Somalia ready to do business with Turkey – and the rest of the world By RASNA WARAH | Monday, June 11 2012 at 11:50
What is Turkey doing differently in Somalia that other donors are not doing?
And what is it about Turkey’s foreign policy towards Somalia that is so different from that of other members of the international community?
These are some of the questions that came up frequently at the conference on Somalia held in Istanbul last week.
One answer is that Turkish nationals, unlike nationals of other donor countries, are physically present in Somalia, particularly in the capital Mogadishu.
And their contribution is not just visible but is achieving tangible results.
Since August last year when the Turkish Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Mogadishu with his family, Turkish Government officials, relief workers, volunteers, engineers, doctors, nurses and NGOs have been living in Somalia, rebuilding schools, hospitals and other essential infrastructure.
Unlike other donors, they have not set up offices in Nairobi from where they run their projects remotely.
The Somalis, having unsuccessfully waited for “development” to reach them for more than 20 years, are more than grateful.
As delegates mulled over the technicalities of bringing about stability and economic development to the war-torn country, United Nations officials and heads of international aid agencies searched frantically for a reason to make themselves relevant in a country that has disintegrated under their watch.
Turkey is now showing them the way forward. The government wants to build public-private partnerships with Somalia that will boost the country’s economy and bring in much-needed services.
Somalis, working in and outside the government, have hinted they want to take the lead in rebuilding their country.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali has often accused the UN of misusing millions of dollars intended for Somalia.
Turkey has also indicated that its long-term interest in Somalia is trade, not aid, and that once the country stabilises, it will forge partnerships that will boost, not just Turkey’s economy, but Somalia’s as well.
This appeals to the Somalis’ entrepreneurial spirit that was crushed (but not killed) during the civil war of the last 20 years.
Despite a weak government and non-existent regulatory systems, Somalia managed to export livestock, fish, bananas and charcoal to neighbouring countries.
Livestock exports alone accounted for half of its export earnings. Telecommunications and money transfer companies are also thriving in Somalia; the country offers the lowest international call rates on the continent.
But an economy that is largely informal cannot help a country to prosper. And that is where Turkey hopes to make a difference.
During a recent conversation, the Turkish ambassador to Somalia, Dr C Kani Torun, told me that Turkey’s ambitions were to increase trade with Africa, and that was why the government had increased the number of embassies on the continent from 12 to 33 in the last 10 years.
Official statistics indicate that Turkey’s trade volume with sub-Saharan Africa increased tenfold from only $742 million in 2000 to almost $7.5 billion in 2011.
Cynics claim that as the “new kid on the block”, Turkey is too inexperienced in its dealings with a highly complex and fragmented Somalia.
The Nairobi-based aid community is worried that Turkey may end up supporting and financing warlords and tycoons.
One aid worker in Nairobi told Reuters that Turkey’s achievements in Somalia was making the rest of the aid community look like “fools”.
But supporters of Turkey’s hands-on approach say that the country has managed to achieve in less than one year what the UN and donors have been unable to achieve in 20.
The Istanbul Declaration endorsed last week by representatives of 54 countries noted the importance of creating “the right investment climate” in Somalia and the need for better regulation of development assistance through a Joint Financial Management Board.
The board should bring some sanity into the finances and revenue received and generated by Somalia and reduce rampant corruption.
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