John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Turkey’s Love Affair With Somalia

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
November 7, 2012

Turkey's PM Erdogan and Somalia's President Ahmed stand in front of their countries' national flags as they listen to the national anthems in Mogadishu 19/08/2011. (Stuart Price/AU-UN IST/Courtesy Reuters)


Karen Kaya specializes in Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey and is a National Security Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Jason Warner is a Ph.D. student in African Studies and Government at Harvard University.

Turkey and Somalia are the geopolitical realm’s newest couple, and things are getting serious.

Turkey has unleashed a charm offensive in Africa, and Somalia specifically. After the last members of the al-Shebab terrorist group were chased out of Mogadishu in August 2011, Ankara flooded the city with some five hundred development and aid workers. Turkish prime minister Erdoğan was the first non-African leader to enter the city limits of Mogadishu since the country collapsed in 1991; Turkish Airlines was also the first major carrier to fly into Mogadishu in twenty years. Since then Turkey has given some U.S. $51 million to Somalia.  These overtures have stirred up serious emotions in the country.

What forms do this love affair take?

More than any other country, Turkey has taken on a deeply influential role in bringing Somalia’s situation to international attention. In May 2012 Turkey hosted a United Nations conference on Somalia’s transition process, after which Erdoğan explained: “We have really struggled to make Somalia’s voice heard.” Turkey has been assiduous in its efforts in opening schools, improving public sanitation, repairing roads, and renovating the country’s dilapidated airport. “They are the sponsor we have been looking for the last twenty years. They are the Holy Grail for Somalia.” A Somali national said.

Turkey’s innovation is its on-the-ground engagement. Most countries operating in Somalia have headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Turkey is in the thick of Mogadishu. This smashed the wall that made Mogadishu a no-go zone. It was the best gift for the Somali people.

Turkey’s friendship overtures also extend beyond Somalia into the rest of Africa. Their embassies and consulates have increased from twelve in 2009 to an anticipated thirty-four by the end of 2012.

Turkey is also trying to leverage its 99 percent Muslim identity to show how it is uniquely positioned to be a regional and global leader. Somalia analyst Abdihakim Aynte notes that Erdoğan’s 2011 Somalia visit reinforced this theory.

Not everyone is impressed with Turkey’s leader-via-Islam strategy, however. Some in Turkey believe aid to Mogadishu is intended to woo Muslim voters to the moderately Islamist AKP party. Somalia’s al-Shebab openly ridiculed Turkey as “a stooge of the West.”

Paralleling developmental assistance, Turkey agreed to train peacekeeping troops in 2010. In February 2012, Turkey was also poised to contribute capacity-building as well as material resources. This is a paradigm shift from previous, security-centric, approaches.

What will the implications of the Turkey and Somalia love affair be?

To Africa: while Somalia is reaping the rewards of international visibility and domestic security, other countries will also likely benefit from education and infrastructure development, and most importantly, increased trade relations.

To Somalia: Turkey’s entrance appears to be a godsend. There is finally a genuinely devoted partner who is effective in catalyzing both peace and development. Further, Turkey’s Muslim identity undermines anti-imperial, jihadi rhetoric that historically underwrote al-Shebab’s terror logic.

To Turkey: Africa provides allies for international forums. It also represents a source of natural resources, and a new market for diversified trade and reduced dependency on Europe.

To the U.S.: Turkey’s presence in Africa will likely be more beneficial than undercutting. Though at odds on certain points, Washington and Ankara hold broadly similar goals for antiterrorist initiatives, conflict resolution, and economic development on the continent.

Today, Turkey and Somalia are cozying up in the honeymoon period; whether their relationship will stand the test of time is yet to be seen.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Sean Mortimer

    Interesting bullet-point summary of the relationship. Also worthy of consideration, but less obvious, are the support/interventions by Iran and Saudi Arabia. and the last reports I had from the ground (having worked directly in Somalia for the last 3 years and being married to a Somali-Kenyan) were that the Turkish were scaling down their commitment. The Somalis are a resourceful bunch and I would suggest that they will ‘do their own thing’ rough existing Diaspora and regional connections while allowing externals to believe they are the ones who are providing the decisive relief and assistance. Don’t forget that many Somali institutions continued throughout the last 20 years despite the constant warring back and forth – notably business and telecommunications. Just not government, education etc.

  • Posted by Abdoulshakour Ali Nour

    As in any aspirant struggling to achieve his/her goals, Somalia needs someone to not only believe in its cause but openly and strongly advocate for its success on the world stage. Somalia has found this friend to be Turkey. The relationship between Somalis and Turks dates back to the Middle Ages when the Turks actually administered several Red-sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean coastal towns such as Asmara, Sayla and Mogadishu. There is a significant population of Somalis that are said to be direct descendants of these early Turks that inhabited the region and conducted world scale trade in Somalia.

    So with such deep roots and shared Islamic culture, Turky is the perfect partner for Somalia at this stage. The benefits of this relationship is by no means one sided as the economic potential for Ankara is enormous. Somalia is the best kept secret in minerals and above all, Oil resources. With world energy demand on the rise and cheep Oil in decline, Somalia will be a source of much needed Oil for the world market. Turkey’s rapidly growing economy needs this vital resource which Somalia can provide.
    So, this is a perfect partnership that can withstand the test of time and allow both parties to thrive on each other’s support.

  • Posted by Hassan Somali

    ” The relationship between Somalis and Turks dates back to the Middle Ages when the Turks actually administered several Red-sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean coastal towns such as Asmara, Sayla and Mogadishu.”

    Somalis have had a long relationship with the Turks that can be traced back to the 12-1300’s and was at its strongest in the early 1900’s. Somalis were for a long time politifcally and militarily alligned with the Ottoman empire. However, one must not over exxagerate their influence and role. The Turks never administered Mogadishu. Their influence did not go beyond the coastal areas of the north i.e. Zeila, Berbera. And although there were a small number of Turks resident in Somali lands, it is also untrue to say that a significant number of Somalis have Turkish Heritage – there are next to zero Somalis with Turkish heritage.

  • Posted by Amin Adan

    There is no doubt that Turkey is doing everything she can for Somalia and it is because of Turkey that the world suddenly paid attention to Somalia. However, Sean Mortimer (insider of Somali affairs) put it very well when he said that ‘The Somalis are a resourceful bunch and I would suggest that they will ‘do their own thing’ rough existing Diaspora and regional connections while allowing externals to believe they are the ones who are providing the decisive relief and assistance’. Taking the supermarket Tesco slogan, ‘every little thing helps’. Somali has a golden opportunity today and no one is going to mess it for them including Somalis as the international spotlight is on Somalia exposing any ill doer. Somaliya Ha Noolaato! = Viva Somalia!

  • Posted by mr obama take a note

    because of turkey we somalis have developed respect for nato and EU and I can see somalis moving away from the nutcases of the middel east and towards a more enlightened islamic values like turkey
    to be muslims doesn`t mean you have to be anti western and pro godless nutcases like north korea, Russia and cuba
    what you sow is what you reap and we somalis we pay turkey back as a old friend (oil contract and development contract)

    a Saudi is more likly to be killed in Mogadishu then a turk and American, why ask al shabab, they are the basis of the Somali paradigm shift

    we will rename the Indian ocean “the sea of the ottomans”
    god save our Sultan erdogan and Turkish nation

  • Posted by Mohamed ahmed

    why Turkish interest only in Mogadishu and looking forward in somalilnd too
    We would like to see more help and investment in Hargesa somalilnd too

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