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COLUMNISTS 9 March 2012, Friday 23 0

Unleashing people power in Somalia

MOGADISHU - When I was invited to accompany Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ on the Turkish Airlines (THY) maiden journey from İstanbul to Mogadishu this week, I did not hesitate to accept it. The trip gave me the chance to take a tour of the Somali capital and assess the extent to which Turkish humanitarian and development assistance are making a difference on the ground. I must say it is hard not to be impressed with the pace of the massive Turkish effort to help rebuild war-ravaged Somalia in such a short period of time.

In an earlier visit, Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali told Bozdağ that Turkey has done more in three months than the UN did in five years. “UN officials told us that $1.2 billion was transferred to Somalia. We do not know where this money went. There was no hospital or school built or investment in infrastructure made. Only Turks have done all this in a short period of time,” he explained. It is not easy to dismiss Mr. Abdiweli's bitter remarks, although the UN claims most of the money went to corrupt officials and warlords.

Similar remarks were also echoed by Abdirashid Duale, considered to be Somalia's most influential businessman. “I think the Turkish have changed the [development] environment, they've changed the landscape. They want to invest,” he told Reuters in an interview in February. Thanks to Turkish efforts, he said, several legitimate sectors of the economy are thriving, which in turn creates jobs, and infrastructure is improving so that merchants can explore business opportunities.

The fact remains that the Turks are the only ones visible on Mogadishu's streets trying to bring the city back to life. They have succeeded to a certain degree, but so much needs to be done. While most foreign aid workers are confined to the heavily fortified African Union (AU)-supported Amisom base near the airport, hundreds of Turkish aid workers roam freely in the city center and in the outskirts of Mogadishu's devastated neighborhoods. Turks built hospitals, including the largest one in the city, refurbished existing ones with modern medical equipment, established schools, dug a couple of dozen wells for potable water and set up a tent city (which will later be converted into apartment flats by Turkey's mass housing development agency). The Turkish Red Crescent provides daily meals to some 15,000 refugees/internally displaced persons living in the newly set up center close to the airport.   

The Turkish approach to development and humanitarian assistance to Somalia differs distinctly from other countries and organizations. Not only did Turkey mobilize national governmental and nongovernmental organizations to rush to provide aid here but made sure the assistance efforts would be spearheaded by Turkish nationals with the cooperation of locals on the ground. It was not just about sending money and feeling good about it. They took risks while others shied away from Somalia, preferring to manage it from neighboring Kenya.

The ultimate aim is to help build institutional capacity in Somalia, with a special focus on education following an effort to stabilize the famine and health crises. Ankara strongly believes only Somali people can usher the country to a new era, and for that Turkish officials are determined to educate thousands of bright young Somali students both in Turkey and in schools being built in Somalia. Hundreds have already been sent to Turkey for education. Only through the empowerment of bright Somali generations will sustainable development be achieved, Turkey claims.

In the meantime, to give a further boost to the feeling of normalcy on the streets of Somalia's capital, Turkey has taken a number of steps. It drafted a plan to clean up the huge piles of debris and clutter in Mogadishu's neighborhoods. The Greater İstanbul Municipality has set up a development center in Mogadishu to oversee sanitary and garbage disposal services within the city. It has already conducted a tender for heavy equipment from street sweepers to garbage trucks, from excavators to bulldozers, which are scheduled to be delivered to the city of Mogadishu within weeks. The İstanbul mayor will send a team to operate these vehicles and to train the locals before turning them over within a year.

A garbage storage facility will also soon be built for Mogadishu. Turkey has already set up an incineration facility for the huge collection of animal bones that can be seen alongside the roads, and it plans to establish three additional ones. To rebuild the decayed pavements and repair roads, the İstanbul Municipality signed an agreement with the local municipality here to build an asphalt and cement plant. With the Somali government offering basic services to residents here, the hope is that people will start believing in the promising prospect of their war-torn country. The modernization of Mogadishu airport and the launch of flights by THY, the first international carrier to do so, has already linked Somalia to the outside world. It will also help speed up delivery of logistical supplies to the country as well as humanitarian and development aid.

Realizing that all these endeavors may be in vain if there is no stability or security in this beautiful East African nation in the Horn of Africa, Turkey is also extending its help to consolidate reconciliation. The aid is no longer just limited to Mogadishu but reaches out to other areas in the breakaway enclave of Somaliland and its neighbor, the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, in the north as well as to the people in the south, where al-Shabaab is still strong. Bozdağ announced Turkey would set up regional development offices in Somaliland and Puntland as well during this trip. Ankara also offered to train the Somalia police force to enforce security in the country, where many young people carry guns and businesses hire private armies to defend their interests.

The main worry for Turkey and other donor countries is how to make the smooth transition from the weak interim government called the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to a new structure six months from now with the elections coming up. Internal fighting among local clans, tribes and the power feud among political and business groups may sabotage the reconciliation efforts, eventually hampering development aid. The most formidable asset Somalia now has against this doomsday scenario is the “newly emerged hope.” That will prevent chaos, violence and terrorism from thriving.

I believe in this new environment, any group or clan that engages in armed conflict will risk a backlash from the Somali people, who are fed up with the fighting. They will be marginalized very much like the militant al-Shabaab, which was accused of impeding the flow of international emergency food aid to famine-struck communities. Any TFG official who wanted to manipulate the political process to stay in office for personal gain would eventually fade into obscurity. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's open threat to spoilers in Somalia during a conference in London last month was significant in overcoming political feuds here. She proposed sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freezes, on people inside and outside the TFG who seek to undermine peace and security, or delay or even prevent the political transition. The follow-up conference in İstanbul in June, two months before the mandate of the TFG expires, will take up these proposals in detail.

The involvement of Turkey, the only Muslim member in NATO, which had historical ties in Ottoman times with Somalia, also refutes the claims of militant radical groups who say the Western interest in Somalia is another crusade against a Muslim state. Turkey also pushed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to the front lines in leading campaign of aid to Somalia. Turkish Secretary-General of the OIC Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu called on all Somali parties to remain united, cohesive and strictly focused on the tasks ahead during his speech at the London conference.

At the end of the day, it is up to the Somalis themselves to lead this campaign of nation-building. I sense that the people of Somalia are already committed to achieving this and that they are no longer willing to compromise their future. They appreciate the Turkish help and any other assistance extended to them, but they are determined to carry the flag themselves. And rightly and deservedly so. By unleashing real human potential in this vibrant Somalia, the people will definitely change the fate of the country for what seems to be a promising future.  

Thank you brother for this lovely column, and your belife in Somalia. Thank you brother again.. SomaliDarawish
Sallaamu Alleekum; I must thank the Turkish Leadership, Government, And people for giving their all, in order to give hope to there Muslim brothers and sisters from Somalia. I call it nothing short of NASRI from Allah SWC or a miracle. I would also like to thank the writer for this wonderful articl...
Warsame Ducaale
Thank you for this wonderful and hopeful article. I am a man from Djibouti and know too well the Somalian tragedy that encases this country for more than two decades. Turkey and prime minister Erdogan will always remember for their disinterested actions to ressurect this ravaged country. Salam
Mahmoud chawki
My prayers are with Somalian people and all the people who suffer in this world. Hope you have a good environtment to live in, get good education and health care, live together with peace. :-)
Don Antonio
Thanks for the large supporting of my somali people .. Its only a brother will lend hand to another brother in difficult . May ALLAH reward you and give you the power to do all this.. Somalia is forgotten state but TURKEY did something and revived hope of many somalis .
Mo Watani
America was certainly playing a game of Western neo-imperial power against Islam in Somalia. Bush certainly supported the Ethiopian unilateral invasion of Somalia and overthrow of the Islamic Courts Union which had established security, order, commerce in Somalia without American involvement. Becaus...
abu kamel
Dear Brother Abdullah, I am a Somali who lives and works in a primary school in Bristol (UK). In response to your invaluable article, ?Unleashing people power in Somalia? published on the Sunday's Zaman on the 11th March 2012, I would like to elaborate my BIG THANKS to you and through you to Prime ...
Shamsudin Abikar
The world has neglected Somalia indifferently for so long and even some countries were fueling the the conflict among the Waring factions in Somalia. I believe the Turkish Government made a lot of research about the Somali Conflict before it has stated its noble humanitarian assistance to the Somali...
All the Somali people thank and appreciate the Turkish people and their government for their support to us in our difficult time. Somalia has been without a government for the last 20 years, but we the majority of the Somali people are determined to support the peace process. However, Turkey's human...
Turkey's role in Somalia reflects several growing trends: Emerging powers playing a key role in matters once dominated exclusively by the "big powers" and the building of regional coalitions that can work more effectively than those big powers to find solutions. Turkey's efforts with the OIC and GC...
Thanks ur wonderful article about Turkey's help in Somali.We somalis will never forget what turkey has done in our country which as you mentioned no one has done before,Turkey has long history in Somalia they helped us to fight with ethiopian empire and its portugese support in Ottom...
ahmed ismail
Thanks Turkey for your brotherly/sisterly support to all areas in Somalia. We truely appriciated a lot.
Firstly, as a Somali Citizen, I would like to applaud Turkey's non-selfish intrest in Somalia - they are bringing the country back to life bit by bit. However, the focus Al-Shabaab must take centre stage; without the erasal of this group, Somalia will not become strong again. I hope Turkey continu...
@somalia, wich somalia are you from isreal? We somalis love Turkiya very much. about refugee? Before view years even Turkish poeple were having many problems. Tanks to Allah they are doing well with his axcelence prime minister may Allah protect them "Erdogan and CO_leaders! Turkish must now somal...
Beledweyne, Somalia
İmmigration dosen't change anything in Somalia. İt is only easy solution and may be only saves immigrants' life. 1.5 million Somalis living abroad and Somalia is not good as when they leaved. Somalis problem must be solved in Somalia. Why we didn't see any refugees? I lived İstanbul 6 years and I ho...
thank you for help
God may help Turkey to succeed with the effort they put in Somalia. I would argue most of the money UN claims to have put in Somalia, never reached there. If it did where is the evedence? They need to support their case, otherwise no one will belive. The way forward is Turkey's way.
Fuaad Ahmed
Thank you Abdullah and thanks to the Turkey People for helping Somalia. We Somalis appreciate you greatly for all that you are doing. Indeed Turkey is a friend and a brother. If it wasn't Erdogan's visit, Somalia would have never seen the light!
Somali Citizen
@Whynothere there are a lot of African people in Istanbul. Somalians too, there's even a street called Somalian Street.
Lam very glad you metion all somalia including somaliland which is the most stable in somalia.IWOULD LIKE TO THANK TURKISH GOVERMENT AND IT IS PEOPLE
Why do we never see any refugees from Somalia in Istanbul? In Europe there are a lot of them, but why do they not come to Turkey?
Why not here
Will they be allowed to throw eggs, carry protest banners, write critically about the Gülen missionaries or draw cartoons of the PM without being interned?
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