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Somalia: Turkey makes presence known in Mogadishu

Turkey is showing its interest in Somalia both on a political and economic level.
Turkey somalia 0Enlarge
Turkish deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdag (4-L) with Somalia Prime Minister Abduweli Mohamed Ali(2-L) and Turkey ambassador in Somalia, Kani Torun(3-R) walk together on November 26, 2011 at the airport soon after Bozdag arrived in Mogadishu. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — At a ceremony in Mogadishu this week to mark the relocation of the UN's top diplomat for Somalia to the capital, the country's hierarchy was made clear.

At the head of the table sat the president. To his right was the speaker of parliament and next to him the prime minister. To the president's left sat Augustine Mahiga, Ban Ki-moon's special representative. Next to him was the ambassador of Turkey.

Everyone else was Somali. Turkey is playing an interesting diplomatic game in Somalia.

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Turkey opened an embassy a few months ago, its staff as well as Turkish aid workers and journalist travel around the city independently without the armed escorts or armored vehicles that others use.

Turkey is providing humanitarian relief to the victims of the drought and famine and is winning contracts for rebuilding war-shattered infrastructure. In the future, it has its eyes on investment and commercial opportunities.

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the charge, visiting Mogadishu in August and taking his family with him. His aid workers and diplomats soon followed.

As a moderate Islamic nation straddling the divide between Europe and the Arab world, Turkey is in a peculiarly strong position to mediate between these often conflicting worlds. But Turkey is also doing undoubted good on the ground in Somalia. An article in today's Guardian newspaper in the UK praises Turkey's engagement and chides others for not following suit.

Authors Osman Jama Ali and Mohamed Sharif Mohamud said:

What can be learned from the Turkish initiative is that when you provide sincere assistance directly and immediately to those who are most in need, you gain the hearts and minds of the people.

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