Somalia, you’re welcome!

I, as a research, do not study Turkey. I even don’t do case studies. My current research is more at a conceptual level, where I try to map the current actors and subject in international relations. But thanks to my current government’s perfect understanding of aid diplomacy, public diplomacy, and nation branding; I find myself writing about Turkey quite often. When my PM decided to visit Somalia during Ramadan and take his mustache, family, friends, several businessmen, members of the parliaments, and Turkish celebrities – in short everything the Somalians wanted to see -, I had to write…

Is he really shaking hands with the kid?

Search trends in Turkey, keyword – Somali

As the Google Trends graph on the left clearly demonstrates, Turkey and Turks have always been interested (!) in Somalia and have wanted to learn more about the country through online resources. Similarly, newspapers have consistently (!) covered the situation in the country. In more serious terms, it is obvious that Somalia became an important issue for Turkish public opinion pretty much after Erdogan decided to start talking about the country and the situation. This visit was expected to “[draw] international attention to the plight of the drought-stricken country and Turkey’s leadership in the humanitarian crisis“. Erdogan and his groupies filled up two planes and landed in Mogadishu for a one-day trip.

Turkish celebrities sold a total of ‘0’ albums in Somalia this past decade

When we take the visit at its face value, it does not make any sense. Yes, Somalia is definitely in need of international aid – but what Erdogan did was organizing a publicized high level visit to bring a one-time aid. Given the fact that Erdogan called Somalia a real test for civilization, pledged to re-open the Turkish embassy in the country, got Organization for Islamic Conference on board for more aid, and wanted to improve Turkish image, let’s try to look at this issue from a strategic point of view. This visit creates three different question marks in my minds:

Domestic question marks:

This charity drive is taking place during Ramadan, when people’s religious feelings are at a peak point. It is very difficult to evaluate whether government is taking advantage of this religious environment to get donations. Besides, Deniz Feneri case is still going on – so, charities might not be as trustworthy as they seem to be…

Domestic breaking point:
What about our people?! As I tried to show with the Google Trends graph, we don’t care about Somalia – not even a little bit. We heard about the country in 90s with the UN force, then forgot about it for a couple of years, then remembered with the pirate attacks. Government’s decision to give around $200m to Somalia is very difficult to defend given the fact that there are way too many people in need of such an aid in Turkey.

International question marks:
Now, there are a couple of international issues. Why did Turkey decide to help Somalia? It is not a neighboring country. It is not the only war-torn, poverty-struck country. So, why? Well, two answers come up: religion and oil. These answers give rise to several conspiracy theories: is Turkey trying to become the ‘leader’ of Islamic countries? Or let’s take another step further: is another power (mainly the US) trying to situate Turkey as the leader, is another power trying to access oil resources?

International breaking point:

Turkey, out of the blue, gives lots of money to Somalia – does not address any security issues, does not address any development issues but puts a great show on stage. Can we see Turkey as a credible actor in international arena after this act? I highly doubt that…

Public diplomacy question marks:

Did Erdogan try to gain ‘street cred’ in Islamic countries? After Iran, Libya, Egypt, and Syria; firstly this aid is not enough. Moreover, Somalia was not an important issue in Islamic agenda. Did Erdogan try to lead the West by example? Very unlikely. Several Western countries already have standing aid and development programs and are helping Somalia.

Public diplomacy breaking point

Erdogan’s declared message is ‘Somalia is a test for civilization’ and ‘Turkey will lead aid efforts’. Both statements are false and don’t mean much for the Western or Middle Eastern audiences. Somalia is not the only test for civilization and several countries have been actively helping the country for decades right now. This extravagant visit is not likely to make Turkey a ‘donor’ (and definitely ‘leader’) country in the eyes of the Western audiences. The issue is not ‘hardcore’ enough for the Middle Eastern countries. Therefore, even though I accept that an aid is likely to improve Turkey’s image, this improvement will be quite limited.

Long story short, I hope Erdogan and others with him enjoyed their time in Mogadishu, and took lots of pictures. Because this trip will not generate any more influence than a touristic visit in long term. But well, who knows, we might get another term of temporary UNSC seat thanks to our African friends….

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About Efe
I read and write about political communication stuff and I play with data to see what they have to say. I also love to cook.

3 Responses to Somalia, you’re welcome!

  1. Ayan says:

    Dear Efe,

    You know, I’ll admit I’m not all that familiar with internal grievances within the Turkish political sphere..and much as you “don’t study..or do case study”, I don’t do “politics”. As a Somali, I am tremendously grateful for the kind and selfless actions of the Turkish people and PM Erdogan for his efforts to help our people…and further, if this is all under vested regional interest for “oil” or whatever the commodity, my response to that is..what a way to do it, rather than kill, and proxy kill to gain foot in that note as other so called “friends of Somalia” have done.

    Again, many unending thanks to the Turkish people and particularly PM Erdogan.

    Sincerely,
    Ayan

    • aliersenerol says:

      Dear Ayan,

      I am a researcher who studies Turkish politics quite a bit. Since you say you are not familiar with the Turkish political sphere, I will gladly provide a short introduction. Let me compare Erdoğan’s “help” to Somalia with his “help” to Palestinians. Some years ago, when the conflict between Israel and Palestine got heated, Erdoğan made very pro-Palestine statements that almost the entire world applauded in awe. Oppressed Muslims everywhere were very grateful for his support for Palestinian people. Unfortunately, however, he used deaths of Palestinians, sentiments of Muslims, all that passion and emotion to further his domestic power and agenda. He was, at the time, losing power to the main opposition. So the time and the manner in which he “supported” Palestinians were actually his attempt to gain momentum in domestic politics. This is also obvious from what happened after in Palestine: Nothing. Everything is pretty much the same. Moreover, Erdoğan still held on to military agreements he had with Israel. He continued to pay Israel billions of dollars for modernization of military equipment while he was throwing empty “threats” to Israel.

      Similarly, Erdoğan’s visit to Somalia comes in a time of domestic turmoil. In the last few weeks, civil war in Turkey claimed close to 50 lives. With each life lost, his position becomes a little more unstable. Moreover, Syria began openly defying “threats” Erdoğan made against them. Inside he looks quite powerless. You see, this “help” to Somalia is a part of his expensive ‘public relations’ campaign. He takes artists, loved singers in Turkey, and some opinion leaders with him to create a certain image and to gain a better position in domestic politics.

      I am sure, as the hospitable people you are, you greeted him with outmost respect and sincerity like you convey in your response. And as a Turkish person, I am grateful to you and to Somalians for their sincerity. I am, on the other hand, embarrassed to see such a noble cause and such a humanitarian emergency can be so easily used to advance power and political agenda. It is not the first time Erdoğan does this.

      Humanity and Somalians deserve, at least, the sincerity and warmth you were able to give in your message. As a member of the human race, I feel cheated and betrayed when something like this happens.

      Best,

      Ali

  2. Ayan Nur says:

    Dear Ali,

    Since you are more versed in the politics of your country than I am, I am sure what you say is not without merit…u see almost every country has opposing political groups vying for public support, but remember, the ways of those in power in your neck of the woods(however wretched this may be), it is still one that seeks the approval of the people….this must be nice, really nice to have that kind of problem, specially in view of the Somali “problem” where those in power live off the blood of their brothers…and have sold our highest possessions to the lowest bidders.

    You know its really sad when destitution and despair will reduce one to see only the “handout” and not the hand itself, what you are telling me now is to look at the hand..and as I look at it, I see the hand of Turkey(as God Wills), with provisions, pledge and promise…if this is just for show to gain popular support..I’ll reiterate my previous statement, “what a way to do it” Timing is of critical essences as people are dying and no country has mobilized its efforts to help our people more than Turkey when the international community has left the Somalia crises high and dry for so long

    long story short, as Somalis, we are used our country and people being used for all nefarious intent and purposes, in short; those who take take take…..it is refreshing to see someone who gives for a change, however short lived that may be.

    Again, thank you for your kindness and please extend my regards to every Turkish person you see 🙂 Only God knows the fate of Somalia and with trust in God inshallah we will be alright (good things come to those who wait)

    Regards,
    Ayan

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