WASHINGTON — A week before Donald Yamamoto arrived in Mogadishu, three car bombs exploded in the heart of the city, just outside the Sahafi Hotel.
Dozens of nearby motorists and pedestrians were killed or maimed. A fourth bomb went off when first responders arrived, bringing the death toll to at least 52, with more than 100 casualties.
It was the latest in a string of attacks by the Islamist terror group al-Shabab, which for more than a decade has sought to dismantle the Somali federal government.
But Yamamoto, the United States’ new ambassador to Somalia, isn’t deterred. By strengthening its institutions and economy, Somalia can achieve security and stability, Yamamoto told VOA’s Somali service.
“We see hope. I think, for the first time in a long time, we’re seeing opportunities that are expanding and growing,” Yamamoto said.
‘We’ve got to be seen’
Yamamoto brings 20 years of experience, both in Somalia and the broader East Africa region, to his new post. He has held top diplomatic positions in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
In Somalia, his experiences include engagement with both the Islamic Courts Union and the Somali Transitional Government, competing factions that preceded the current federal government.
Yamamoto hopes to use his experiences to build on unprecedented rapprochements among East African neighbors to create new opportunities for Somalia.
Now, the goal is to establish a permanent diplomatic presence in the capital, Mogadishu, and find ways to support the Somali people in their efforts to build peace and prosperity.
“What is the old American adage? It’s ‘90 percent is to be seen’? And so we’ve got to be seen. We’ve got to be present. And I travel through most of Somalia, so I think I’d like to do that as well,” Yamamoto said.
He plans to be operating out of Mogadishu on a permanent basis, with a small team, in the next few weeks.
Yamamoto acknowledges the work ahead won’t be easy. Despite an international presence, routine U.S. airstrikes, and elections in 2016 and 2017, security remains elusive.
“Is it dangerous? Sure. Is it challenging? I think it is. But we need to do it because it’s important,” he said.
Yamamoto has nearly four decades of experience in U.S. Foreign Service. He attended Columbia College, at Columbia University, in New York. His graduate degree in international affairs and language studies prepared him for his career in diplomacy where, at the State Department, he has received four Superior Honor awards for exceptional service.