December 19, 2020
Opposition fears it will be used by special police forces to control forthcoming elections in the war-torn country
A Turkish soldier participates in the opening ceremony of a Turkish military base in Mogadishu on Saturday. (Reuters/File)
By Arab News
ANKARA – Somalia’s opposition has urged Ankara not to send a shipment of weapons to a special police unit because they fear that Somali president could use them for “rigging” the approaching national elections. The call has put Turkey’s engagement in a country torn apart by civil war for decades under the spotlight.
Opposition candidates wrote to Turkey’s ambassador in Somalia and expressed their concern about these weapons coming into the country in such a “sensitive election period.”
Turkey trained Harama’ad police, a special Somali unit that is known for its violent suppression of peaceful protests in the Horn of Africa country.
On Dec. 15, four protesters were wounded in Mogadishu during a peaceful protest when the troops opened fire on them, while two others were arrested. The Council of Presidential Candidates condemned the use of live bullets by the Harama’ad forces against Somali people.
Ankara is planning to send 1,000 G3 assault rifles and 150,000 bullets to Harama’ad this month.
The opposition was already furious after the elections due for this month were postponed over political disagreements.
“With the national elections approaching, a season for foreign meddling is wide open,” said Jędrzej Czerep, senior analyst at Middle East and Africa Programme of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM).
“For Turkey, in the last decade Somalia’s most visible and dedicated development and humanitarian partner, the game is about not losing its primacy before the oil concessions are divided,” he told Arab News.
Ankara has not commented yet on the Somalia opposition’s call but in recent years Turkish rulers have deepened their engagement in the African country by building infrastructure and providing scholarships for Somalis.
Three years ago, Turkey opened its biggest overseas military base in Somalia to have military leverage in hotspots in the region. Apart from its forward-basing, Ankara also trains Turkish-speaking Somali soldiers and has transferred tactical arms to the arsenal of the Somali military.
“In the run-up to elections, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo adopted an all-or-nothing mode to consolidate power. This affected growing politicization of the – theoretically neutral and professional – Turkish-trained Gorgor troops and Harama’ad police units,” Czerep said.
Separately, the United States recently decided to withdraw hundreds of troops deployed to fight Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia, which has been torn by a nearly 20-year civil war.
According to Czerep, while the US-trained Danab forces had been on the front lines of the fight against Al-Shabab throughout 2020, Gorgor and Harama’ad were probably more often used against the opposition in the federal member states.
“Their deployment in Galmudug in February affected the climate of the local elections in that state and it was boycotted by the opposition,” he said. “Turkish-trained troops also clashed with Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, a Sufi militia who was a key government ally against Al-Shabab but apparently grew too strong. In Gedo, Gorgor and Harama’ad fought against forces of the Jubaland region, which the central government wants to pacify.”