Somali-Turkish Relations: Opportunities and Challenges
Since the end of “transition” last year, the world seems willing to be engaged in Somalia once again after twenty years. This has happened because of many factors on the ground: al-Shabaab is becoming a non-issue, there is sound leadership with a clear vision on how to rebuild Somalia, and engage the world, and most importantly, the Somali people are ready for peace and governance although there are still some obstacles. With that in mind, however, the visit of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Somalia in August 2011 was a turning point that opened Somalia to the world and shaped renewed relations between Turkey and Somalia. Since the visit, Turkey has shown an interest in Somalia by opening the doors of cooperation between the two countries.
Many young Somali students were sponsored by private foundations to pursue their education throughout Turkey. As of today, according to the Somali Embassy in Ankara, there are 1,500 Somali students in Turkey studying in middle schools to universities. As part of a group from the U.S., who recently visited Turkey, I had an opportunity to meet these bright Somali students who came from every region of Somalia. They attend some of the best private schools in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Soma. Meeting with them was inspiring and emotional for the Somali-American delegation. All of these educational efforts will produce the human capital that—if it is used positively—is capable of playing a role in the formation of a functioning society that is ruled by laws.
Somali-Turkish political relations, as one may see it, was sown by the leadership of the last TFG led by Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali.
However, almost one year after the visit of Prime Minister Erdoğan to Mogadishu for the Istanbul Conference, though key stakeholders from the international community participated, has shown the improved political engagement of Turkey in Somalia. Diplomatic relations between the two countries was furthered, as Turkey became the first European/Asian country to establish a diplomatic mission in Mogadishu in 2011.
However, Somali-Turkish relation is not only about rebuilding the human capital that Somalia needs, nor about the humanitarian efforts that were in response to the severe droughts. It is equally about political and business opportunities that need to be carefully capitalized. There are two main elements that require political attention with the help of the Turkish government.
One is the greatest challenge that Somalia is facing is to enhance the security of the country. One may say that this is what the Somali government has already been doing. In fact, that is true, but disciplined officers who are free from social and psychological ills need to be selected for training in order to enhance the security environment. There are many young Somalis, who are not inflicted with a clannish and chaotic mentality. They need to be carefully identified and trained by the international community to provide security for Somalia.
The second component that deserves a higher priority from the Somali government is rebuilding infrastructures: roads, highways, government institutions, hospitals and schools. The economic well being of every society is reflected by its infrastructure, and this is what the Somali government desperately needs to work on after security is improved. Rebuilding Somalia’s economy is second to peace and stability, among the six pillars of vision that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has presented to Somalis and to the world in order to move Somalia forward.
However, it should be translated into taking bold action with the help of the international community and Turkey in particular to rebuild the infrastructures that will be conducive to the recovery of Somalia’s economy. Bi-lateral agreements that are in line with the vision of Somalia’s government and related to the rebuilding of infrastructures need to be carefully drafted by qualified civil servants.
Furthermore, Somali-Turkish relations need to be capitalized in the private sector by meeting three important prerequisites. One, there is a “permanent” government in place in Somalia, businesses must legalize their entities with the Somali government in order to fulfill their obligation to pay the required taxes as the government is also required to provide security for them. The Somali private sector has to cope with the new reality that Somalia will terminate the era of “business as usual.” Two, dealing with the Turkish private sector, which is highly organized, requires some level of professionalism from the Somali private sector.
In order to show professionalism, business portfolios and business plans need to be in place and well maintained by business experts. This will help the Somali private sector be identified about who they are, what their goals are, what their products are and what kind of services they provide. The third prerequisite, which is very important for any private sector, is organizing establishing chambers of commerce along the lines of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Business chambers can be used for different purposes, and in addition to defending the interests of their members according to existing business laws of Somalia (if any), they can be used as marketing tools that promote products and services.
Somali-Turkish political relations seem to be well established, but more needs to be articulated especially in the areas of security and rebuilding infrastructure which Somalia needs for development. Senior military officials may sooner or later retire from their posts, but in order to fill these posts, young Somalis with clean hearts need to be identified for military training schools. On the other hand, the momentum of business-business opportunity that is available from the Turkish private sector needs to be utilized by the Somali private sector. This cannot be done haphazardly. As the Somali government is required to provide and maintain security, the Somali private sector is obligated to meet its duty by voluntarily registering their businesses and paying taxes to the government. If the private sector can be organized and equipped with clear business portfolios and business plans, the chances for business-business relations with the Turkish private sector will be more visible.
In this case, the Somali private sector will be part of Somalia’s progress and development as their businesses will be more effective at least in the African economy, if not in the larger global economy.