Somalia: What is Turkey’s goal?
The first time Turkey sent an official on the level of prime minister to Somalia — which had been internationally isolated since 1991 and devoid of any sense of state authority since 1995 — was with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit on Aug. 19, 2011, which revived a country many thought had effectively died. Hope blossomed anew in Somalia after this visit. In fact, some Somalis referred to what had unfolded as a “miracle of Allah.”
One result of Erdoğan’s visit was that he refocused some of the attention of the international community back on Somalia. Then, on Nov. 1, 2011, a Turkish Embassy in Somalia was opened. There is still no working embassy from the West located in the center of Mogadishu at this point (the British Embassy is functioning, but works out of the Mogadishu airport).
Now Erdoğan is heading back to Somalia, this time as president, to examine what progress has been made on the humanitarian aid and development models he started when he was prime minister. Somalia is the first step in a large tour of 12 African countries Erdoğan is to make, which will take place in four phases. There are Turkish embassies located in just 30 of these 54 African countries.
Somalia has represented a unique foreign policy success for Turkey in recent years. It was in using its new tools of foreign policy that Turkey was able to achieve this success. It was able to bring about political support for peace, security and stability in Somalia. Not only this, but Turkish official organizations and civil society organizations were able to work in harmony in Somalia.
What we saw presented in Somalia was a “Turkish model for assistance.” Notably, Turkish civil society organizations have been able to channel some $85 out of every $100 in assistance directly to Somalia. The remaining $15 dollars are spent on expenses like personnel and transportation. In Western civil society organizations, the situation is the opposite: In some cases, the project budgets run dry before they even hit the field. Starting from 2011, then, Turks have managed to bring some real change to Somalia. And in the summer of 2011, Turkish people donated a total of $300 million to Somalia.
The assistance coming out of Turkey for Somalia has been coordinated through the central government. The İstanbul Municipality working alongside Turkey’s Red Crescent set up a 70-vehicle garbage truck parking area in Mogadishu. In fact, the Red Crescent has paid the salaries of Somali garbage collectors in Mogadishu, leading to the collection and clean-up of trash that had not been dealt with for 30 years.
Main roads were covered in asphalt and given lighting, leading to significant changes in the Somali capital between the years of 2011 and 2014. This in turn led to the appearance of some vehicle traffic after all those years. The Somalis are a hard-working people, interested in trade. They are strong and resilient when it comes to hard times.
When Somalia began to change for the better after so long, some Somalis who had been living in the diaspora began to come back. And on March 5, 2012 Turkish Airlines began regular flights between İstanbul and Mogadishu. Interestingly, Turkish Airlines is still the only airline flying into Mogadishu; it was decided from the beginning that these flights would be daily and the prices for the tickets would be kept low.
The Turkish company Favori runs the Mogadishu airport now. The terminal building, which is still under construction, has already garnered huge approval from local Somalis. In the meantime, the Turkish Albayrak company picked up the bidding tender to run the Mogadishu port, with a 30 percent uptick in business in that port over the last year. Right now, there are some 2,000 Somali students studying in Turkey on state scholarships, with all their dormitory and food expenditures met by the state. A camp Red Crescent set up in 2011 to deal with rampant hunger is now being taken down, as there is no longer a need.
The development projects carried out by Turkey in Somalia have been effective in part because they are very visible and are based on humanitarian interests rather than Turkish interests. In fact, the changes brought about in Somalia have all been done with relatively small budgets. Turks and Somalis see each other as equals, and the question of equality is very important in Africa; it is where some problems start, and others end.