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Turkey in Somalia

April 11, 2019

Turkey in Somalia

Bilateral ties between Turkey and Somalia date back to the years immediately after Somalia gained its independence. These relations gained a significant boost following the arrival to power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and his efforts of greater diplomatic openings to the Middle East and Africa. 2011 was a turning point in the evolution of the these ties between Ankara and Mogadishu as Erdogan visited Somalia in the midst of one of the country’s worst famines and followed up with close to 300 million USD in foreign aid collected through a nationwide campaign of donations. This was followed by the widespread engagement of private and civil society from Turkey. Ankara then swiftly re-opened its embassy in Mogadishu with the aim of facilitating post-conflict development process, becoming one of the first foreign administrations to resume diplomatic relations with Somalia subsequent to the civil war. Turkey and Somalia have been cooperating extensively especially in the realms of economic development and military.


Turkey’s development projects in Somalia


Through development assistance, Turkey has been increasing its soft-power in the foreign policy arena over the past several years. Turkey’s developmental presence in Somalia has been considerable lately. According to the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), by 2013, 16 Turkish non-governmental organizations were active on the ground in addition to several governmental agencies. Moreover, organizations like the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) and the humanitarian aid foundations including Yardımeli and Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) have been very active on the ground.

Development assistance Turkey offers has enabled Somalia to rebuild the country’s decrepit and war-torn infrastructure. Some of the major projects include the rebuilding of the international airport of Mogadishu and major road development projects. Turkey has also built five field hospitals enabling the treatment of 1200 patients daily while a hospital with a bed capacity of 200 patients was also inaugurated in Mogadishu. Other notable projects include the drilling of wells for the provision of water for more than 26 thousand people and the inauguration of an agricultural school geared on educating Somalis on how to prevent drought and teach the best agricultural practices. Moreover, Somalia’s re-entry into the global stage and its communication with the outside world were facilitated through regular direct flights by Turkish Airlines to Mogadishu. In fact, Mogadishu has become one of the most profitable routes for Turkish Airlines given that no other airline flies to the capital.

These projects have also contributed to the rapidly growing bilateral trade relations. In 2010, while Turkish exports to Somalia stood at a mere $5.1 million, by 2016 they had skyrocketed to $123 million, as Turkey moved from Somalia’s 20thbiggest import partner to the 5thbiggest one.


Turkey’s Military Presence in Somalia

As part of Turkey’s efforts to retain a foothold in the strategically located horn of Africa, Ankara decided to open a military base in the country in 2017. In fact, it is Turkey’s largest overseas military base, costing Ankara some $50 million. It is supposed to train 10,000 Somali troops with the capacity to train at least 1,500 soldiers at a time; the military base is spread over an area of four square kilometers.

Turkey’s military base in the horn of Africa comes in the wake of an existing American military base in the Lower Shabelle region. This being said, there are plans for the United Arab Emirates to build a base in the Somaliland.

On balance, Turkey’s engagement in developmental projects in Africa and its attempts at winning hearts and minds in places like Somalia derive from Ankara’s increasing recognition of the fact that the continent’s precipitous rise in economic and geopolitical terms. As far as Somalia is concerned, the country’s strategic geopolitical position is of extreme importance to Ankara.

Some of these soft-power achievements by Turkey have also yielded concrete results for the Erdogan’s overall domestic political goals. For example, after 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, Erdogan strove to close down schools operated by Fetullah Gülen. Somalia yielded to the pressure from Turkey and swiftly closed down Gülenist schools as well.What was considered a purely humanitarian initiative when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Somalia on 19 August 2011 has now turned out to be a comprehensive Somalia and Eastern Africa policy for Turkey. With close to a decade in aid and infrastructure investments, Turkey is planning for a long term presence and involvement in Somalia’s rebuilding and recovery.


Vahid Yucesoy