Assessing Turkey’s Role in Somalia
8 Oct 2012
As a new Somali government is established, Turkey’s engagement in the war-ravaged country must be thoughtful and carefully coordinated so as not to lead to yet another failed international intervention.
Assessing Turkey’s Role in Somalia, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines Turkey’s role in helping stabilise Somalia and its new government. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s courageous visit to Mogadishu in August 2011 at the height of the famine and his decision to open an embassy gave fresh impetus to efforts to establish lasting peace in the country. But Turkey should tread with caution. Over twenty years, many states and entities have tried to bring relief and secure peace in Somalia, often leaving behind a situation messier than that which they found. Ankara must understand that it cannot solve the country’s many challenges alone.
“Trying to go solo could backfire, hamper ongoing efforts and lose the immense good-will Turkey has accumulated”, says Abdirashid Hashi, Crisis Group’s Somalia Analyst. “It needs to secure the support and cooperation of both the Somali people and the international community”.
Turkey’s humanitarian endeavours and its status as a Muslim and democratic state established it as a welcome partner. Ankara has signalled it is in for the long haul. Because of its timely famine relief and apparent strong commitment, as well as Somalis’ gratitude, its contribution is seen as colossal, even though Turkey’s presence on the ground is relatively small. But the positive image has a downside; it creates great expectations in regions that are not receiving Turkish assistance. Despite generous diplomatic and political support, Turkey’s means are modest and its material support will likely remain limited.
Somali criticism of the two conferences that were held in Istanbul from late May to early June 2012 should serve as a reminder of the volatility of and multiple fault lines in Somali politics. Turkey should lay out a public, clear and realistic long-term strategy for its Somalia policy, backed by secure funding and expertise. As it continues its activities, it should build up its knowledge of Somalia and coordinate with other countries and international agencies active in the country.
It is essential that Turkey remains impartial in Somali politics, and avoids being manipulated by Somali politicians who are long experienced in outwitting foreign newcomers. Targeted assistance should also be expanded to peaceful regions outside of Mogadishu.
“Turkey faces incredibly high Somali expectations that will lead to disappointment unless well managed”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Project Director for the Horn of Africa. “Ankara should be under no illusion that it can work unilaterally in Somalia; it should focus on building consensus and improving external coordination if its intervention is to be effective in stabilising the country and achieving lasting peace”.