The special relationship Somalia and Turkey share, which extends to trade, is encouraging the Somali business community to travel to Turkey to import everything from clothing to medicine.
If one visits Somalia’s biggest markets, be it Bakara, Hamarweyne or Suuq Bacaad in the capital, it is clear the Turkish textile industry enjoys complete dominance.
Abduwahid Ahmed Ibrahim, a trader in Mogadishu, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the friendship between Mogadishu and Ankara has provided an opportunity for big and small Somali companies to interact with their Turkish counterparts to import goods from Turkey, especially textiles, electronics, construction materials and furniture.
“I think the most important fact is that previously, clothes were imported from China and other countries, which were very cheap but of less quality. Now, all textile products from Turkey are reliable and affordable and Somali people can see the difference,” said Ibrahim.
Batuulo Ahmed, a customer at a supermarket in Mogadishu, said not just textiles but Turkish electronics are also popular in the capital.
Ahmed, who has been to Turkey several times, told AA that all appliances in her home are “imported from Turkey – from the television to the dishwasher to the refrigerator are made in Turkey.”
Mohamed Dubo, the director of the Somali Investment Promotion Office at the Ministry of Planning, told AA that he can pinpoint factors that contributed to the rise of Somali businesses and importers from Turkey.
He said that since 2011, Turkey has been involved in major developments in Somalia, from capacity building to helping public institutions serve residents.
“I can say that there are three major factors, the first one being logistical connectivity – airborne cargo between Somalia and Turkey,” he said.
Dubo said there are also daily Turkish Airlines flights from Istanbul to Mogadishu and as a result, the Turkish and Somali business communities have become more interconnected.
He said that when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other countries cut ties with Qatar and launched a blockade in June 2017, Somalia decided not to take sides and remained neutral.
“The proxies in the Horn of Africa region and Gulf dispute saw Somalia lose the UAE and Kenya and start to lean toward Qatar and Turkey. Since then, Somalia and Turkey have become economically interconnected,” he said.
Economics and the cultural influence and integration of the countries are the main reasons for Turkey’s success in Somalia, he said.
Abdifatah Hussein Mubarak, a lecturer at the faculty of economics and management science at Mogadishu University, believes Turkey’s engagement in Somalia has redefined its foreign policy identity, which has also opened up the space for businesses and civil society organizations to operate in Somalia.
Mubarak said now-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 2011 visit to Somalia when he was prime minister helped pave the way for closer cooperation in trade and investments. Afterward, Turkish exports to Somalia skyrocketed.
He highlighted that Turkey’s assistance to Somalia helped restore confidence in the Somali government and projects that Ankara introduced have helped economic growth and investments in Somalia, which was much needed for a country that has seen many challenges, political infighting, civil war and lawlessness for more than two decades.
“Turkey has become Somalia’s prime partner in the security sector alongside the European Union mission in Somalia and the United States,” he said.
He told AA that the forces of the African Union Mission to Somalia and other efforts by regional blocs are appreciated, however, they cannot provide a lasting solution to the country’s security problems.
“Turkey’s military base in Mogadishu, Camp TURKSOM, oversaw the training of the Somali Haramcad Special Police Unit and the Gorgor Commando Brigade in Turkey, and both bodies have dealt heavy blows to the al-Shabab terrorist group,” said Mubarak.
More Somali students are opting for a Turkish higher education and receive scholarships at universities and institutions.
Mubarak said Turkish universities have offered Somali students higher quotas, rendering them one of the largest student bodies among the nearly 200,000 international students in Turkey.
“Somalia has doctors and nurses who graduated from Turkish universities and have played a significant role in Somalia’s health sector,” he said.
The Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Research Hospital was also inaugurated in Mogadishu in 2015.
“Over the years, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency has renovated numerous hospitals and health facilities across the country that were damaged from the civil war,” he said.
According to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, the country’s trade volume with Somalia stood at $187.3 million in 2018 and $250.85 million in 2019. In 2020, Turkey’s trade volume with Somalia amounted to an estimated $280 million and the estimated value of local companies’ investments in the country reached $100 million. Turkish companies run Mogadishu International Airport and Mogadishu Sea Port.