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The quintessential soft power? On Turkey’s foray into Somalia

turkey somalia soft power

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



Turkey is among a growing number of non-Western donors bringing funds, a fresh mindset and their own experience in managing natural disasters to the global humanitarian aid scene.


Addressing the Istanbul conference on Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan urged the United Nations to intensify its operation in Somalia, and called on other countries who wanted to help to establish a greater on-ground presence there.


“We have really struggled to make Somalia’s voice heard, to make those who do not see or feel what’s going on in Somalia, see and feel,” he said. In August, he became the first leader from outside Africa to visit Mogadishu in nearly 20 years.


Privately U.N. officials said they admired the ability of Turkish charities and government employees to work in areas of the Somali capital seen by Westerners as too risky.


Mogadishu’s central Hodan district was at the epicentre of a protracted battle between Islamist rebels and African Union (AU) forces deployed to the coastal city to prop up the U.N.-backed government. Now building sites are mushrooming.


Late last year, the charity Doctors Worldwide Turkey converted a building formerly used as an ammunition dump into Mogadishu’s most hi-tech hospital, doing it in just two months.


“I’d never seen anything like it before,” marvelled Dr Osman Abdirahman Mohamed, who left Somalia during the war to train and work first in Pakistan and then in California. He returned to Mogadishu in 2010.


The charity has trained thirty of the hospital’s doctors, nurses and midwives in Turkey. Turkish specialists still visit on rotation, part of an effort to counter a haemorrhaging of local medics from the Horn of Africa country.


Turkey has fixed up Mogadishu’s crumbling airport, built schools and sent hundreds of Somalis to Turkey on scholarships, installed street lighting and cleared mountains of garbage.


Behind the counter of his well-stocked pharmacy, run from a metal-sheet kiosk, Mohamed Nur lauded Turkey’s “visible projects”.


“Other governments say they will come but they are not serious. The Turkish government said it would come and it started operating immediately,” Nur said.




Turkey, a rapidly growing economy and multi-party democracy that has applied to join the European Union, is widely regarded as a model for Muslim and other developing countries. It has also raised the flag over trail blazing construction projects across former Soviet Central Asia and the Caucasus region.


Erdogan’s government has ratcheted up Turkey’s diplomatic presence in Africa, opening a string of new embassies and flexing diplomatic muscle on issues from Darfur to the Arab Spring. Turkey, analysts said, wants to be seen as the quintessential soft power.

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