Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Nick Schifrin of PBS NewsHour

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Washington D.C.
February 1, 2023


QUESTION:  Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is back in Washington and joins me now. Ambassador, thanks very much, welcome back to the NewsHour. What will the impact be if Somalia does not get the additional funding it needs ahead of what’s expected to be another failed rainy season in the coming months.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We want to do everything we can to avert this next round of failed rainfalls, which should happen sometime around the March-April timeframe. And what we need to do is get more donors to support the people of Somalia. I announced $40 million when I was there, that’s in addition to the $1.3 billion that we provided already, but more is needed to be done by more people. We have to be much more ambitious. We have to be more aggressive. We have to save lives.

QUESTION:  Those numbers that you just cited – more than $1.3 billion of assistance from the U.S. since last October – makes the U.S. by far the largest donor. But the United Nations says the European Union has only funded 10 percent of its humanitarian response plan to Somalia. Does Europe need to do more?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Everybody needs to do more. So traditional donors like the European Union and others in Europe – who are already providing funding – but we’re also calling on non-traditional donors – donors who might not otherwise think about engaging on Somalia – to also contribute to this effort. This is about humanity. There’s no reason for people to die of hunger. We have the tools that we need to support them. We just need the resources.

QUESTION:  There is a term, as you know, that humanitarian workers use: compassion fatigue. Are donors, do you think, too distracted by Ukraine?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t think so. I hear compassion fatigue being used all the time. I heard when I was in Africa concern that resources are being redirected to Ukraine. All of the funding that we have provided to Ukraine is new money. And we’re still funding other humanitarian needs. And we encourage other countries to do exactly the same. We can’t be fatigued about people dying. We can’t lose our sense of humanity, our compassion for people. It is important that we not watch another child die of hunger.

QUESTION:  Nearly 1 million of the Somalis who need assistance live under territory that’s currently controlled by al-Shabaab. U.S. trains Somalia’s Danab – that’s the elite counterterrorism force – and also local militias have been fighting al-Shabaab. But many experts say that at the core of the long-term problems that Somalia faces is bad governance. This government is unelected. There are senior officials who used to be senior members of al-Shabaab. Why does the U.S. support this government?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: President Hassan Sheikh was president previously. And interestingly, what he has said in this term is that he has learned so much since he was out of government. And we have been impressed with the strategy that he has put forth – to engage with the other regions of Somalia. He’s looking at how he can move forward on political reconciliation, and he has tried to be more inclusive – including bringing in those people who have turned their backs away from al-Shabaab, and who are prepared to work with this government to do right by the Somali people. He is fighting to take territory away from al Shabaab, and he’s been extraordinarily successful with our help, with the help of the African Union Transitional Mission.

QUESTION:  Why not condition U.S. assistance more on performance?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We can’t condition humanitarian assistance and allow people to die. We have to support the humanitarian imperative that Somalia puts in front of us. Also, if they are going to defeat al-Shabaab, they have to be trained. And we have worked to train their soldiers so that they do abide by humanitarian and human rights rules. And we’re working to push Somalia for the first time, closer to a more inclusive – closer to a democratic government.

QUESTION:  Some experts I spoke to today urged the U.S. to push the government to speak to al-Shabaab to actually come up with a negotiated settlement to what many see as a civil war. Do you agree?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I heard President Hassan Sheikh speaking on another channel a few weeks ago, and he said, you’re asking me to speak to terrorists. You’re asking me to speak to people who are responsible for slaughtering our people. He wants to get rid of al-Shabaab. We have designated them as terrorists. We would not be asked in the United States to negotiate with terrorists. Al-Shabaab is responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Somalis. It is responsible for this country being in the situation that it’s in right now.

QUESTION:  Finally Ambassador, in the time I have left, many African capitals do not like talk of a great game between the U.S., China, and Russia in Africa – but the Chinese foreign minister just visited five African countries. China, of course, pours billions of dollars into infrastructure development in Africa. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov just visited South Africa whose foreign minister just called Russia, a friend. U.S. as you have pointed out is by far the largest humanitarian donor to Africa as a whole, but does your assistance sometimes fail to match your influence?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: China is spending billions of dollars on infrastructure. It is not a gift. It is basically a yoke that is putting many countries in debt, but countries have made these decisions. And they will work with having to deal with the consequences of these decisions down the road. Our message to Africa is we want to be your partner. We want to help you build a future for your next generation and we want to do that together with you.

QUESTION:  Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thank you very much.