Why Somali President Cannot Afford to Upset Turkey

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud returned from a five-day visit to Turkey on July 8 for an initially planned “two-day visit” after he received an invitation from Turkey.

Similarly, he had announced a two-day visit to Abu Dhabi on June 19, a murky visit that also lasted five days. These sloppily arranged visits, if carried out by the president’s aides, leave another blemish on the professionalism of the president’s aides, mostly picked from the president’s inner clan.

Once in Turkey, it took four days for the President Hassan Mohamud to be received by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He spent three days wandering between Ankara and Isparta, during which he visited and met Somali embassy staff and Somali nationals living in Turkey.

The president was also invited to talk at the SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Ankara where he shared his thoughts and policy.

On July 6, he visited the military base in Isparta where he met and spent time with young Somali soldiers in training. Many Somalis remember, as one of the opposition leaders for the past 5 years, Mohamud’s scathing criticism of Turkish military support for Somalia.

Compared to the warm welcome of former President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, with whom Erdogan had a more than cordial relationship, the cold reception given to Mohamud is a testimony of an underlying discontent.

The Somali president most likely understood the Turkish position and seized all the opportunities of these four days by singing the praises of the relations between the two “brotherly” countries.

The meeting with Erdogan finally took place on the 6th and he was received with great fanfare at a time when people wondered if this meeting was going to take place.

The Turkey-Somalia relationship

Erdogan-led Turkey has been very generous to Somalia as the Turkish leader in 2011 was the first head of a government, incidentally from a major regional power, to visit Somalia at the end of the disastrous civil war.

At that time, Somalia needed all kinds of assistance and the post-war transitional government was desperate to be taken seriously.

Since then, Turkey has spent more than a billion dollars providing humanitarian and development aid through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

The Turks built hospitals, roads and other crucial infrastructure such as Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport which is now a jewel in the region. Turkey also provided budget support to the government and scholarships to thousands of Somali students.

They undertook to reform the Somali army and continuously trained more than 5,000 soldiers and 1,000 police officers from the Haram’ad special unit.

In addition, Turkey has built the largest military base outside of Turkey in Mogadishu, the Camp TURKSOM base, which includes a military academy now in Somali hands.

Turkey has also welcomed thousands of Somalis to invest especially in real estate or take advantage of opportunities offered by a strategic country located between Europe and Asia and, what is more, a rising regional power.

Erdogan has been so invested in Somalia that in 2021 a proposal to continue unfettered budget support caused an outcry among the opposition in Turkey’s parliament.

It is noteworthy that Turkey’s assistance and friendly support has transcended three presidents in the past 10 years. It was during Hassan Mohamud’s first term in 2014 that budgetary support resumed.

President Mohamud’s blunder

President Mohamud’s fatal mistake was to relegate such a friendly and safe country to second place by preferring to visit the United Arab Emirates first.

In contrast to Turkey, the UAE has done nothing for Somalia. In fact, the Gulf country closed the only hospital they built and rolled back other development assistance after they fell out with Farmajo’s government in 2018.

The Somali troops they trained until 2018, under orders from Abu Dhabi, even tried to take the parliament by force. The emirates have continued to destabilize Somalia ever since, supporting all centrifugal forces.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s visit to Abu Dhabi remains shrouded in secrecy. One thing is certain though. Mohamud is grateful to the UAE for helping him defeat President Farmajo by investing millions in his campaign.

During his electoral campaign, he did not hesitate to drag Turkey’s unwavering and non-partisan support through the mud to please his sponsoring countries. Yet, Turkey has never interfered in any way with the Somali elections remaining open to work with any Somali administration as it has done before.

Whether the visit to the UAE was an invitation from the Emirati ruler Mohamed Bin Zayed or a summons from this leader known for his contempt for Somalia, the president returned dejected and even physically bruised.

For a week, he locked himself in his presidential palace and kept silent. His spokesperson said he had contracted Covid-19 and wanted to maintain social distancing.

On July 3, news broke of an Egyptian spy hub equipped with an Israeli system in Mogadishu. These intelligence gathering activities targeting the Turkish base have raised alarm bells over the extent of Egypt’s relationship with the Mohamud administration’s spymaster, Mahad Salad.

Former president Mr. Farmajo fell victim to his insistence that Somalia not become a regional battleground and kept the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel at bay.

Set the clocks back

Recent developments in international politics have shown that the new Turkey knows how to loudly voice its displeasure, and patiently waits for its detractors and other hostile elements in its corner.

President Mohamud cannot afford to upset Turkey and had better repair the damage immediately otherwise he risks being abandoned to predatory states like the United Arab Emirates or Egypt.

First, he should redeem himself and remove from his administration individuals deemed hostile to Turkish interests in the region or at least close to countries hostile to those interests.

In this case, the recent appointment of Mahad Salad, an individual known for his pro-Egyptian positions, at the head of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), must be reconsidered without delay.

Second, people known to have good relations with Turkey or at least not be tainted by anti-Turkish rhetoric should be appointed to key positions.

Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre has yet to announce his cabinet and there is still time to right the wrongs committed early in Mohamud’s tenure, and forget about the damaging campaigns he unleashed.

President Mohamud’s visit to Turkey, the avoidance of the meeting of IGAD countries in Nairobi on July 5 and the current visit to Eritrea seem to be an admission of the correctness of Farmajo’s foreign policy.

It remains to be seen whether Mohamud has the ability to reconcile his slogan of a Somalia at peace with itself and with the world, and the reality of a constantly hostile Kenya or the fact that other countries are bent on using Somalia to advance their own interests..

AbdiQani Badar

AbdiQani Badar is a historian, political commentator and avid writer. He has written extensively on Somali issues and historical events.