Turkish Foreign Policy in Somalia: Humanitarian or Strategic?March 20, 2015 Khalili Lecture Theatre, School Of African and Oriental Studies, London, United Kingdom
This conference aims to comprehensively analyse Turkey’s increasing diplomatic involvement in throughout Africa.
DS Centre for Policy Studies launched the first of its conference series on Turkey in London in cooperation with SOAS Somalia Society. An exclusive panel, "Turkish Foreign Policy in Somalia: Humanitarian or Strategic?" took place in one of the most prestigious universities of the city, the University of London's School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS), on March 20, with the attendance of well-known experts: Dr. Kani Torun, Abdurrahman Sharif and Jason Mosley.
Held in front of a number of future promising students mostly from Horn of Africa descent, the panel was significant in terms of outlining the critics but also the aspects that made Turkey’s policy more successful compared to Western countries or UN organizations.
Somalia has seen Turkey play a greater role in its development since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit in 2011. The visit was intended to provide humanitarian aid to the country and plan infrastructure, but more importantly, it was intended to draw the attention of the world to Somalia.
Turkey's comprehensive involvement in Somalia made visible changes to the country in many areas from health to infrastructure. In addition to this, bilateral agreements between the countries have been signed, including treaties to train the Somali national army and Turkish Airlines started flights to Mogadishu. Turkey's efforts paid off and the growing relationship between the two countries attracted the world's attention to the region.
According to the speakers of SOAS Panel, Turkey’s influence remains greater than any country and there are some clear and simple reasons for this. Because, Turkey went in at a time when the country had been suffering from two decades -long civil war compounded with famine that had rendered the country completely dysfunctional. Turkey-led aid campaigns which intensified after Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit in 2011 made a huge difference on the ground and this in return resulted in appreciation and trust. Especially given the historical ties and the fact that the support was from another Muslim country, Turkey has been able to build on the established trust.
To further ties with Somalia and contribute towards the redevelopment of the country, Turkey was then the first non-African country to open an Embassy in Mogadishu in November 2011. Literally a year later in November 2012, Iran opened its embassy in Mogadishu which was then followed by Britain in April 2013. But this did not receive the same level of resonance amongst the Somali People.
Turkey’s efforts in addressing the famine of 2011 with the provision of over £200 million to the humanitarian relief efforts focusing on the most affected parts of the country played a significant role in building trust between the people of two countries. Hearing Mr Torun Turkey has been making an effort about not getting involved in the local politics but focused on what the country needs most which is to assist with the re-establishment of basic services so that the country is able to respond to the needs of its citizens. To him, this is a critical factor that is making Turkey’s efforts successful. These efforts have so far entailed the building of several modern hospitals, renovation of Aden Adde International Airport and the National Assembly building amongst other initiatives such as drilling water wells and organizing vocational courses in sectors such as fishery and construction.
Also, with the renovation and redevelopment of Aden Adde International Airport, Turkish Airlines became the first long-distance international commercial airline that resumed flights to and from Mogadishu after two decades. Dr Torun reported that Turkish Airlines has been flying to Mogadishu on a daily basis for over two years now.
In a response to the concerns as to whether Turkey has got solely commercial goals which are potentially overshadowed by the aid campaigns, Mr Torun’s reply was interesting and appeared to be non-defensive as he bluntly put out that in their view “trade is the best aid” and stated that Turkey has a partnership relationship with Somalia which is mutually beneficial.
Highlighting how Turkey differs from other organizations and countries in terms of its aid campaigns or investment efforts, Abdurrahman Sharif talked about how fast and effective Turkey is in delivering support whilst UN Organizations or other countries are too busy with their rigorous assessment processes and usually by the time they respond to a demand, the need is no longer there.
The panel was very insightful and interesting in terms of outlining the success of a new foreign policy approach that aims to help poor countries to catch the fish rather than handing the fish to them.
Turkey’s efforts - not only in Somalia but in entire Africa- seems to be intensifying as Turkey is getting more experienced in engaging in different parts of Africa with the objective to work in partnership with governments and helping them to stand on their own feet rather than resorting to govern them. Should Turkey maintain this position with transparency and doesn’t fall into the mistakes of colonial powers, Turkey’s ability to further transform the neglected continent will improve and intensify whilst benefiting from the opportunities it provides. And this could only be tenable with the preservation of ethnic-applied foreign policy which Turkey appears to be pioneering with a consistent foreign policy that denounces juntas and regimes that are committing terrorist acts.
Dr. Kani Torun is a former Turkish Ambassador to Somalia from 2011 until 2014, which was the period that has seen increasing bilateral relations between Turkey and Somalia. During his stay in Somalia, the Ambassador had established a permanent diplomatic residence in Mogadishu. He also effectively coordinated Turkish humanitarian assistance including the reconstruction of main roads, hospitals and establishment of schools in Mogadishu.
Abdurahman Sharif is the Executive Director of Muslim Charities Forum. He previously held the post of Director at the Somali Development Forum. Abdurahman holds two Masters degrees, one in Languages from the University of Sorbonne (Paris) and another one in Development Studies from the University of Pavia (Italy).
Jason Mosley is an Associate Fellow at the Africa Program in Chatham House and Managing Editor of the Journal of East African Studies. His current research is focused on the impact of multilateral regional organisations on stability in the Horn of Africa, and on linkages between state-building, foreign investment and security in peripheral regions in East Africa and the Horn.
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