Somalilandsun: Somalia’s opposition has urged Ankara not to send a shipment of weapons to a special police unit because they fear that Somali president could use them for “rigging” the approaching national elections. The call has put Turkey’s engagement in a country torn apart by civil war for decades under the spotlight.
Opposition candidates wrote to Turkey’s ambassador in Somalia and expressed their concern about these weapons coming into the country in such a “sensitive election period.”
Turkey trained Harama’ad police, a special Somali unit that is known for its violent suppression of peaceful protests in the Horn of Africa country.
On Dec. 15, four protesters were wounded in Mogadishu during a peaceful protest when the troops opened fire on them, while two others were arrested. The Council of Presidential Candidates condemned the use of live bullets by the Harama’ad forces against Somali people.
Ankara is planning to send 1,000 G3 assault rifles and 150,000 bullets to Harama’ad this month.
The opposition was already furious after the elections due for this month were postponed over political disagreements.
“With the national elections approaching, a season for foreign meddling is wide open,” said Jędrzej Czerep, senior analyst at Middle East and Africa Programme of the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM).
“For Turkey, in the last decade Somalia’s most visible and dedicated development and humanitarian partner, the game is about not losing its primacy before the oil concessions are divided,” he told Arab News.
Ankara has not commented yet on the Somalia opposition’s call but in recent years Turkish rulers have deepened their engagement in the African country by building infrastructure and providing scholarships for Somalis.
Three years ago, Turkey opened its biggest overseas military base in Somalia to have military leverage in hotspots in the region. Apart from its forward-basing, Ankara also trains Turkish-speaking Somali soldiers and has transferred tactical arms to the arsenal of the Somali military.
“In the run-up to elections, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo adopted an all-or-nothing mode to consolidate power. This affected growing politicization of the – theoretically neutral and professional – Turkish-trained Gorgor troops and Harama’ad police units,” Czerep said.
Separately, the United States recently decided to withdraw hundreds of troops deployed to fight Al-Shabab terrorists in Somalia, which has been torn by a nearly 20-year civil war.
According to Czerep, while the US-trained Danab forces had been on the front lines of the fight against Al-Shabab throughout 2020, Gorgor and Harama’ad were probably more often used against the opposition in the federal member states.
“Their deployment in Galmudug in February affected the climate of the local elections in that state and it was boycotted by the opposition,” he said. “Turkish-trained troops also clashed with Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, a Sufi militia who was a key government ally against Al-Shabab but apparently grew too strong. In Gedo, Gorgor and Harama’ad fought against forces of the Jubaland region, which the central government wants to pacify.”
Turkey maintains its largest military overseas base in Somalia. The Turkish government has increased its investment in Somalia as a part of its Red Sea power projection, which is a result of a deepening crisis in the Gulf following the Qatar blockade in 2017. A Saudi-led quartet—comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt—has become alarmed with Turkish military expansionism in the Horn of Africa.
Because of its strategic location, Somalia is perceived as a critical country to protect the “Arab homeland,” thus Turkey’s show of its muscles has deeply disturbed the quartet. The regional competition over the Horn of Africa resulted in the 2019 Sudanese coup, ending the 30 years rule of Omar al-Bashir, a close ally of Erdogan. The loss of Sudan was a major blow to Ankara, and yet, Turkish government emerged victorious in securing Tripoli against the same regional rivals by doubling down its military engagement. Taking advantage of normalization in Israeli-Sudanese relations, Egypt has increased its military activism against what it called “malicious Turkish moves in Somalia” to control the Red Sea.
Compared to its rivals, Turkey has some advantages in Somalia. Instead of “paycheck diplomacy” that is pursued by newcomer Gulf nations, Turkish engagement was built through a soft power touch over the long term. Erdogan was the first non-African leader to visit Mogadishu in 2011and Turkey has offered humanitarian aid, development projects, and education facilities amidst a destructive famine in the war-torn country. As a first in Turkish foreign policy, Turkey appointed a special envoy for Somalia in 2018, tasking him to renew negotiations between the Mogadishu government and breakaway Somaliland region.
As a gradual shift from soft to hard power, Ankara has started to train the next generation of Somali officers and one-third of the entire Somali military forces receive their education in Turkish after an intensive Turkish language course and take their oath in the language. Some ceremonial rituals of the Turkish Armed Forces are also observed by the young Somali officers such as commemorating the fallen in the Ottoman campaign against Britain in Gallipoli and singing the Turkish military anthem.
Turkey has also increased its economic investments to the country: The Albayrak group—affiliated with Erdogan’s family— has received operational rights at the Port of Mogadishu and another Turkish company now operates the Mogadishu Airport. Recently, Turkey announced it would pay off $2.4 million of Somalia’s debt owed to the International Monetary Fund.
Turkey, however, faces a real challenge this time. Forcefully betting on Farmaajo’s regime by bolstering the special police may backfire. In the run-up to the major elections, prior small elections in the southwest and in Jubaland, where Farmaajo pushed his candidates, caused violence and almost led to a confrontation with Kenya and Ethiopia. Although Addis Ababa sides with Ankara in supporting Farmaajo, the recent eruption of civil war in the Tigray region has been costly for the Ethiopian army, causing fears of state collapse with ripple effects in the Horn of Africa. In case that election results are not accepted by either side, Farmaajo or the opposition, Somalia may face a real legitimacy crisis.
Somalia’s security architecture is most fragile and meddling by regional players, whether Turkey or its Gulf rivals, will serve a destabilizing effect that could unravel clan rivalries.
Such a scenario will only benefit al-Shabab and other extremist groups including the Islamic State in the Horn of Africa. Source link