Somalia has in the recent past witnessed a strong presence of the governments of Turkey and the UAE. But what are they up to? Former Deputy Speaker of the Kenya’s National Parliament Farah Maalim gives his perspective. Special Correspondent
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first head of state to visit Somalia since 2011. Since them Turkey’s foot prints have spread all over the nation, why do you think is the motive?
Turkey has been looking to expand the horizons of their economy all over the world. In the 60s and 70s, Turkey was basically a dormant player in the scramble for the African market. However in the last few decades it has exerted itself not only in Africa but increasingly asserted itself as a major player in the global economy.
Like many other industrializing nations, Turkey made a conscious, deliberate and proactive decision to dovetail its vision in terms of economic development to the natural resource rich Africa. Turkish Airline for example, has opened more routes in Africa in the last ten years than any other airline in the world.
How does Somalia come into this big picture?
Because of the historical association that Turkey had with Somalia during the Ottoman Empire, they have gotten into Somalia in a big way. Somalia is one of the countries in Africa that they have decided to proactively engage with in a number of fields; in the economy, security, reconstruction, health etc.
The Turks have invested heavily in Somalia. I want to believe that whereas the nature of relationships between nations is always one of interests, not only are the Turks looking at their own interests, but in some ways, the Turks see their interests in the region as being intertwined with that of Somalia. They are honest, genuine and well-meaning partners in the reconstruction of Somalia.
Does that mean that Turkey is not in any way after profit making in Somalia?
Of course it goes without saying that the some Turkish companies are already doing business in Somalia, and that the country will cash in when Somalia finally gets to a point where it is stable beyond reproach. But, they have done more for Somalis in the last 15 years than any other donor has done. They are genuinely talking the talk and walking the walk.
What about the presence of the UAE in Somalia?
The Emirates, or rather the Gulf Arab nations (all the Persian Gulf Arab nations) have always viewed Somalia right from the 60’s as the biggest threat to their global stranglehold of oil and gas. These countries are aware that Somalia is sitting on fossil fuel resources that are bigger than that of the Saudis, and very conveniently, they succeeded in creating the conflict in the 70s between Ethiopia and Somalia.
Is that all?
No. Somalia is the most strategically located nation in the world; it has a coastline of more than 3,300 kilometres on the sea-lanes of the world.
Those sea lanes make it strategic and one to watch, especially among nations with interests in shipping. It is as though Somalia is at the cross-roads of the world.
The Gulf nations, cleverly under the leadership of the Saudi Royal family, headed by King Fahd Al Saud, the Shah of Iran, the Emir of Kuwait and the Baath regime of Iraq pushed Somalia into the Ogaden war. They calculated that pushing the Russians out would be economically beneficial. They had their script right. The idea was to turn Somalia into an unstable third world country so that the ports of Somalia and the existing natural resources in Somalia would never be developed.
Is this still part of their strategy in the modern Somalia?
They don’t conceal their intentions anymore. It is obvious that they angling for their self-interests, and Somalis can see that they are after the vast resources. The Saudi Arabia chief of intelligence has even suggested that Somalia should be parcelled to Kenya and Ethiopia, arguing that it that cannot exist as a nation. They are not coming under any smokescreen.
Right now, they are brazenly trying to acquire Somali ports, buying off all the ports and port functions. This effectively incapacitates the local authorities’ ability to handle cargo and if they do, they handle it on behalf of the UAE/ Gulf Arab nations. As it is now, the politicians and the key influencers who are supposed to be watchdogs have been bought off in an auction like transaction.
Are they succeeding?
They will not succeed. The Federal Government of the Republic of Somalia has the final authority and it has not given them the green light. In fact, they have taken their case to the Arab League and to the United Nations and I believe that UAE will be sanctioned. If this fails, they will have to deal with the full force of the 25 million Somalis living across the globe.
Both of these two countries have military activity in Somalia, what is the implications of this?
The military excursions of the UAE in some parts of Somalia either directly or through mercenary contractors like Blackwater can’t be said to be genuine. On the other hand, the Turkish armed forces training installation in Somalia is the largest one the country has overseas. The center can hold up to 1,000 trainees at ago, and is envisioned to be able to train about 10,000 Somali officers in the next few years. This is a positive development, and here is why; it is in the best interest of Somalia to take care of their own security, to be in charge of their own functional security.
Are you saying the efforts by regional forces under IGAD and AMISOM are not helping?
That’s not what I mean. AMISOM forces and other efforts by regional blocs are good, but they can’t provide a lasting solution to the security problems in Somalia. It is foolhardy to assume that Kenya or Ethiopia or Uganda are as interested in seeing peace in Somalia as Somalia itself would be. The earlier AMISOM gets out of Somalia the better.
On the post-war reconstruction process efforts by each of the two parties, which one are you most impressed by?
There are more than 100,000 Somalis living in Turkey right now, mostly businessmen and students. Unlike Turkey, the Saudis and UAE deported Somalis from their countries when Somalia was in the middle of its conflict, with bullets and mortars flying around. They rounded up Somalis and sent them back home in this kind of environment. After the war, I can say that I am happy about the efforts by Turkey; the construction of health centers, the thousand scholarships to Somali students, the construction of schools in Mogadishu, equipping these schools etc. When it comes to trade negotiations between the two nations, each side will have to protect itself. Even when Somalia is dealing with their friends-the Turks- I am calling upon Somalis to bargain hard and protect their interests.
What about the UAE?
Throw them out. Kick them out. Those are the worst enemies of Somalia. Be very cautious with the Saudis and Kuwait and the other Gulf rulers. Treat them as an enemy.