SAM Snapshots

Why is Türki̇ye’s Recent Deal with Somalia Being Hailed as Historic?

Eylem Eyrice Tepeciklioğlu
2 Nisan 2024

The defense ministers of Türkiye and Somalia met in early February to sign a defense and economic cooperation framework agreement. The deal underscores the paramount importance of maritime security in an already volatile region and the need to strengthen Somalia’s capabilities amidst increasing international competition.

Following its ratification by the Somalian parliament with only a few objections, Somalia’s Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre hailed the pact as “historic,” one that will help Somalia build its capabilities to counteract terrorism, piracy, illegal and irregular activities, and external threats to the country’s coastline. This emphasis on the need for protection against “external interference” led many to question if the signing of the deal could be associated with Somalia’s strained relations with neighboring Ethiopia.

Is the deal against Ethiopia?

In his opinion penned for Anadolu Agency, Somalia’s Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed noted that “its foundation was carefully crafted through a decade of commitment since 2011.” Yet, the deal comes amidst tensions with Ethiopia after Addis Ababa signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia. The controversial agreement would grant landlocked Ethiopia access to the Red Sea via Somaliland’s Port of Berbera in exchange for Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland’s independence.

Türkiye affirmed its support for Somalia’s “unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity” underscoring its commitment to international law. However, Ankara also has strong and established relations with Ethiopia. The use of Bayraktar TB2 drones supplied to Addis Ababa under a military cooperation agreement was reportedly instrumental in the withdrawal of rebel Tigrayan fighters from Ethiopia’s capital in 2022.

On the other hand, other extraregional players, including Gulf countries, are expanding their role in the Horn of Africa and aspire to shape regional dynamics. For instance, having significant investments in Somalia and supporting Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government, the UAE sponsored the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace agreement and backed the Ethiopian government in its fight against Tigray forces. It is, therefore, fair to inquire whether the recent deal between Türkiye and Somalia has the risk of generating new tensions with the UAE in the wider Red Sea region.

Türkiye and the UAE are mending their ties

Since 2020, Türkiye and the UAE have embarked on significant efforts to restore their ties. In order to preserve their substantial investments in both Ethiopia and Somalia, it is in the interest of both countries to prevent the region descending into civil war. As Mogadishu seeks allies to attract additional investments and bolster its military capabilities, it looks for all the support it can get from the outside world.

Shortly after the ratification of the deal with Türkiye, Somalia’s Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Daud Aweis, wrote on X, “On a momentous occasion, the cabinet has endorsed a defense collaboration pact between Somalia and the esteemed Republic of Turkey, a NATO member and close ally. This landmark 10-year pact will significantly bolster Somalia government’s endeavors to safeguard its sovereignty.”

The reference to Türkiye’s NATO membership alludes to its military capabilities and intends to give a clear message to potential foes that the strong relations between the two countries will continue under a new comprehensive agreement.

Türkiye, indeed, has solid ties with Somalia. Assuming a leading role in Somalia’s postwar construction process, Türkiye has been providing training to Somalia’s armed forces with the overall aim to strengthen their capacity especially against the al-Shabaab terrorist group. In addition to the establishment of its largest overseas military training facility (TURKSOM) in Mogadishu in 2017, other symbolic acts such as Turkish Airlines’ starting of direct flights to Mogadishu and the inauguration of Türkiye’s largest embassy in Africa in the city reveal Türkiye’s expanding interest in the country. Turkish companies also assume large infrastructure projects in the country.

What’s next?

The recent deal between Türkiye and Somalia came at a time when Somalia sought external support especially in response to Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU. Somali President Mohamud visited Eritrea and hosted an Egyptian delegation in the same week. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Egypt will not allow any threat to Somalia or its security, referring to the MoU between Ethiopia and Somalia. Having disputes with Addis Ababa over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Cairo also seeks Mogadishu’s support.

Meanwhile, Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea where external players are vying for an increasing influence, has sparked concerns of maritime security in one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The escalating tensions between regional countries have prompted the formation of new alliances and the strengthening of old ones. All these developments suggest that cooperation for regional security is more urgent than ever.

As the shifting power dynamics and geopolitical alignments signal a new era for the Horn of Africa, there is a risk of entangling Türkiye in Africa’s regional conflicts. Maintaining the cornerstone of Türkiye’s Africa policy, namely non-interference in the internal affairs of African nations, is imperative in navigating this evolving landscape.