By Abdirtahir Mohammed Abdile
Turkey originally maintained an embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, until the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991. It subsequently closed the embassy down due to security reasons.
Rather interestingly, on May 21, 2010 Turkey hosted a U.N. sponsored, three-day conference on Somalia to address conflict, piracy and the deepening humanitarian crisis in the war-torn nation. The conference was one of the major in its bid for a greater influence on the African continent. Turkey directs its interests in Africa while maintaining close ties with the U.S., as well as maintaining the bid to join the European Union. To all the well wishers, this is seen as part of a new vigorous and energetic Turkish foreign policy.
In regard to Somalia, in 2011, a severe drought hit southern Somalia; “The worst in sixty years,” the drought caused a severe food crisis that threatened the livelihood of more than twelve million people in Somalia and neighboring countries. On August 19, 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to Somalia to draw international attention to the East African country’s drought and famine situation. Erdogan, who was accompanied on the trip by his wife, daughter and an entourage consisting of cabinet members and their families, visited refugee camps and hospitals in Somalia to witness the devastation caused by the severe drought.
Consequently, the government opened an embassy in Mogadishu and took several measures to help Somalia improve its infrastructure. Among others, this included digging wells to improve water supply, building a major hospital, six field hospitals and a highway from Mogadishu Airport to the city center, and establishing facilities for waste management to clean up Mogadishu’s rubbish-ridden streets. Erdoğan emphasized that the Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) will also build houses and schools in the war-torn country of Somalia.
To this effect, through the Turkish Prime Minister, the Turkish directorate of Disaster and Emergency Management said that they had mobilized funds to a tune of $201 million in donations to Somalia since the aid campaign begun in August, 2011.
March 6, 2012 everybody was in remarkable praise of Turkish Airlines: he first long-distance international commercial airliner in two decades to fly to Somalia’s war-torn capital landed on its maiden flight at Mogadishu airport. The Turkish Airlines flight, with a high-level delegation from Ankara led by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, was welcomed cordially upon landing in the anarchic seaside capital of Somalia.
Several airlines operating in Somalia, including Kenya-based African Express, fly into Somalia from neighboring nations, notwithstanding Turkish Airlines’ proposed twice-weekly flights which will be the first commercial flights from outside the region. The deputy prime minister of Turkey inaugurated the operations of the international carrier. This unprecedented move by Turkish Airlines will go a long way in encouraging other international carriers to realize that they too can operate in Somalia. It really is a major step toward development.
In a nutshell, the next international conference to be hosted by Turkey on Somalia in June, 2012 in cooperation with the United Nations (U.N.), truly awaits big things in every sense of the word. We can’t wait.
Abdirtahir Mohammed Abdile is project officer, World Vision Somalia.