The quintessential soft power? On Turkey’s foray into Somalia
Turkey's "Arab Spring" forays into Middle Eastern diplomacy, have drawn much attention on the international stage. Its launch into Africa, however, has gone little noticed by a world more focused on China's involvement in the sub-Saharan region.
June 3, 2012 5:42 by Reuters
In a sprawl of plastic refugee shelters and mortar-blasted buildings in Mogadishu, a mud-caked Turkish engineering team monitors the drilling of a new borehole while their armed guards chat lazily under a tree, guns across laps.
These government contractors are on the frontline of a huge Turkish development effort in one of the world’s most dangerous cities – one which U.N. agencies and international charities prefer to deal with from the safety of neighbouring Kenya.
Across the Somali capital, a bombed-out shell after two decades of fighting, residents say Turkey has done more in eight months to shatter the perception that Mogadishu is a no-go zone than the international community has achieved in twenty years.
“Our government likes to help anyone in crisis so we came here without thinking anything,” said the lead engineer, Mehmet, who asked Reuters to use a pseudonym because government employees are not authorised to talk to the media without permission.
The retreat of al Qaeda-linked rebels from the city in August ended the daily street battles and shelling between the militants and African troops, and offered a rare chance to ramp up aid as a famine gripped central and southern Somalia.
Some 500 Turkish relief workers and volunteers poured into Mogadishu’s bullet-scarred wastelands, unleashing a wave of humanitarian aid as the militants struck back with a string of suicide bombings and roadside blasts.
“Of course it is dangerous but we don’t think about those things. Inshallah, nothing has happened to us. If we are afraid, we can’t operate,” the engineer said.
Turkish flags – white crescent moon and star on red background – flutter in the coastal breeze and billboards marking out Turkish reconstruction projects dot the capital, where potholed streets are lined by rubble-strewn ruins and mountains of garbage.
Turkey’s “Arab Spring” forays into Middle Eastern diplomacy, have drawn much attention on the international stage. Its launch into Africa, however, has gone little noticed by a world more focused on China’s involvement in the sub-Saharan region.
A hotspot in the U.S.-led war against militant Islam, Somalia offers Ankara an opportunity to bolster its image as a soft power on the global stage.