A recent visit to the stunning, sprawling behemoth that is Istanbul made me appreciate the reach of Turkish Airlines, the national carrier connects Turkey’s commercial capital with an astonishing number of destinations. One of its most profitable routes is probably a surprise, but Mogadishu is now an established and popular destination for Turkish aid workers, diplomats and businesspeople.
Somalia is an unlikely investment destination for most businesses, the nation’s reputation for war, famine and chaos precedes it. But the Ankara government and many Turkish businesses saw an opportunity. President Erdogan made a high profile visit in 2011 and built its largest overseas embassy in the country. Turkish humanitarian aid worth USD 400 million to Somalia soon followed along with investment in Mogadishu’s port and airport as well the construction of hospitals and schools.
These efforts helped to push more Turkish companies into investing in and trading with Somalia. Now ties have extended to the military sphere and Turkey has built an overseas base in Somalia in an effort to help train the Somalian army who are still battling the militant al-Shabaab group in much of the country.
All this has naturally made Turkey rather popular in Somalia, Turkish President Erdogan has emphasised the two countries shared Muslim heritage, and the start of 2018 saw a new trade deal signed, which it is hoped will boost trade between the nations to the value of USD 200 million by 2020.
More cynical observers would argue that the Turkish government is interested in helping to boost its own image and international profile and its commercial forays have landed it effective control of the seaport and airport in Mogadishu, two highly strategic assets. Whatever the reasons Turkey is well embedded in the country and that brings risk. Of course placing money in Somalia was a huge risk in the first place, but the presence of a military base is a strong indication of mission creep. Turkey could get further drawn into the fight against al-Shaabab not move to be done lightly.
Turkish engagement with Somalia will hopefully encourage other early adopters to back the country which despite improvements remains fragile and its comparative success see Turkey invest in other African countries. Indeed the Turkish government has been busy building diplomatic bridges and commercial ties with African countries such as Sudan, Kenya and many others across the continent.