04.03.2024 Author: Viktor Goncharov

The Horn of Africa in the quagmire of geopolitical rivalry Part Two: Reactions to Ankara’s memorandum

Reactions to Ankara's memorandum

Somalia’s intransigence in seeking a mutually acceptable solution to the conflict with Addis Ababa is explained by Mogadishu’s close relationship with Ankara. This was triggered by the visit of the then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in August 2011. It was the first visit to Somalia by a high-level delegation from a non-African country in twenty years.

At the time, Somalia was a ‘failed state’ at war with itself and in desperate need of food aid. Following the visit, in addition to food, Ankara immediately sent medical equipment and medicines to Somalia to help the population.

After al-Shabaab terrorists (an organisation banned in the Russian Federation) were driven out of the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2012 by the international UN force (the backbone of which, incidentally, was the Ethiopian army), Turkey was the first country to re-establish a diplomatic presence in Somalia, and its representatives began actively developing a new market for their goods and investing in the most promising areas of production and services.

As a result, over the years Turkey has become Somalia’s most important partner in all areas of cooperation, including state-building. Long-term agreements have been signed between the two countries, both in the area of military cooperation and in the development and expansion of economic ties, including the exploration of oil, gas and fisheries off the coast of Somalia.

As a result, relations between the two countries have reached such a level that the current defence minister, Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur, who was trained in Turkey while serving as justice minister some time ago, stated that ‘it is no exaggeration to say that Turkish has become a second language in Somalia’.

This has led the Somali diaspora, traditionally based in Europe and North America, to move to Turkey and invest their capital in the Turkish economy, according to the Canadian publication Politics Today. According to the publication’s experts, this is further proof of the effectiveness of Turkish diplomacy in the field of cultural relations in Africa, which is ultimately leading to a deepening of Turkish-Somali relations in many areas – from state-building to security, from education to cultural rapprochement.

As a dividend of its relationship with Somalia, Ankara has secured major construction contracts from Somalia. Although Chinese contractors have recently emerged as serious competition, the majority of construction work in Somalia is now carried out by Turkish companies. Investment programmes, initially aimed at restoring the destroyed transport infrastructure, have built a new international airport in Mogadishu, reconstructed the buildings of the National Assembly and the Prime Minister’s Office, and constructed a medical centre for 6,000 patients named after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Since 2021, Turkish companies have not only carried out work to the tune of $1 billion, but have also been involved in restructuring management structures. As a result, Turkish companies now manage Mogadishu’s seaport and airport, whose revenues account for about 80 percent of the government’s total budget.

In the area of military cooperation, Turkish instructors train Somali forces at the Turkish military base TURKSOM, established in 2017 on the outskirts of the Somali capital. A total of $50 million has been spent on the four square kilometre site. In addition to housing a task force of the Turkish armed forces, it also houses a training centre for officers and non-commissioned officers of the Somali army, as well as soldiers from other African states.

Since 2017, more than 5,000 Somali soldiers have been trained at the base. The focus is on building up special forces, which play an important role in the fight against the terrorist group Al-Shabaab (outlawed in the Russian Federation).

The training of this category of commandos, who are part of the Gregor (Eagles) anti-terrorist brigade, will begin at a base in Mogadishu and then continue on Turkish territory at the Isparta base. The military agreement between the two countries also provides for the supply of Turkish weapons and military equipment to Somali units. In particular, there have been repeated deliveries of Turkish Kirpi armoured vehicles and automotive equipment.

According to the Italian Institute for Policy Studies, Ankara’s presence in the Horn of Africa has taken on an even greater geopolitical dimension with the commissioning of this base, which represents a serious outpost for the further spread of Turkish influence. More specifically, it has effectively turned Somalia into an arena of confrontation between Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the other. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Turkey’s embassy in Mogadishu is today its largest diplomatic representation abroad.

It is also worth mentioning here that, as part of its space programme, Turkey plans to build a rocket launching site in Somalia, which is located in the equatorial zone, at a cost of $350 million.

On the basis of the above, Mogadishu is counting on Turkey to play an active role in resolving the current conflict with Ethiopia and Somaliland.

But in the current situation, Turkey is facing a difficult dilemma for itself. Its essence is that in August 2021, during Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Ankara, a “military and financial cooperation agreement” was signed between the two countries, under which during the hostilities in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Ankara sided with Addis Ababa by selling it a batch of drones, which, with their supplies from the UAE and Iran, decided the outcome of the war in favour of the central government. The other side of the issue is that Ethiopia has far greater economic potential than Somalia, being the seventh-largest consumer of Turkish goods and services, according to the IMF.

Investing heavily in Ethiopia’s textile industry, Turkey is the second-largest investor in Ethiopia after China, with a total investment of $2.5 billion. There are about 200 Turkish companies operating here, employing more than 20,000 Ethiopian workers and employees.

As the ongoing instability in Tigray spreads to other regions, Ankara, keen to maintain its interests in Ethiopia, has indicated its readiness to mediate to stabilise the situation in Tigray as well. But as the Kenyan newspaper Nation notes, even if the TPLF agrees to this mediation, the US, which is the main patron of the local rebel group, will do everything possible to prevent it as long as the current regime is in power.

It is noteworthy that against the backdrop of ongoing tensions in the Horn of Africa (which is in no way in Ethiopia’s interest), an agreement was signed on 8 February this year by Turkish Defence Minister Yashar Guler and his Somali counterpart Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur, who arrived in Ankara, to expand military cooperation, including counter-terrorism, and strengthen economic and financial ties.

Following the approval of the agreement by both houses of Parliament on 21 February this year, it emerged that it envisages Turkey assisting Somalia in defending its coastline with Turkish warships based in its territorial waters and in rebuilding its navy.

As part of this ten-year agreement, Ankara will also take part in the “development of Somalia’s maritime resources”, which has the longest coastline in Africa – more than 3,000 kilometres. Somalia’s territorial waters are considered among the richest in the world, especially tuna and lobster. According to Brookings, in some years the seafood production here reached 250,000 tonnes. This means that Turkish companies have gained access to a very lucrative fishing business.

It follows that the question of who to give preference to in developing ties with Ethiopia or Somalia is clearly in favour of Mogadishu as a stronghold of Turkish influence in the region.


Viktor GONCHAROV, African expert, candidate of sciences in economics, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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