Somalia, despite the usual conflicts, droughts, repressed media, and the threat of al-Shabaab.
Mr. Andre arrived in Somalia during a tense election season and had the difficult task of navigating a tightrope between the two countries. Nevertheless, he received praise from the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) for being a reliable ally and champion of journalists’ rights and worked hard to protect media freedom. During his stay, he criticized press repressions and granted interviews to various media outlets, speaking out on the importance of a free, responsible, and effective media for Somalia’s full revival. Transparency and trustworthy governance, he argued, must be based on a free media.
Andre’s efforts to combat repression were successful in some respects, but many problems still exist, such as the alarming number of journalists killed in Somalia since the establishment of the first Somali Affairs Unit, of which Andre was in charge. Of course, not everyone was happy with the American ambassador. Northern Somalia’s breakaway region and its administration in Hargesia publicly criticized him for calling the territory a “region” of Somalia, with Andre’s statements being regarded as “indignifying” Somalilanders.
Despite the controversies, Andre has left an impact in Somalia that may outlast those of his predecessors, who frequently ran into trouble with federal states and the federal government itself. Now, at the age of 62, he is retiring, having toured most parts of Africa and the Middle East throughout his diplomatic service. His replacement, Richard Riley, another veteran diplomat in the State Department, will have big shoes to fill.