The Turkish foreign minister has summarized the major changes in Turkish foreign policy and perspective in a response to former French president Sarkozy:
Sarkozy said, “I see Turkey wherever I look in Africa.”
To which Ahmet Davutoğlu replied, “Make our embassy building in Dar es-Selaam (Tanzania) so magnificent that Sarkozy can see it from as far away as Paris!”
Turkey is laying the foundations for a new way forward in the Horn of Africa. It is seeking to return to the lands it abandoned in the early part of the last century, despite the difficulties posed by realpolitik, in a definitive and more powerful manner. Africa, the scene of conflicts and wars for a very long time and caught between the two poles of the Cold War in particular, is now witnessing a new and unfamiliar player being much more active in the region. Turkey, which has also experienced great internal economic growth, is looking towards the continent, with which it shares cultural and historic features, from a new perspective. This continent, which witnessed both Western and Russian imperialism for much of the 20th Century, is now experiencing the policies of this country as Turkey begins exporting its own values.
There is no doubt that among the countries of Africa, which have been trying to cope with civil strife for so long, it is Somalia that Turkey regards as the most important and strategic; the fact that the country is 100% Muslim, that it lies in a strategic region, and the current painful position in which it finds itself, all contribute to making the country a focus of urgent attention. Regarded as a colony for many years by Great Britain, France and Italy, the country also witnessed painful proxy conflicts between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War.
As East Africa was wracked by famine in later years, the people of the region came to the brink of starvation; deaths and mass migrations ensued. Turkey has made an important move by assuming its responsibilities and initiated an aid campaign and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Somalia with an accompanying delegation. CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu then visited the Dadaab refugee camp, home to Somali refugees, in Kenya. Civil society organizations and state institutions such as TIKA (Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency), the Turkish Red Crescent, the Religious Affairs Department, DSI and AFAD have undertaken major projects. While earning the appreciation of the Somali people, Turkey also gained prestige in the political arena. The Turkish embassy in Somalia, which had been closed in 1993, was reopened and a figure with no diplomatic experience but with great experience in the field of humanitarian aid was appointed as ambassador. Turkish Airlines (THY) started direct flights to the country, allowing Somalia to open up to the world again. Once TIKA had made Mogadishu Airport fit for use again, THY started direct flights from Istanbul to Mogadishu on March 5th, 2012, as the only international airline to provide Somalia with links to the outside world.
Turkey is now a major player in East Africa and a player that throws a wrench in the neo-colonialists’ works. Davutoğlu’s reference to “Turkey being under every stone,” seriously alarms many of the former Western colonial powers. “Not only have we opened up to Somalia, we have an integrated project in the entire region,” says Davutoğlu.
It is important that Turkey is keen to serve in Africa, and Somalia in particular. With its perfect coast some 300 km long, Somalia is a launching pad to the East. It is also strategically important with its dominant geography of the Arabian Peninsula.
Yet these countries cannot control their own gulf. Some powers are trying to maintain that lack of control by dividing Somalia and its coastline into three.
Making it easier for young Somalis to attend Turkish universities has led to various matters being brought up more often. Western countries, which used to consider their own strategic interests first on the continent, find themselves uneasy at the way the young generations of two Muslim countries will be affected by this. Al-Shabaab also regards this education initiative as a violation of Sharia law; indeed, the recent attack on the Turkish embassy in Mogadishu needs to be evaluated in that light. Turkey has to expect that it will be the target of such terror attacks right from the outset, and must take precautions accordingly. It is natural that some international and local circles will be uneasy at this initiative being taken by Turkey. The risks facing Turkey are proportional to the size of its ambitions for the continent. This must not be thought of solely as a success for Turkish foreign policy: It is important for Somalia to enter into such relations for its own advantage. Somalia regards Turkey as a means of freedom from captivity and as a reliable partner with which it can make a great economic leap forward. A common heritage from the past ıs in any case enough for mutual trust to develop. In comparison to Western countries, Turkey is the most reliable and realistic partner to achieve success in Somalia and all other African countries as well.
It is no coincidence that radical groups appear whenever African countries want to move forward and make fundamental changes and then suddenly suspend their activities at a moment’s notice. Somalia is a peculiar country, where no fishing is possible along its 3000-km shoreline because in the view of some sects, it is unlawful to eat or trade in fish. Such radical organizations represent an obstacle to all kinds of educational efforts. Western countries, whose aim is to prevent any country apart from themselves engaging in activity have always kept such organizations ready in the wings and armed them when necessary.
For all these reasons, Turkey is the only way out and a genuine opportunity for progress in Somalia. Turkey has never been a colonialist country. Then as now, the Ottoman Empire always went to countries to serve them. Helping and serving the Muslim people of Somalia will be a major step toward Turkish-Islamic Union. The days ahead will be bright ones when these two friendly countries do great things together.
Adnan Oktar's piece on News + Rescue: