A Somali woman carries a box of food distributed by the Turkish Red Crescent in a camp, Mogadishu, Somalia, May 23, 2017.
Turkey’s unprecedented engagement in Somalia started in 2011 as a response to the catastrophic famine that ravaged the country at the time, while the most momentous event was the visit by then prime minister, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Since then, the Turkish-Somali relationship has been praised locally, regionally and has caught the attention of major global powers. In a short time, Turkey became one of the closest allies that Somalia has in the international political arena. The unparalleled success of Turkish assistance and aid projects in Somalia has yielded many responses and results.
The most significant has been a direct review and renewed approach by other international donors that have been present in Somalia far longer than Turkey.
Instinctively, the curiosity and inquisitiveness about the Turkish assistance model in Somalia has become a global subject, not only for Western donors, but even the Muslim ones. Most importantly, two questions every global donor has asked themselves are how has Turkey’s assistance model become more effective and valuable, and what are the factors helping Turkey to accomplish all these projects to accelerate Somalia’s state recovery.
These questions and more had been presented in the international political arena, which led to discussions and research directives at global research centers and entered multi-national political discourse. I am of the opinion that Turkey’s ability to accomplish this unprecedented success is as a result of two intertwined reasons.
History shapes the future
History is more than a path left by the past – it influences the present and can shape the future. Perhaps, what is undeniable is that history vitally influences any relationship and nations structure their relationship with the historical connections alongside their mutual interests. Moreover, for the past two decades, the world has seen a global socio-political shift in which emerging powers are entering into the international political arena with a unique foreign policy as compared to the elite powers.
Turkey encompasses this shift, and the Ottoman Empire’s immaculate history has become a significant tool for Turkey’s foreign policy, an ultraclean civilization that was left by their ancestors in a wide range of former Ottoman territories without any record of colonization or exploitation.
The strategic advantage is over and above the colonial history of their Western counterparts and the negative connotations associated with Western colonization. Of course, that allows Turkey to initiate close relationships with the majority of developing countries. Moreover, this is not only influenced by Ottoman history, but also by modern foreign policy decisions.
Turkey’s leading party is deploying a unique foreign policy and strategy with key principles such as a non-political interference and, perhaps more significantly, provision of aid without special conditions, which in turn has inclusively shaped an era of aid diplomacy. This has assisted Turkey in engaging and establishing more responsible and realistic relationships with global partners and allies. Somalia remains a good example of this.
Adopting an effective model
Despite historic connections, an additional significant secret of Turkey’s success in Somalia is the assistance model that Turkey deploys there, and doing so at the right time while the opportunity of structuring a new relationship was there, and economic and political matters was settled internally.
When Turkey arrived, Somalia was in the middle of multiple crises, the severe famine that was a result of around two decades of a failed state, terrorism and the recklessness of international donors or, in other words, the global powers who were involved in Somali issues at that time. In addition to the neglected support of the U.N. and other international organizations that were keeping an arm’s length, largely engaging by remote control from offices in neighboring Kenya with the occasional short trip to Mogadishu’s heavily fortified airport.
Moreover, Turkey had convenient tactics to establish this relationship successfully. Then Erdoğan visited Mogadishu, which global leaders considered as the most dangerous place in the globe – a war zone. He was the first leader to visit Mogadishu since the state collapse. A smart move of regenerating a relationship and, most importantly, gaining credibility and trust from Somali society. It was an important key for the success of regenerating the Turkish-Somali relationship.
Not only had his visit launched multidimensional projects of assistance inclusive of humanitarian aid and developmental projects to support the rebuilding process with a high-quality implementation strategy, the two assisting projects being implemented together. This was a totally opposite technique from the traditional donors that only deliver humanitarian aid occasionally.
Furthermore, with the integration of local communities, delivering assistance to them quickly based on priority and visibility of their projects, putting all those pieces into context, we can come to comprehend why Turkey has been successful in helping Somalia.
Lately, speculation that common identity, belief systems and values influence this relationship was brought to light after the remarkable success mentioned above. However, I am hesitant to believe that, as many countries share a similar Islamic identity and values with Somalia and have been involved as well, but are unable to cultivate a similar relationship to that which Turkey shares with Somalia, or their projects are not as effective and constructive as those of Turkey.
The flourishing capitalization by Turkey on its opportunity, which Western donors and even some Muslim donors have created for them, made this relationship unique and productive.
However, Turkey indicates clearly that its relationship with Somalia will go beyond assistance and support. The recent establishment of both Turkey’s biggest foreign embassy and foreign military base has categorically set a precedence as to how much Turkey is willing to develop its relationship with Somalia.
Meanwhile, the new political developments in the region, particularly the Gulf crisis, have left behind significant questions of how Somalia will hold its allies together, especially the global and emerging powers, and the emerging Muslim donors that are again demonstrating their interest in the country