Former UNSOM envoy James Swan returns as acting special representative for Somalia


United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has appointed James Swan as the Acting Special Representative for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).

According to a statement from the United Nations released on Tuesday night, Mr. Swan will serve as the Special Representative for a temporary period following the departure of Catriona Laing of the United Kingdom. The Secretary-General expressed gratitude for her dedicated service in UNSOM and Somalia during a challenging time.

Earlier this month, when Catriona Laing announced her departure after a year-long tenure, the Somali government called for the dissolution of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) when its mandate expires in October 2024.
In a detailed letter to the UN Security Council, Somali Foreign Minister Ahmed Mali Fiqi articulated the government’s position, suggesting that the change is overdue. “We believe that it is now appropriate to transition to the next phase of our partnership,” Fiqi wrote, advocating for the swift conclusion of procedures to terminate the mission by the mandate’s end.

The newly designated envoy, Mr. Swan, served as the Special Representative for Somalia and Head of UNSOM from 2019 to 2022. Prior to that, he served in the United States Government as Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2013 to 2016, Special Representative for Somalia from 2011 to 2013, and Ambassador to Djibouti from 2008 to 2011. He is an experienced diplomat with a long career in African countries facing complex political transitions.

In his earlier career, Mr. Swan was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 2006 to 2008, and Director of African Analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 2005 to 2006. Prior to holding these assignments, Mr. Swan held various assignments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Somalia, Cameroon, Nicaragua and Haiti.

Mr. Swan holds a B.Sc. degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a Master’s degree in Security Studies from the National War College, all in the United States. He is fluent in English and French.