August 21, 2021
Turkey is marking ten years of returning to Somalia in what officials from both sides say has helped improve the quality of life for Somalis.
FILE – This picture taken on June 3, 2016, shows newly opened Turkish embassy in Mogadishu.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has visited Somalia on the third and last leg of his East African tour to open Turkish sponsored projects including health facilities and the largest Turkish embassy in the world. Erdogan is the only non-African president to visit Somalia in decades. Turkey is also set to open its first military base in Africa where Turkish military officers will train Somali troops and soldiers from other African countries. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB
By Abdulkadir Khalif | Nation Media Group
MOGADISHU – On Thursday, the Turkish government organised a massive ceremony in Mogadishu, coupled with an experts’ conference to mark ten years since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured Somalia, then at the heart of a brutal humanitarian crisis.
Mr Erdogan is now President of Turkey but officials say his tour of Mogadishu, which made him the first leader outside of Africa to visit Mogadishu in more than 20 years, may have been the turning point in relations.
Since then, the Turks have gone on to build the largest diplomatic mission in Africa in Somalia. They have spent $1 billion on projects in the Horn of Africa country.
On Thursday, the ceremony was presided over by Somalia Deputy PM Mahdi Mohamed Gulaid standing in for PM Hussein Roble who is on an official trip to Cairo.
High ranking Somali officials including ministers, members of the legislative houses, army commanders, local authority officers and representatives of the Turkish state, diplomats and other officials attended the conference. And so were Somalia and Turkey’s known business leaders and academics.
“The Turkish people have brought us a sense of brotherly feeling and there is no other nation we can compare it to,” said Benadir Governor and Mayor of Mogadishu Omar Mohamed Mohamoud Filish.
“It has shown the rest of the world that they can invest in Somalia and the country can be assisted,” he added.
The Mayor was referring to Turkey’s aid for health, education, security and job creation opportunities in Mogadishu.
“Our hearts will never forget you,” Mr Omar Filish said.
Turkey has pumped most of its $1 billion aid to humanitarian programmes including food aid, established the biggest hospital in Mogadishu and airlifted several Somali students to study in Turkey.
Ankara has also been training and equipping some of Somalia’s Special Forces including a deadly squad known as Gorgor or the Eagles, specially trained to take down terror merchants.
But even as the two sides marked pomp and colour, the world was reminded that some of the problems Erdogan witnessed ten years ago on tour in Mogadishu were still prevalent today.
In 2011, four million Somalis were in danger of starvation and thousands were crossing into neighbouring Kenya to seek refuge as others were housed in internally displaced camps. Last week, Somalia’s Ministry of Disaster Preparedness said some three million was still facing food shortage due to erratic rains.
Somalia is also faced with the threat of al-Shabaab. Just as delegates gathered on one side of town, a bomb blast went off. A suicide bomber blew himself up at a tea shop near a busy junction known as Jubba Hotel crossroad.
At least ten people were killed in that incident when a man reportedly wearing an explosive jacket approached men playing cards before exploding his device.
Scores are said to have sustained injuries, but no official statement has been released confirming casualties. The Somali government usually blames these kinds of acts on Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab. No group has claimed responsibility for the deadly incident.
The site of the bang is a highly guarded area. It is next to a highly guarded crossroad that is adjacent to Mogadishu’s police force headquarter and a few metres from the main base of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA).
The blast was viewed by officials as a diversion from the conference. Yet it was only a marker of security realities in Somalia.
In Ankara, Turkey, Somalia’s Planning and International Cooperation Minister Gamal Mohamed Hassan said Turkey, in spite of Somalia’s current problems, has helped put the plight of Mogadishu on the world map.
“(The trip) brought the world’s attention to a country that has been viewed for two decades from a counter-terrorism lens, toiling in obscurity at the periphery of global politics,” he said at a three-day symposium on ‘Revisiting Turkey-Somalia relations’ on Tuesday.
“Today, Somalia is home to Turkey’s largest Embassy Complex in the world as well as its largest overseas military facility that trains thousands of Somali National Army soldiers every year,” he said.
Back in the 1980s, Turkey’s embassy in Mogadishu was hidden in the back street as those of Kenya and Libya were on the posh Maka-al-Mukarrama Avenue. The Turkish was in an almost obscure area along Danwadaagaha Road in the less alluring Buula Hubeey neighbourhood.
The Turkish embassy is situated next to the sandy Lido Beach in Mogadishu, the Kenyan is enclosed in the airport area.
“In the past decade, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has invested in more than 180 projects in Somalia across a number of sectors including the agro-industry, health, and education,” Mr Hassan said.
The next step, he said, was to strengthen business ties and investments in Somalia’s core infrastructure.
The Turks have helped renovate Mogadishu’s port and airport which are also managed by two Turkish companies, Al-Bayrak and Favori LLC.
When the Somali government signed a contract with the Turkish port operator, Ports and Marine Transport Minister Ms Mariam Aweys Jama told the media that the deal would lead to significant investments and boost trade.
Somalia’s Justice Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur who published an opinion in Turkey’s Anadolu Agency titled 10th anniversary of Erdogan visit to Somalia, described the coming of the Turkish leader as a trip that brought rays of hope to a bereaved nation.
Mr Nur said: “Instead of giving fish to Somalis in need and making them dependent on foreign aid, Turkey is now working to employ more sustainable methods, such as teaching Somalis how to fish, through the Turkish Red Crescent, Turkish Diyanet Foundation (TDV), TIKA, the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities, and many non-governmental organizations whose names I cannot list individually here.”
In February and in April this year, there had been skirmishes and sometimes serious armed confrontations between the guards and loyalists of the opposition presidential candidates against units of the elite Haram’ad Force of the Somali Police Force.
The opposition figures united under the Coalition of the Presidential Candidates (CPC) led by Former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed complained to the Turkish government, accusing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo of using against them elite Haram’ad Force that was trained at TURKSOM, the large army training facility that was built, equipped and run by Turkey.
The Turkish government reportedly rejected the accusation by the Somali opposition, claiming that the matter is an internal rift (within the Somali politicians) and foreigners should not be involved.
“We know there are some people who want to spoil the work and efforts of Turkey,” read a letter sent to the media including BBC Turkish.
President Farmaajo hosted the Turkish delegation to a dinner party at Villa Somalia during the commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of Erdogan’s visit.
Farmaajo said, “Our relations date back to the high days of the Ottoman Empire and our current is a brotherly association that benefits us in the form of trade, security and social intermingling between our peoples.”
“I believe our relationship is going to be long-lasting because it is based on respect and cooperation.”