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Turkey’s Unique Approach to Doing Business with Somalia


Turkey’s engagement with Somalia is a study of how diplomacy, development and humanitarian assistance can effectively be merged to create a model of engagement that provides widespread benefits for a country emerging from conflict.

The Turkish government is one of Somalia’s biggest bilateral partners. The central European county has been at the centre of some of the landmark development projects in Mogadishu, the Capital of Somalia. The projects are mostly in the health, education and transport sectors, and in town planning.

Turkey has also made its presence firmly felt in the provision of relief services.Ambassador Olgan Bekar calls it “humanitarian diplomacy”, and explains it as a model that strives to make progress in all areas simultaneously. The approach is firmly rooted in an end result that fulfils local needs.

“There is no point in solving one problem when one problem solved does not create the ultimate effect of stability and growth that any society should have. We understand this fact and that is why our approach to engaging with Somalia is four pronged. We know there is need for humanitarian assistance, the need for infrastructural development, and a need for a well trained and functional security apparatus. Lastly, we know that reconciliation among different groups is key to sustained stability,” said Ambassador Bekar at a recent interview.

In international development, there is nothing really peculiar with the model of engagement Turkey has adopted in its relations with Somalia. What makes it different is its pragmatic approach. Whereas most donor nations and development partners have adopted a wait and see attitude as Somalia tries to find stability, Turkey has plunged in with initiatives to promote both stability and development.

The Turkish engagement was shaped by a number of things, among them the reality on the ground when the country’s top leadership visited Somalia. They found large number of internally displaced people, streets and roads filled with rubble, destroyed bridges and schools turned to shells. Businesses had been run down. Trade, as we know it, had ceased to exist. In a nut shell, the conflict had injured people, trade and infrastructure in Somalia.

When Recep Erdogan (now President of Turkey) visited Somalia back in 2011, then as Prime Minister, he saw traders lost in limbo. After his visit, the Turkish government and people took interest in Somalia. This relationship was strengthened even more when he became the President of Turkey.

Ambassador Bekar and his team have embarked on projects aimed at creating opportunities for trade, growth and stability in Somalia. To do this, they have had to renovate, build from scratch and tear down some things.

The idea that Somalia should be engaging with the world commercially has been brought out strongly by the airport and sea port projects, and others in marine and fisheries and agriculture, which the Turkish team in Somalia have been supporting. One of the first observations by the Turkish team was the limited trade between Somalia and other nations. To address this, projects aimed at expanding export trade were put in place, including investing in agribusiness, forming partnerships with farmers and building the capacity of agricultural producers to maximize output. Livestock products, for instance, is the one export that Somalia can greatly bank on.

The Aden Abdule International Airport that was recently opened and the Albayrak ocean port are two main pillars in the expansion and balancing of import-export trade between Somalia and its trading partners. The Airport, with a 15,000M2 for local and international flights, and 1,000M2 for cargo flights, has been operational now for a few months, running both local and international flights daily.

“This is a $20 million investment that we hope to see returns from not just for Favori (the company that run the airport) but also for the people and government of Somalia. Our concern is to see that the traffic for both local and international flights increases. We’ve begun seeing this. We are now handling anything between 10-15 flights daily,” says the airport General Manager Bora Isner.

At Albayrak ocean port, the volume of trade has been on the rise in the past six or so months that it has been under the Favori company management. Late last year, it was a rundown port with no cargo handling facilities and no proper equipment. The port has now been revived and equipped with better cargo handling facilities, returning it to profitability.

The immediate former General Manager Mustafa Levent Adali knows very well that traders want an efficient port where cargo take least time to arrive to its final destination. “At the end of 2013, the port handled 17,000 containers. That changed too because by the end of 2014, the port had handled 54,000 containers. By the end of this year, we are expecting a 30 per cent increase in cargo activity,” notes Adali.

Turkey is not just dealing with traders alone in Somalia. Ordinary people in the country are also experiencing the presence of Turkey in Somalia through provision of humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable groups in Somalia.

“Offering shelter, food, sanitary amenities, health services and learning services to the internally displaced is central to this humanitarian role of the Turkish team in Somalia,” explains the Turkish Red Crescent Head of Delegation in Mogadishu Ali Akgul. The team oversees projects in education, where Turkey constructs, renovates and funds schools. They pay teachers and offer food and accommodation to students. The brilliant ones get scholarships in their thousands, to Turkey, while those that remain get vocational training in specific fields of interest.

Armed with 10 ordinary size trucks for garbage collection, 10 large trucks for road debris removal and heavy machinery such as loaders, the Turkish Red Crescent has been collecting garbage in Mogadishu to the tune of over 300 tons of garbage daily.

Bekar, the Turkish ambassador, says the difference between the Turkish model of assistance and that of the other countries lies in the outcomes. Turkey demands practical results. It wants to see direct impact on the lives of the people for whom the assistance is intended.

The Turkish model tends to look at things holistically, given that Somalia is rebuilding from scratch. This means that apart from putting in the infrastructures like roads, water supply systems, schools, port facilities and hospitals, they also bring in trained personnel to help man the facilities and assist in knowledge transfer to the Somali.

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