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East African Geopolitics and Turkiye’s Somali Policy

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I would like to share this report of “East African Geopolitics and Turkiye’s Somali Policy” with you. There were many interesting highlights.


This is the most comprehensive report ever published about Somalia in Turkiye. Researcher and academician Mehmet Ozkan prepared this report according to government archives of Turkiye, interviews with diplomats and NGOs and Somalia politicians.


SETA foundation prepared a panel meeting last year to discuss this report with participation of:


Mehmet Ozkan (writer)

Dr. Kani Torun (former ambassador of Turkiye to Somalia)

Muhammed Mursel Abdurrahman (ambassador of Somalia to Turkey – former diplomat, MP and politician in Somalia)



Mehmet Ozkan’s speech:

He made a summary of report. There were important highlights. First, he mentioned about stages of development strategy (which I mentioned on my first post). Most important comments was about initial stage of Somalia Campaign from Turkish perspective. He said Somalia experience changed whole Turkish Aid perspective. Beforehand only state-building experience for Turkiye was Northern Cyprus with small region, very close to Turkiye and population of 250.000. But Somalia was a totally new experience for Turkey on scales. Intensity and seriousness of situation on the field was critical. Huge geography and bigger population, hostile security environment and tribal divides were challenges. Turkiye when engaged, found itself in “high politics” game; as a country expected more tasks to perform politically along with traditional aid activities. Plus there were no information available for Turkish institutions on Somalia for them to get prepared, later we learned everything on-the-fly.


Biggest challenge was to coordinate several state institutions, NGOs (Turkish and local) and local administration. Scale of tasks created so much confusion that Turkey had to reorganize itself on Prime Minister level both in Ankara and Mogadishu. But in the end, there were a Somalia desk formed and Somalia Coordinator assigned in Turkish Foreign Ministry.


After initial tasks (relief efforts) finished, perception of Turkiye among Somalis has risen incredibly. So much so that perception was “Turkiye as a super country”. This is mainly because Turkish projects and efforts to internationalize Somalia problem, was a decades long expectation in Somalia. It created an overreaction. He says this is a problem to address, to change this perception as “Turkiye as a normal country” because it attracts all the arrows towards Turkiye, both from domestic political conflicts and also from international players.

High-Consulate opened in Hargeisa, also close communication with Jubbaland and Puntland was efforts to change this perception.


There is a risk of “aid fatigue” for Turkiye. Turkish and Local Governments should keep the pace on development activities. If failed, this could slow down even halt activities by creating a “fatigue effect”.


Muhammed Mursel Abdurrahman’s speech: (in English)

He talked like a politician and diplomat  didn’t say much except warm feelings and expectations. Highlight was “Somalia today is rising again” and Turkiye’s efforts are shining example for other countries and organizations. Only white faces we had in Somalia was Turkish people recently.


Dr. Kani Torun’s speech:

He repeated a presentation that he gave to World Bank about Somalia. There were very important and interesting points. I want to go into detail here a bit.


1. He said there are no statistics available about Somalia for the last 30 years. For example, in sources you can see that Somalia has a population around 10 million. I have spent years in Somalia and as a medical doctor my gut-feeling tells me that Somalia population cannot be lower than 15 million.


2. Somalia was left to itself for 16 years after UN and US withdrawal. (1995-2011). UN operating from Nairobi, they even didn’t come to Mogadishu airport. They always have the same story when he attended their meetings, 3Cs (communication-coordination-cooperation). That’s all they were discussing among themselves all the time and he says “I have grown tired of it”


3. Slide on 34:23 min of video is most important. This is principals of Turkish Engagement in everything done in Somalia.


1. Urgent humanitarian problems are first importance.


2. Planned approach on short and mid term problems with emphasis on “concrete projects”


3. Decrease dependency on Aid, transfer of institutions to local administration (every Turkish project has a deadline that is set and is transferred to Somali institutions and personnel afterwards)


4. Direct approach for fast and effective results (he mentions here that if you put your aid into UN channel, only %20 reaches to target population. So we quit this and used %100 aid directly)


5. No decision without consulting local authorities and participation of local population


6. Funding local initiatives with supervision of Turkish Officials (here he very diplomatically and politely says there is a serious risk of corruption and government took all the measures not to be a part of it)


7. Non-interference into local politics. (in here he says 2 important things. One of it is: some western ambassadors and also neighboring countries ambassadors, also int. organizations interferes into local politics to the point to impose changes in ministers, department heads etc. This created too much reaction in Somalia Government and parliament but generally it is not voiced outside. Mr. Torun said our policy was to work with whoever is selected/appointed to the position. We worked with many ministers that changed in time, 2 presidents etc.)


Then he gives examples of projects done. Hospitals, Schools, wells, road building, garbage management etc.


On statistics, he mentioned bad numbers on trade volumes, child death rate etc. In here he makes an interesting point. He says Somali people is distinguished from Africa by their entrepreneurship nature. He said if we could create the right environment, rest will be done by this Entrepreneur spirit/businessman mentality of Somalis.


We engaged in diplomatic tasks. One was a program to rehabilitate/regain elshabab militants. Other was to mediate relations with Somalia and its neighbors. Also hosting reginal governments in Turkiye for open discussions.


Turkish Government created a fund to attract qualified and educated diaspora people to return to Somalia and work for government. He said we made a detailed investigation, checked and interviewed candidates etc. Many didn't get excited to work in Somalia environment and benefits provided. Now in every government department there are people from diaspora and Turkiye provides their wages from this fund.


Questions part:

Turkish Health Ministry Official asked: how about Somalis living in other countries? What is the status of aid activities there?


Mr. Torun responded that there is a considerable immigrant population in Kenya Dadab camp. With Red Crescent, IHH, Earth doctors and state institutions we provided aid. Also Somalis in Ethiopia were in urgent need of humanitarian aid which was provided. He added this is our first engagement in this scale and context. This is a first to us also. Monetary requirements exceeded 300 mil dolar (at the time). Our efforts was state building but more importanty “nation building” because of deep tribal divides in the country. It comes to the point that some tribe's tribalism exceeds their nationalism.


Somali Student of Political Science asks: Why Turkish organizations didn’t establish their own organizations in Somalis? Also why Turkish organizations didn’t collaborate with local organizations?


Mr. Torun responded that they did everything possible to attract Turkish companies to come to Somalia. “We encouraged, subsidized and even begged them” :) Airport and Seaport management companies came here on this context. Reason why they couldn’t convince more companies was (1) infrastructure problems, electricity problem mainly. (2) legal guarantees, there is an uncertainty on laws especially for long term investments. (my idea here: new/final constitution and electoral system is way overdue. Mostly because long lasting negotiations with PL and hope of reconciliation with SL. Resolution on these will open the way for fast-track investments)


Mr. Torun also said that cooperation with local initiatives is among our principles. We need someone to handover management after our set deadline. In this respect, IHH’s partner is Zemzem, Earth Doctors work with Benadir University, Yardımeli works with Menhal. (Only Kimse yok mu and Nil works outside Turkish Government set principle and work alone). IHH transferred orphanage and school to Zemzem already, Yardımeli will transfer hospital to Menhal after completion.


Mr. Abdurrahman responded: We have more than 2000 students in Turkiye now. Before there were no one speaking Turkish language in Somalia but now there are many. In this respect, there is a bright future and we are moving in the right direction.


Last questions taken altogether:

A journalist asks: What were common activities with local and international media in Somalia?


A Somali Academician asked: About students that attend to Turkish universities, we have great hopes about them and their future contribution to Somalia. What do you think about this?


A professor medical doctor asks: We are investing to create qualified human resources to Somalia. So what is the guarantee that these educated young people will go back to Somalia and contribute? Is there a risk of brain-drain?


Mr. Abdurrahman responded: Somalia has natural resources but in order to be able to exploit these, you need human resource. Many of our student decide to go back to Somalia and contribute.


Mr. Torun responded: First I would like to answer about media. We supported local media institutions monetarily and as equipment. For example we supported local media academy. We have invited Somalia TV and Radio specialists to have practical training in Turkish Radio and Television. Another aspect is, we are receiving many requests, especially from Universities about Turkish language training in Mogadishu. We want to set up Yunus Emre Institute (equivalent of British Council for Turkish Language Training) so that we could provide language training to universities, chambers of commerce and students. This would help and quicken communication with Turkish counterparts.


Lastly I want to comment on brain-drain problem. When I was graduated from medical school, at the time there was “compulsory mission” for students like me that received government support. We were supposed to work within Turkiye for 5 years. For that they didn’t give us diplomas, they gave us only papers that were only valid in Ministry of Health that we were supposed to work for. This was our brain-drain stopper system at the time. Now, Somali students come here for education. Some marry here and stay, that could be acceptable. But whole point of this much trouble is to create qualified human resource for Somalia. If a person graduates and runs to a western country, that means we totally failed in this mission. So I have suggested to use a system that we had decades ago to Somali students. Lets give them a target, 3-4 years that they have to work within Somalia, and after they did that, they could get their international diplomas.


Mehmet Ozkan’s responded: Somalia could only develop by Somalis themselves. Our role here is just to provide them tools and education is a very important aspect of it. So this scholarship program and return of these students are very important.

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The Most Urgent that Somalia Needs is Energy,energy cheap energy,Before we had steam powered power plant in Mogadishu,that used to give free electricty to Mogadishu and clean water also.

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The old Jazeera power plant used to produce roughly 30-35MW which barely run the city(Muqdisho) let alone give free or cheap electricity. Electricity was expensive then and power shedding was a regular thing to a point where most people (those who could afford) rely on small generators to power their homes. That said, the country needs energy and I think this is an area where the private sector can make a difference if they put their mind into it. The money is there and there are also plenty of renewable resources, I dont know what's holding them back. Maybe it's Somalis mindset, invest little and expect big and quick return.

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