Türkiye-Somalia Agreement: Timing, Purpose and Scope

By Haydar Oruç

Since October 7, 2023, very different developments have been taking place in the Middle East and its immediate surroundings. On the one hand, Israel is deepening the genocide in Gaza, and on the other hand, it is trying to draw Iran and its proxies in the region into the process by carrying out various attacks on them, thus starting a regional war that could evolve into a global war.

Amidst all this dust and smoke, the most concrete opposition to Israel came from further south, from the Houthis in Yemen, the Ansarullah Movement. Ansarullah demanded that Israel halt its attacks on Gaza and declared that it would not allow any Israeli-affiliated ships to pass through the Red Sea otherwise. Since mid-November, Ansarullah has realized this claim and attacked the ships it identified as sailing to Israel through the Red Sea, turning the eyes of the whole world to this.

In the aftermath of the Ansarullah attacks, a naval force called the “Welfare Guard” was established under the leadership of the United States, which considered it its duty to protect the interests of Israel, which was in a difficult situation. This force began to attack Ansarullah targets and, under this pretext, different parts of Yemen, ostensibly to restore security to maritime traffic in the Red Sea.

However, despite the US attacks, Ansarullah used its geographical advantage to attack not only the ships going to Israel but also the ships belonging to the countries participating in the coalition, raising tensions in the region and putting world maritime trade in a difficult situation.

In such an atmosphere, it was announced that the Turkish and Somali Defense Ministers met in Ankara on February 8, 2024, and signed a “Framework Agreement on Defense and Economic Cooperation”.

On February 21, 2024, it was announced that this agreement was approved and accepted first by the Somali Council of Ministers and then by the Somali Parliament. Now, it is being wondered when Türkiye will bring this agreement to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, ratify it, and put it into force.

Türkiye’s relations with Somalia are not new. During Somalia’s most difficult times, Türkiye supported Somalia and provided important support in overcoming the troubled times. But the fact that such an agreement was made while there were very hot developments in the region naturally led to questions about why now.

Without going into the background of the agreement, it is necessary to give a brief overview of Türkiye’s relations with the states and autonomous structures in this region known as the Horn of Africa. Türkiye has close relations with Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti, as well as Somaliland, which unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

In the past, Türkiye’s reconciliation with all the actors in the horn has helped these countries to resolve their various problems among themselves, as well as to counter the threats they have had to face.

Today, when talking about the Türkiye-Somalia agreement, it is possible to say that it should not be attributed to a single reason, but the most important motivation is the agreement signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland on February 1, 2024.

This is because Somaliland is still considered Somali territory and has so far not been officially recognized by any country despite its unilateral declaration of independence. Despite this, Ethiopia’s agreement with Somaliland to reach the sea instead of Djibouti, where it temporarily keeps its navy, was perceived as hostile by Somalia, and it preferred to make a defense agreement with an actor like Türkiye to send a message to its interlocutor in order to prevent such a process that would probably lead to the recognition of Somaliland.

With this move, Ethiopia is likely to reconsider its decision and possibly even make an agreement directly with Somalia for access to the sea, which Ethiopia needs, possibly with Türkiye’s mediation.

It can be said that Türkiye is a party to this agreement in order to protect its interests by having a presence in the region due to the developments in Babul Mendeb and the Red Sea and to take measures against any fait accompli that may occur.

In fact, Somalia had signed similar agreements with the US, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia before Türkiye in order to get rid of its problems and get back on track as soon as possible. However, none of them had reached the level to be approved by the parliament. Moreover, the scope of the previous agreements was not as detailed as the one with Türkiye. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that the Türkiye-Somalia agreement is different from the others.

Although the content of the agreement has not been officially shared, according to media reports, the agreement was initially signed for a period of 10 years.

Within the scope of the agreement; “bringing marine resources into the economy; planning and implementing joint air, land, and naval operations in case of need for defense in the use of these resources; shipbuilding, port, and facility establishment, operation and making necessary legal arrangements for this; harmonizing the maritime laws of the two countries; taking unilateral and joint measures against all kinds of threats such as terrorism, piracy, banditry, illegal fishing, smuggling in maritime jurisdictions; establishing joint and unilateral facilities, establishing security areas; providing training, doctrine and equipment support to the Somali army; establishing and managing coastal security facilities; developing and modernizing naval power and preventing marine pollution”.

As the name implies and the content shows, this is a framework agreement, and it needs to be filled in. For this to happen, the agreement needs to be duly ratified by Türkiye and entered into force, and then different agreements need to be reached to determine what will be done and how.

As it will be remembered, after the maritime delimitation agreement signed with Libya in 2019, Türkiye signed a memorandum of understanding in October 2022 for the exploration and exploitation of oil and hydro-carbon resources on Libyan territory and continental shelf. Therefore, a similar process may be carried out with Somalia in the coming days.

But one thing is certain: with this agreement, Türkiye will be more visible in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean. Moreover, for the first time, Türkiye will build another country’s navy from scratch. In other words, while training Somali sailors, Türkiye will also direct its rising defense industry potential here and build new ships, defense facilities, ports, and perhaps shipyards for Somalia.

It will also protect Somalia’s seas against piracy, smuggling, terrorism, and poaching for 10 years while cooperating with Somalia in the exploration and exploitation of its hydrocarbon resources.

As can be seen, Türkiye does not seek to create problems between the countries of the region and pit them against each other, thus selling arms to these countries, exploiting their resources and making them dependent on themselves, as the Western imperial countries approach African countries. On the contrary, it prefers cooperation where win-win formulas are valid for both sides.

Of course, Türkiye will benefit from this process and will have more say in the world system by strengthening its regional and global position. In turn, it will also benefit its counterparts and ensure that they get their rightful share of the prosperity to be produced.

Nevertheless, it is certain that there will be some actors who will be uncomfortable with the agreement between Türkiye and Somalia. Who they might be and what they might do will be discussed later.
I wish this agreement to be beneficial for both parties and hope that we will hear more good news and developments on this issue in the near future.

This article was originally published in Diriliş Postası on February 27th, 2024 in Turkish

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