The Enduring Somali-Turkish Strategic Partnership and Fraternal Relations Since 16th Century is officially back on track but why are all these following mind-blowing activities are happening right now inside Turkish-Somalia relations?
Why Turkey Implemented its largest overseas ultramodern military base in Somalia?
Why Somalis are the only people on the face of earth where lots of their girls get named Istanbul and boys Erdogan more than the Turkish people themselves?
What is the thought-provoking reason behind building the Turkey’s largest embassy in the entire world in Somalia?
Why do Somalis watch Turkish soap operas almost every night and why do they favour Turkish products more than any other global commodities?
Why did Turkish Airlines become the first major international carrier to fly into Somalia for more than two decades despite the security threats of al-Qaida affiliated terrorist group Al-Shabaab in less than hours drive proximity to the Mogadishu’s main airport?
Why do Somali young generations put the Images of the Turkish President H.E RecepTayyip Erdogan and the Turkish flag in their Facebook profile pictures and timelines in theirthousands as a way of expressing love, admiration, genuine trust and unwavering support to the Turkish people and their one in a million president?
Why did Turkish prime minister Erdogan (now president) become the first non-African leader to visit Somalia in August 2011 since the country collapsed in 1991 against the prevailing narrative that Mogadishu was a no-go zone for foreign leaders, given the security threats Al Shabab posed and the other security implications of what is being labeled as“the world’s number one Failed State”, “Somalia!”?
What is the reason behind the emergency of so many Turkish flags in almost every major city in Somalia?
These are some of the trillion-dollar questions asked by global diplomats, researchers, UN officials and politicians who observe and learn the reality on the ground in Somalia. Likewise, western nations, neighbours of Somalia and most of Arab countries are puzzled by the ulterior motive behind the enduring trust, love, support and mutual respect between Somali and Turkish nations. Here is how it works,
This opinion article which is the first of its kind about this issue on the whole internet aims to contextualize the long-standing historical, cultural and religious ties between Turkish and Somali people dating back to 16thcentury and to vividly elaborate the new era of renewed closer bonds of friendship and tremendous cooperation between the two brotherly nations which began in August 2011 – Somalis hour of need -during the height of the Somali famine. It also examines the grandeur future prospect of peaceful and prosperous Somali peninsula – which is a strategic location for world trade and major gateway to Africa, in collaboration with Turkish nation which is global emerging economic giant and key player in the dynamics of global political change.
Why Turkey and Somalia are real old good-buddies who reunited again in the circle of life?
To begin with, Turkish and Somali people’s hearts and minds were never distant to each other despite their wide geographical remoteness. To shed more light on the issue, relations between the present-day Somalia and Turkey date back to the middle ages – they enjoyed an immense trade deals, firm defense partnerships and robust religious and cultural ties. For instance, the Somali Ajuran Empire and Adal sultanate maintained good trade and military relations with the Ottoman Empire. The Somali Ajuran empire received multifarious aid from Ottomans and with the import of firearms through the Muzzaffar port of Mogadishu, the army began obtaining muskets and cannons. The Ottomans would also remain a key ally during the Somali Ajuran-Portuguese wars.
Over the course of the 16th century, Somali-Portuguese tensions would remain high and the increased contact between Somali sailors and Ottoman corsairs worried the Portuguese who sent a punitive expedition against Mogadishu under Joa de Sepuvelda but was soundly defeated by the Somali Ajuran Naval forces before they reached capital city and Joa de Sepuvelda was eventually killed in the battle. The Ottoman empire also had great relationship with the Adal Somali sultanate. The two Sultanates were allies during the Abyssinian-Adal Conflicts, where the Ottomans sided with the Somali Adalites and Portuguese with the Abyssinians (Present day Ethiopians).
History Repeats It Self!
It has been 28 years since Somalia has seen renewed international interests after Somalia lost its statehood and status as a relevant member of international community in 1991. Since then Somalia’s name has become synonymous with a failed state, and the word ‘Somalization’ has become the 21st century’s new term for ‘Balkanization’. Tribal civil wars fueled by local and international terrorism and human-made famines have devastated the country, causing one of the 21st century’s biggest refugee crisis in Africa. The Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has become a symbol of the misery and the misfortune of the Somali nation. Tens of thousands of other Somalis were also sheltered in other neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen; while around 1.3 million internally displaced people live under sub-human conditions in squalid make shift camps inside the country.
This was the story of Somalia before August 2011, but not anymore. There is new beautiful story which is coming out of Somalia afterwards; a story of promising future, a story of a country of immense strategic significance, a story of a country that could be the 21st century’s Singapore, Dubai, and Rotterdam all together in the horn of Africa. If one asks where this change is coming from? The answer is Simple: The Republic of Turkey.
All of a sudden, on 19th August 2011, like a liberator from heaven, His excellency the prime minster of Turkey (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, leading a large entourage of ministers, their wives, businessmen, along with a delegation of politicians, charity workers and the media visited Mogadishu during Somalia’s hour of need, in the throes of combinations of natural and manmade catastrophes. The height of devastating famine, the first of its kind in 60 years which killed over 250,000 people according to the United Nations, coupled with disastrous war pitting the government against Al-shabab militants, a grueling foe then as they are now who nearly put Somalia on the brink of sudden death; millions of Somalis inside the country were famished from acute hunger and many more were deeply in despair.
This was the beginning of everything! Erdogan became the first non-African leader to enter the city limits of Mogadishu since the country collapsed in 1991, against the prevailing narrative that Mogadishu was a no-go zone for foreign leaders, given the security threat Al-shabab Posed. Turkish Airlines was also the first major international carrier to fly into Mogadishu in more than decades.
In other words, Erdogan’s visit galvanized everything in Somalia, lifted the Somali population morale and brought considerably wanted global attention to the emergency. In addition, Somalis realized that they have a dependable brother; one who is here to stay in the foreseeable future not only to implement great humanitarian and developmental projects but also one who is here to help and not to exploit, like many have done before.
“We have really struggled to make Somalia’s voice heard, to make those who do not see or feel what’s going on in Somalia, see and feel,” Erdogan said.
Most exceptionally, this was just the beginning of a new era of closer bonds of friendship between the good old-buddies in the past- History repeats itself comes down here to shape a brand-new unprecedented trust, love, support and tremendous future cooperation of these two countries; Turkey and Somalia.
How had Turkey revolutionized the previous aid status quo in Somalia?
“Last Month in Somalia, for instance, I witnessed in person how the UN and the international community remained helpless against the pressing problems of today… This is why we have launched a comprehensive aid campaign for Somalia with the strongest support of our nation. Along with emergency humanitarian aid, Turkey is also determined to help build the infrastructure facilities that will enable this country to stand on its feet… By reopening our embassy in Mogadishu, we have also showed the world that claims of security challenges cannot be an excuse for delaying assistance. In parallel to this, it is also necessary to urgently bring to an end the civil war and provide the country with a democratic and unified governance in order to succeed in the fight against piracy and terrorism originating from Somalia.” Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the UN General Assembly, 22 September 2011.
In 2011, just one month after becoming the first non-African leader to visit Somalia in more than two decades, Turkish Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now president) begun his statement to the UN General Assembly with the above quoted words. He devoted more than a quarter of his speech to Turkey’s foreign policy priorities in Somalia, which had then been suffering from a devastating famine for months. Erdogan proudly explained how Turkey’s comprehensive, holistic and long-term vision there differed from previous international efforts, which had failed to address the famine or end the nations conflict.
Furthermore, Turkey’s engagement in Somalia accelerated following the visit of prime minister Erdogan (now president) in August 2011 which constituted a turning point in the history of Somalia. A visit followed a nationwide campaign that collected donations close to 500 million Turkish liras (around 300 million USD).
In the following period, Turkish public, private and civil society sectors began to engage widely with Somalia. So far Turkish humanitarian and technical development assistance to Somalia exceeded 12 million USD according to Turkey’s development agency TIKA.
In eight years following Erdogan’s speech, Turkey has gone well beyond delivering emergence aid and assistance to famine survivors in Somalia. It has hosted international and regional conferences, mediated among various parts, established a diplomatic presence in Mogadishu, provided technical support and personnel for capacity-building efforts, boosted bilateral trade relations and engaged in development assistance. It has done all these via a wide array of actors: government institutions and agencies, religious institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private sector companies, security and military officials and local municipalities.
Many development projects in various areas such as health, education, livelihood creation, municipal services and infrastructure have been completed. Turkey constructed a large and well-stocked hospital in Mogadishu; with 300 in-patient capacity which is opened in January 2015. The hospital is one of the largest and most modernized hospitals in the entire Horn of Africa region. A Turkish health team in cooperation with the Somali staff will co-operate in the hospital for five years before handling it over to the Somali authorities. Two other hospitals by Turkish NGOs are built and being managed.
Similarly, the Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) launched several projects in all regions of Somalia in the areas of education health, agriculture, infrastructure and water management.
The Turkish Red Crescent runs the Mogadishu camp acclaimed by the international community in which about 20,000 internally displaced Somali people are given shelter, and also provides daily hot meals for 15,000 Somalis in Orphanages and hospitals.
The Istanbul Metropolitan municipality, in collaboration with the Municipality of Mogadishu, continues to engage in services that change the appearance of the city. The repair, maintenance, dilapidation and paving of Mogadishu’s main roads progressed rapidly.
In addition, Somali students attend top Universities in Turkey via scholarships, the internally displaced persons (IDPS) in Somalia were given decent dwellings and food rations by the Turkish Government. Likewise, Turkish government donates direct budgetary support to the Somali Federal Government. One Somali national said, “Turkey is the sponsor we have been looking for the last twenty years, they are the Holy Grail for Somalia.”
Turkish also opened its largest oversees ultra-modern military base in Somalia, Attended by Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali khaire and Turkey’s chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, it was an attempt to cement bilateral ties and to build strong Turkish presence in East Africa. As a result, with the establishment of the military base Ankara indicated that its activities in Somalia will no longer be limited to humanitarian and development assistance.
Besides, the trade between Turkey and Somalia increased significantly, according to the Reuters, “In 2010, Turkish exports to Somalia totaled just $5.1 million. By last year they had ballooned to $223 million. In the space of six years Turkey has gone from Somalia’s 20th largest source of imports to its fifth-largest”.
Above and beyond that, more than any other country, Turkey has taken deeply influential role in bringing Somalia’s situation to the international attention. In May 2012 Turkey hosted a United Nations conference on Somalia’s transition process, after which Erdogan Explained: “We have really struggled to make Somalia’s voice heard.”
On top of that, President Erdogan visited Mogadishu on 25 January 2015 again. This visit not only showed Turkey’s long-term commitment towards the development and well-being of Somalia but also proved the real ulterior motive behind Turkish-Somali relations; Turkey’s novelty is on-the-ground engagement in Somalia. In contrast, most countries operating in Somalia have headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya but Turkey is in the dark of Mogadishu- this smashed the wall that made Mogadishu a no-go-zone. Surprisingly enough, the ultimate leader of the Turkish people breaking this wall by his hands was obviously the best gift for the Somali people ever.
On the political anterior, the long-standing religious, cultural, trade and fraternal relations between Somalis and Turkish people which date back to 16th century makes Turkey the closest friend of Somalia throughout the history. This is the factual ulterior motive which made Turkish-Somali relations Superb and Outstanding in every direction. Somalis have full understanding that Turkey is not an alien country eager on exploiting Somalia. On the other hand, Turkey is aware of Its full responsibility about its real friend who’s in need.
What will the future prospects of the Turkish-Somali relations will be?
To Africa: Turkey’s friendship overtures extend beyond Somalia into the rest of Africa. Their embassies and consulates have increased from twelve in 2009 to an anticipated forty-four in 2019. Apparently, Ankara wants to strengthen its geostrategic position in the world by politically, financially, and militarily engaging with the Somali peninsula in the Horn of Africa which is a significant gateway to the rest of Africa and indeed, Turkey’s military base in Somalia is very close to the entry point of the Gulf of Aden. In the meantime, while Somalia is reaping the rewards of international visibility and domestic security, other African countries will also likely benefit from education and infrastructure development, and most importantly, increased trade relations with Turkey.
To Somalia: Turkey’s entrance is real God-send to the war-torn country. There is finally a genuinely dedicated partner who is operative in catalyzing both harmony and prosperity and towards bright future for Somalia. Furthermore, Turkey’s Muslim identity undermines anti-imperial, Jihadi rhetoric that historically endorsed Al-Shabab’s terror logic. Remarkably, apart from its untapped mineral resources and its underused arable land, which if properly invested in could easily be the bread basket for the entire population of China and India added together, Somalia can also provide a badly-needed strategic depth to Turkey due to its longest coastline in mainland Africa and the second busiest international trade route, with approximately 23,000 ships amounting to nearly one trillion dollars of trade transiting its waters. Developing Somalia’s coast line for tourism, fishing, and prime real estate, as well as building modern ports and exploiting country’s ready atmosphere for renewable energy, can also change this Horn Of African country into summer resort, a successful investment venture, and gateway for Turkey business to Africa’s growing consumer market. Turkey has already taken the lead to win the hearts and minds of Somalia’s lucrative trade and strategic geopolitical position.
To Turkey: Africa in general provides allies for international forums. It also represents a source of natural resources, and a new market for diversified trade and diminished reliance on Europe.
Today, Turkey and Somalia are enjoying at the climax of their enduring relationships but only time will tell if the future generations of Somalis and Turks respectively will flourish to take that long-lasting relationship to the next level or to fall into the booby trap of their varied enemies.
About the Author:
Abdisalam Abdillahi Ali is a young Social activist, Computer programmer, HRM and Transformational leadership Specialist, political analysist and Pan Africanist based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.