Turkey: With Relief Effort in Somalia, the Turkish Model of Aid Gains Traction
Last October, with his wife and several ministers in tow, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became to first non-African world leader to visit Somalia in the last 20 years. Erdogan's visit has actually turned out to be more than just window dressing: in recent months, Turkey -- which had previously not been a major player in international relief work -- has taken the lead in providing aid in the war-torn country, in the process earning plaudits from both locals and other international organizations. With a one-day summit on Somalia, which will gather leaders from some 50 countries and international aid organizations, scheduled to start tomorrow in London, the "Turkish model" of aid appears to be of particular interest. From a new BBC report that looks at Turkey's humanitarian work in Somalia:
In the months since the militant Islamist group, al-Shabab, was finally pushed out of the city by African Union soldiers Turkey has emerged as the most visible foreign presence in Mogadishu - if you discount the green armoured cars belonging to the AU force (Amisom), which still growl their way through the busy streets.
While most foreign organisations remain cooped up at the heavily guarded Amisom base by the airport, some 200 Turkish nationals are now living and working in the city on a variety of projects, ranging from construction to logistics and aid.
"They are our brothers" is a common reaction from Somalis when the Turkish are mentioned.
"While some talk, they act," was how a man called Aden put it to me.
He said he had recently returned from Canada to help the reconstruction of Somalia.
So why aren't other countries, or the United Nations, more active, and is it fair to criticise organisations for taking big security precautions, given the number of aid workers who have been killed in Somalia over the years?
"They could do more," said Mr Kucuk simply.
The UK's new ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, still based in neighbouring Kenya, acknowledged that "the Turkish have shown what it is possible to do operationally".
"They've brought a really strong political force to bear. They're intimately involved - a real force."
Turkey's boots-on-the-ground approach is having something of a catalytic effect on the aid community.
"The Turkish aid is setting a lot of pace," said Killian Kleinschmidt, the UN's deputy humanitarian co-ordinator in Somalia.
He acknowledged that organisations with Islamic backgrounds "can move better than we can".
While Ankara's interest in Somalia is clearly charitable, it's involvement in the ravaged country does also fit into a larger foreign policy objective of deepening its engagement with Africa, especially in terms of trade. Quoting a leading Somali businessman, a Reuters article suggests that this trade-driven policy -- which has animated many of Turkey's other foreign policy initiatives around the globe -- may actually serve as a powerful compliment to Ankara's relief work in Somalia. From Reuters:
Abdirashid Duale, arguably Somalia's most influential businessman, says several legitimate sectors of the economy are thriving, and a can-do merchant elite can help bring peace by building badly needed roads and airports and providing jobs.
All that is needed are outside investors who can see economic potential in what is often dismissed as a failed state, and Turkey is ahead of the pack in exploring ways to engage economically, said Duale, chief executive of Dahabshiil, an international money transfer business.
"I think the Turkish have changed the (development) environment, they've changed the landscape. They want to invest," he told Reuters in an interview.
"The Turkish business communities are going to Mogadishu and I'd love to see Turkey going to all the other Somali-speaking regions such as Somaliland and Puntland," he said, adding that he thought Western powers were overly "cautious".
His comments echo those of Western officials who say they admire the ability of Turkish donors and businessmen to operate in areas of Somalia seen by Europeans as excessively risky.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.