Somalia-Turkey Defense Agreement: An Opportunity For Stability – OpEd


Turkey and Somalia signed earlier this month what could be a consequential defense agreement covering many areas that are mutually beneficial to both countries. One key area in the agreement lies in “planning and executing joint air, land and sea operations, in case defense is needed in relation to the use of these resources.”

It is not a deal that directly targets or minimizes Ethiopia’s relationship with Turkey. To the contrary,  in the Tigray war of 2020-2022, Addis Ababa would have fallen into the hands of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) without the Turkish drones which had “turned the tide” in Ethiopia’s favor.

With a deep historical relationship, Turkey has been providing scholarships to Somali students while EconomicRelations between the two countries have been increasing, following Turkish PM  Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Mogadishu in 2011.  As such, PM Recep Tahhip Erdogan was the first world leader to visit Somalia. 

It was precisely because of past groundwork that the Somali’s council of ministers and its parliament approved  the 10 years defense agreement. Somalis across clan, region, and gender hold Somalo-Turkish relationships with high regard.

Whether the Somali-Turkish defense agreement could potentially deter Ethiopia-Somaliland’s desire to implement the MoU, which Ethiopia signed with the breakaway region of Somaliland remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the MoU inadvertantly undermines Ethiopia’s historic role in upholding AU’s  principle sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Until now, Ethiopia was known as a cornerstone of Africa’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty to which in this case it contradicted. 

Under Prime Minister Abiy, Addis Ababa has created a dangerous political narrative that his 120 million population must get a port by any means necessary. Such undiplomatic undue pressure on neighbors  threatens peace and is reminiscent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of the Cremean. 

For over a century since 1897 when the Djibouti-Addis Ababa rail was constructed, Ethiopia had access to the sea. For commercial purposes, it had and still has many options to access the Djibouti port. With good politics, it could also have access to multiple ports in Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Kenya. But searching a naval base through the January 2024 MoU is challenging since the Federal Somali Government rejected that proposition.

Seeking a naval base in Somalia’s waters by signing the faulty MoU with the unrecognized breakaway region of Somaliland could be construed as a threat to regional stability and Somalia’s independence. The undersecretary for Africa Bureau, Molly Phee, cautioned Ethiopia against doing so. In stronger terms, The White House also said Ethiopia’s action is a threat to US interests in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Given internal wars and worsening external relationships, Ethiopia could open up a canon of worms.

Through the years, for exmaple, Ethiopia had and still could have, several pro-independence [armed] movements (TPLF, OLF, ONLF, ALF, SLF) and recently FANO, all of which could flare up as regional instability increases. If and when neighboring countries start supporting and arming these groups, Ethiopia’s already maligned standing in the world could get worse. 

With prudent politics from Addis Ababa, confrontation between Somalia and Ethiopia can be averted. 

A way forward must include Ethiopia respecting Somalia’s sovereignty, leaving Somali people’s internal affairs to be resolved by their own schemes, and seeking sea access in a peaceful and mutually agreeable manner.

It is perhaps plausible that Turkey could even play a constructive role and use its relations with both sides to open doors for a new and mutually beneficial conversation.

Faisal Roble

Faisal Roble is the former editor of the WardheerNews portal and is Principal City Planner and Chief Equity Officer for Racial Justice & Equity for the Planning Department, Los Angeles City.

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