The announcement by Turkey on Thursday of a $30 million donation to Somalia has attracted widespread criticism. It follows the recent revelation that Turkey does not have any firefighting planes available as efforts continue to battle devastating wildfires on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.
The money donated by Ankara to the war-torn African country, which will be paid in monthly installments of $2.5 million, will be used for “budget financing and international capacity building.” It is part of an agreement signed by the two countries last month.
Since declaring 2005 the “Year of Africa,” Turkey has engaged strongly with Somalia and enhanced bilateral political, military, trade and economic ties. This has been motivated both by ideology and Ankara’s desire to boost its geopolitical influence — but some observers wonder how long this level of engagement in the region can continue given Turkey’s own economic constraints.
Over the past six years, Turkey has allocated $117 million to Somalia. Last year, amid the pandemic and the resultant economic downturn, Turkey contributed to debt relief for Somalia by pledging about $2.4 million in Special Drawing Rights, which are International Monetary Fund foreign exchange reserves. It was one of the 116 countries to contribute to this debt relief.
Last year, exports from Turkey to Somalia were worth $272.76 million and Turkish companies invested $100 million in the African nation. Turkey’s largest overseas military base is in Somalia, and Somali soldiers are trained there by Turkish armed forces. However the latest donation has been condemned by some in Turkey as extravagance, particularly in light of the fact that funding is not available for aircraft to help firefighting efforts.
“A total of six firefighting planes could have been purchased with this money,” said Alpay Antmen from the main opposition Republican People’s Party.
Others welcomed the donation as an important contribution to a country that has suffered from famine, drought and civil war for decades.
Abdirashid Hashi, a former minister and former director of the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank in Somalia, said that the majority of the country’s national resources are invested in priority areas, and so strategic investments require funding from overseas.
“Turkey’s $30-million budget support to Somalia’s state-building effort is one of these instances and it means a lot to Somalia, which considers Ankara as one of its closest allies,” he told Arab News.
Turkey sees a return on its investment in Somalia in the form of the significant volume of trade between the two countries, Hashi added.
Last year, a Turkish business signed a 14-year contract to manage and upgrade the port in Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu. Somalia also receives assistance from Ankara, especially with development and social projects, through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. Turkey built a hospital in the country and rebuilt the Aden Adde International Airport in the capital. Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish academic from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Turkey’s expanding footprint in Africa is one area in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deserves credit.
“Turkey really ignored sub-Saharan Africa for the most part until the rise of Erdogan,” he told Arab News. “He used aid, personal visits, engagements, military assistance and humanitarian help as a way to build influence and it has worked in the region. African leaders were among those who congratulated him for his 2018 move in assuming executive presidency.”
While Turkey has built significant influence in other parts of Africa under Erdogan and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Cagaptay believes Somalia is a unique and interesting case study in Ankara’s development of ties in the region. “Turkey’s influence in Somalia is many times greater than in other countries in the region,” he said. “It has the largest-ever embassy in Mogadishu.
“Turkey customized its outreach to Somalia as a country that doesn’t have any colonial roots in the country. Erdogan also used his personalized touch with the Somali leadership, and in August 2011 he became the first non-African leader to visit Somalia, including a refugee camp, in a decade. “I think Somalia served as a strategic stepping stone for Turkey’s entry into Africa.”