Speaker: U.S. working to help Somalia, Kenya overcome challenges


LEWISTON — Kenya and Somalia may share a border, but the two East African countries have few similarities.

That’s part of the challenges facing the United States in that region of the world, said Ian M. Catlett, an attorney-adviser with the U.S. Department of State.

The Lewiston native was the first speaker of the 2017-18 season of the Great Falls Forum on Thursday at the Lewiston Public Library.

A near capacity crowd listened to Catlett’s one-hour presentation on the topic, “East Africa Security and Justice, and the U.S. Role Overseas.”

Still largely a clan-based society, according to Catlett, Somalia has the political will to build up its society, but faces multiple challenges, such as the lack of a functioning police service and an effective system of taxation.

“They can’t raise revenue to fund aspects of their society, like police, courts and a functioning government,” Catlett said.

Somalia also has little control of its territory outside of Mogadishu because of the presence of the Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

Kenya, however, has a well-established police, court and political sector in place, but the system is plagued by corruption.

“Corruption in Kenya, as perceived by Kenyans themselves, is widespread in many sectors of the government, including the police,” Catlett said. “As a result, the police and the courts are not trusted.”

Much of the mistrust is because of the eight major ethnic groups residing in a country of 47 million people. 

Earlier this month, Kenya’s Supreme Court threw out the results of August’s presidential election that saw President Uhuru Kenyatta re-elected against long-time rival Raila Odinga by 9 percentage points. The court, which did not blame Kenyatta or his party, cited the electoral commission for “illegalities and irregularities” according to The Associated Press.

It was the first time that a country’s judicial system has annulled an election on the African continent, Catlett said.

While violence has erupted during past elections in Kenya – notably 2007 when more than 1,000 people were killed – things remain mostly calm thus far, he said.

Somalia is operating under a new constitution written in 2012. The U.S. re-established diplomatic relations a year later. Its president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, was elected earlier this year and is a citizen of Somalia and the U.S.

But the country lacks resources, and challenges are many, Catlett said.

“The clans are still very strong still in Somalia,” he said. “That is really how the social system is organized.”

The first step is to have the country’s military gain control over the rest of the country beyond Mogadishu.

“After the military clears Al-Shabaab, (the goal is) asserting the civilian rule of law in liberated areas so there is a police presence, there is a justice presence and there is a government,” Catlett said.

To help countries like Somalia and Kenya, the U.S. provides targeted assistance, not cash.

“We do not give cash payments to foreign governments,” Catlett said. “We don’t give them money to spend. It is technical assistance where we provide expert help.”

Somalia is receiving assistance to build its police and court systems. Areas of concentration include how to collect evidence, forensic investigation and record keeping so prosecutors have enough materials to try a case. The country is also receiving help in counterterrorism.

“Somalia still suffers, unfortunately, from regular car bomb attacks in the capital and in the areas that are not under effective police control,” Catlett said.

Catlett said the U.S, is providing technical assistance in Kenya to build trust and accountability with the police and courts, such as starting oversight agencies like an internal affairs division and embedding advisers.

Catlett joined the State Department in 2010 and has worked as a program officer, Iraq Justice Team lead, and Africa Division chief for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

Since February, he has worked for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, which oversees issuing passports and visas.

Ian M. Catlett