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Turkey’s humanitarian diplomacy in Somalia: From past to present

Turkey’s humanitarian and development aid to Somalia is the backbone of the strong friendship between the two historically close allies

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Somalia with his family in 2011, when he was the prime minister, and took important steps eight years ago to ensure lasting peace in the region. Following that visit, relations between Turkey and Somalia improved dramatically in every respect.

After the Cold War, Turkey’s new political elites developed close relations with Africa. Somalia drew Turkey’s attention through its business diplomacy, due to such factors as export markets, geopolitical interests, geographic proximity and shared cultural, religious and historical links.

From this perspective, Somalia has gained exclusive status in Turkey’s humanitarian diplomacy toward Africa. The main reason is that Turkey is seen as a “human power” in Africa, specifically in Somalia, and the international community has appreciated its activities.

As a matter of fact, the International Crisis Group stated, “Turkey is a foreign actor which is to be imitated, rather than to be feared” due to its humanitarian diplomacy.

This article will look into Turkey’s gains in Somalia from past to present, specifically those arising from President Erdoğan’s 2011 visit.

Historical ties

Relations between Turkey and Somalia date back to the 16th century. At the time, the Ottoman Empire sought to prevent Somalia from becoming a Portuguese colony. In the wake of the 16th century, Somalia was ruled by local elements of the Ottoman Empire, following the empire’s demise, by Western colonial powers. During this period, the Ottoman presence in Berbera, just like the presence of the military training center in Somalia today, was the guarantee of peace in the region.

Contemporary Turkish and Somalian relations began with the opening of embassies in 1979, although Turkey’s embassy was closed in 1992 due to the civil war in Somalia. In the following years, Turkey was not indifferent to Somalia’s internal problems and joined the United Nations Operation in Somalia with an army under the control of Gen. Çevik Bir. During the civil war, some Turkish civil initiatives also provided assistance through their local partners.

During the transitional government in Somalia, official bilateral relations remained limited. Following this period, Prime Minister Erdoğan and the late President Abdullahi Yusuf met on the Jan. 29-30, 2012, at the African Union summit meeting in Addis Ababa. At this meeting, Prime Minister Erdoğan asked the Somali president to send a delegation to Ankara to present Somalia’s needs.

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