In 2011, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first non-African leader to visit Somalia following the country's devastating civil war for nearly two decades. During this visit, Erdoğan announced that Turkey would establish an embassy in Mogadishu, which has since grown to be among the biggest Turkish embassies in the world. The visit and opening of the Turkish Embassy in the country also marked the beginning of closer relations between Mogadishu and Ankara. These relations have grown beyond diplomatic engagements and continue to be felt on different socioeconomic and humanitarian fronts.
The relationship between Turkey and Somalia has historical ties and these renewed engagements offer significant benefits for both countries. Within less than a decade since relations were renewed, visible changes can be seen from investments in health care, infrastructure, capacity building and training for government officials.
Turkey started its largest overseas operation with contributions from the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 2011. Since then, it has been continuing its humanitarian and development aid efforts in Somalia. These organizations have provided emergency response, development projects, technology transfer and scholarships to Somali students to study in Turkey. More foreign embassies have opened in the country's capital city, and the country is progressing, attracting investment and returning expatriates, all of which offer a reflection of confidence from Turkey’s leadership.
The "Istanbul Meetings" and the "Ankara Declaration" held in Turkey made significant contributions to developing relations between both countries. The "Development Cooperation Agreement between the Republic of Turkey and the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia" was signed on April 26, 2017.
Trade gates between the two countries have opened. Turkish companies have begun investing in Somalia, and some have secured high-level contracts to operate the Mogadishu port and the airport. Meanwhile, many Somali businesspeople have opened businesses in Turkey, and hundreds more have made Turkey a higher education and health tourism destination.
Turkish Airlines flies to Mogadishu as the only non-African airline company to do so, and the new airport terminal, hospital and some other public projects built in the country’s capital city are concrete examples of Turkey's interest in Somalia.
Having struggled with civil war and famine for decades, Somalia is a country dependent on imports. In 2020, Turkey’s bilateral trade volume with Somalia amounted to $280 million (TL 2.44 billion), and the total value of Turkish companies' investments in Somalia has reached $100 million.
When it comes to human capital development, Turkey provides numerous scholarships to Somali students, and thousands of students benefit from studying in Turkey. Turkey has also established universities and vocational training centers in Somalia.
Turkey has played a major role in rebuilding Somali infrastructure, including some roads that have been rehabilitated and paved, most notably the main road between Afgoye and the capital city of Mogadishu. In addition, rebuilding government buildings that were destroyed during the civil war is one of the essential projects Turkey has undertaken in Somalia in recent years. For example, in 2017, TIKA built a new building for the Somali Senate and put it into service.
Ziraat Katılım, the biggest state-owned bank in Turkey, plans to open a branch in Somalia after a visit by a delegation from the bank. Ziraat Katılım General Manager Metin Özdemir said, “We have received the necessary permission from Turkey's Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BRSA), and we aim to open our branch by the end of this year.”
Aug. 19, 2021, marked the 10th anniversary of the close friendship between Turkey and Somalia. A ceremony was held at the Somali presidential palace attended by the president of Somalia and the Turkish ambassador to Somalia. The president addressed the ceremony and praised the multifaceted relationship between the two countries.
Throughout this 10-year relationship, economic ties between the two countries have grown, and businesspeople from both countries have met on several occasions. Some private Turkish companies have begun to invest in Somalia, particularly in the construction sector. Last November, the Galmudug regional administration signed agreements with several companies to construct the Hobyo port, one of which was a Turkish construction company.
Somalia is a country with untapped natural resources, and some preliminary explorations show that the country has a large number of gas, oil and minerals deposits. It is estimated that the total oil in the Indian Ocean waters off of Somalia is about 100 billion barrels. In January 2020, Erdogan stated that Somalia had offered Turkey the opportunity to partake in oil exploration.
Turkey's recently announced space program aims to land on the moon by 2023, and Turkey could build a spaceport in Somalia worth $350 million as part of its program. Turkey's largest military training base outside the country is already in Somalia, and Ankara has maintained good relations with the Somali government since 2011.
Somalia, a country that has been in a daunting situation for a long time, is now on the mend. An honest, reliable friend like Turkey, always willing to assist in a difficult situation, is indispensable for Somalia.
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