On Thursday last week, a suicide car bomb killed five people in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. The attacker drove a car loaded with explosives to the gate of a hotel but was not able to gain entrance. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack. The car bombing was the latest in a series of attacks carried out by the group in the country. Sadly, it was not a surprise.
However, that day was the eve of a planned visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his Horn of Africa tour. Around 70 members of a Turkish delegation were in the hotel at the time. Many of them were security personnel responsible for the preparations for Erdoğan's arrival. It is not unlikely that the attack was aimed to deter Erdoğan from visiting Somalia.
Somalia is known as a country that has high security risks. It is rarely visited by foreign leaders. Al-Shabab is fighting with Somali government troops and African Union troops, and a world leader who has launched development projects in Somalia, of course, is not welcome as far as al-Shabab fighters are concerned. But there is one major difference. Erdoğan is not just any world leader. No other leader has accomplished even the half of what he has for Somalia.
I remember his first visit to the famine-hit country in 2011 during Ramadan while he was prime minister. He went to Mogadishu with his family despite the common opinion that visiting the country was too dangerous. He was the first non-African leader to visit the country in 20 years. During that summer, there was a huge aid campaign to help Somalia in Turkey. He cared about a country that no one else cared about, he took risks, visited and supported the poor and lent a hand to his African brothers and sisters. He made the Turkish people do the same.
In three years, Turkey has become a major investor in Somalia, carrying out huge construction projects in a country that has been ruined by years of warfare.
After the car bombing, all eyes turned toward Erdoğan. Was he going to cancel the visit due to security threats, or would he go after all? He announced that he would go ahead as planned despite the intimidation. After he attended King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's funeral, he did exactly that. He was with his wife and his daughter again just like the first time. He launched a number of development projects sponsored by the Turkish government including an airport terminal in Mogadishu.
Somalis welcomed him as a hero. Al-Shabab has long threatened Turkey, accusing it of spreading secularism, a country ironically slandered by neo-conservative and pro-Israeli circles with lies of supporting terrorism. A Turkish security official was killed in 2013 in an attack on the Turkish Consulate and relief mission in Mogadishu. But Erdoğan did not surrender or abandon Somalia just like he did not bow down to those circles that set their minds to get rid of him.
Since the beginning he has put others before himself. He has taken a stand against the common narrative of the international system. He helped people who need help to the full extent of his power while he was under constant attacks from both Turkish and international press organizations. He lent a hand not only to Somalis, but to those from Gaza and Syria. I know politics is not the first place we look to find heroism. I know Erdoğan's way is not the usual kind of policy-making to which we are accustomed. And I know I will be harshly criticized by those who hate his methods when I speak the truth about him. But despite social pressure, I should say that his courage, humanity, unpredictable ways of choosing humans over the international system and acclaim deserve admiration.