Turkey: Our ties with Somalia are built on mutual benefits

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The rest of the world is still figuring it out. The Somali see the Turks as the first group of people to get into Somalia with positive objectives. The reality is that Turkey is in Somalia in a big way. They are at the ocean port and airport, on city streets and village roads, in classrooms and in mosques, out in refugee camps and inside city housing units. In this exclusive interview, Turkey’s Ambassador in Somalia Olgan Bekar reveals the history and nature of Turkey-Somalia engagement, and what the future holds for the two nations

Tell us about the bilateral nature of your government’s engagement with Somalia?
We realised that solving one problem will not help get Somalia back to its feet. In Somalia, everything should be re-built from scratch. To do this the Turkish government embarked on quick impact projects, all falling within four pillars. The pillars are humanitarian assistance, infrastructural development, rebuilding of thige security apparatus and concerted efforts at reconciliation among different groups in Somalia. The guiding principle for our engagement with Somalia is that the Turkish-Somali partnership has to be built on mutually beneficial relations.

Your President recently made a state visit to Somalia. How important was the visit?
If you remember correctly, this was not the first time President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was visiting Somalia. In 2011, as the PM, he initiated the Turkish engagement with Somalia and visited the country as a show of his, and the government’s commitment. President Erdogan has always been very concerned about Somalia. His second visit, which happened in January 2015, was a follow up to the first one. It also marked a new age in Turkey Somalia relations. The January visit laid the foundation for our future engagement.

Were agreements signed?
Yes, three state-to-state agreements were signed: one on youth and sports, the other on defence, and the third one on marine transport.

What model are you using in your engagement with Somalia?
From the very beginning, we settled for public-private partnership. Since 2011 to this day, we have engaged with the government, development agencies and the private sector. Our Somalia policy falls within Turkey’s well-known humanitarian diplomacy.

So far, what can you say is the impact of this approach?
We have been successful. The most important thing is to gain the trust and confidence of the people of Somalia. This we have done. They trust us. They trust our country. They trust our brotherhood. We have also changed the mind set of international humanitarian aid.

In monetary terms, what is the annual funding of Turkish government to Somalia in a year?
Let’s look at it from the point of what we have done since 2011. Turkey has spent $500 million on projects in Somalia. And in the last two years, Turkey has also provided direct budgetary support to the Federal Government.

Tell us the nature of some of those projects and programmes?
Our projects are in health and sanitation. For instance, Turkey has just completed the rebuilding of the old Digfer Hospital with 200 in-patient capacity. We have also drilled 20 bore holes in Mogadishu and five in Somaliland to provide clean water for 220,000 people. We have projects in education, where we are offering scholarships to students. We have also been involved in constructing learning institutions, not to mention offering them learning equipment. Red Crescent is currently constructing a vocational school. To add to these, we have projects in infrastructure development, culture and livelihood creation.

What do you consider as your greatest contribution to Somalia’s development?
Turkey broke the silence of the international community on Somalia. This all started with Recep Erdogan’s visit to Somalia in 2011, followed by his address to world leaders at the UN General Assembly in September of the same year. Half of that speech was dedicated to Somalia; the situation in the country and the neglect by world leaders. After this, Turkey moved in with a model of assistance that we believed could work for Somalia; a model where help was delivered directly to the people. The other nations of the world have since joined in.

What are the agricultural interests of the Turkish government in Somalia?
There are two areas that we are keen on; fisheries and agriculture. At the moment, we have started to assess opportunities in agricultural areas. The potential is high, the market is available and the soil is rich. Right now, we are engaged in agricultural trainings. In the coming months, we will have put in place structures for joint venture operations.

In terms of volume and trade opportunities, what is the general overview of the extent of Turkey- Somalia trade to this moment?
First, let me say that we approach trade with Somalia from what we consider is the best model; that of a partnership that is mutually beneficial. Annual trade volume between Somalia and Turkey so far stands at $50 million. Through our various projects, our plan is to expand trade opportunities for both Somalia and Turkey. That means more interaction and engagement between investors from the two countries.

In what ways is your country involved in efforts to boost export trade in Somalia?
The port in Mogadishu—Albayrak—isunder the management of Turkish personnel working with Somalis. It has been under Turkish management for the past six months, during which they have put in place structures to conduct port activities in a way that actually contributes to government revenue. They renovated it and brought in new and better equipment in order to increase its capacity to handle its operations. Adden Abdule Airport
has just received a new, larger, better equipped and modern terminal. The ocean port and the airport will open up Somalia to the rest of the world.

“The business
community here is
the backbone of the
Somali society. They are
entrepreneurially adept,
and, businesswise, they
are the most resilient
people I know”

In your view, what are the three critical things that Somalia— both government and business community—need to put in place in order to engage with the rest of the world effectively?
Let’s make them four things: political stability, security, a functional legal system to offer legal guidance and frameworks to investors, and finally, fostering of strong bonds with its regional counterparts.

The lack of a proper legal framework for businesses and investors has been a source of concern. How are you helping Somalia to develop the necessary legal environment that supports business?
It is true that this is a challenge. Investors require legal guarantees. Without such, they will always be concerned. We are receiving requests from different organisations and institutions in Somalia for different forms of assistance, and this is one of them. And in ways that we can, we are working to address it.

One of the effects of conflict is destruction of the education system. What role are you playing in training the necessary manpower for the economy of Somalia?
Skills gap is a reality. We have projects in three fronts to handle this matter. The first are projects aimed at improving the education system and situation in Somalia. To do this, we are building or assisting learning institutions—schools, vocational training centres and universities. We are hiring instructors and offering learning equipment. The second is our scholarship project to brilliant students. So far, over 1,000 students are beneficiaries of this project. The last project to address the skills gap in the country is more immediate. We are encouraging the government of Somalia to work with Somali nationals living in the Diaspora. These people have the skills needed. We need to create an encouraging working environment as an incentive to have them back. To this end, we make contributions to the ministries so that they can create such favourable working and living conditions to have the Diaspora community return to take part in the re-building process.

There must be projects that you have in store for the people of Somalia, right?
Yes, we do. A new military training facility is under construction. By September of this year, the first stage of its construction will be finished and the training of soldiers will begin. On trade, we intend to enlarge the scope of our activities to include banking. Also, we will keep at our efforts of expanding export trade in the country. As for our humanitarian engagements, scaling them up sounds like the only direction we will take with them.

Lack of affordable and reliable power supply is seen as a great drawback for business development in Somalia. Does your government have plans of investing in this area?
Regular and cheap power supply is a pre-condition for development in any country. Without cheap power, there can be little growth. In accordance with our comprehensive strategy in Somalia, we are ready to share our experience and establish cooperation mechanisms in energy sector. The negotiation of the draft agreement for cooperation in energy is ongoing.

What has impressed you the most about the Somali business community?
The business community here is the backbone of the Somali society. They are entrepreneurially adept, and, businesswise, they are the most resilient people I know.

What kind of future, say five to 10 years, do you see for Somalia?
This is the fact: Somalia is getting better. The Somali people are building their country. I strongly believe that the future will be good. The government is working. State and peace building processes are going on. We are optimistic of the future, yet at the same time, we are aware of the challenges.

What is your advice to the international community and the people who want to invest in Somalia?
One piece of advice from me: understand the real concerns and trust the people of Somalia.