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Re-examining the “Base”: The Political and Security Dimensions of Turkey’s Military Presence in Somalia

In late 2017, Turkey opened a facility to train the Somali National Army. Routinely described as a military base since, the move has caused consternation within and beyond the region and is held up as proof that a new scramble for Africa is underway. By contextualizing this new military mission within Turkey’s wider role in Somalia, this article demonstrates why the term “base” is misleading and how training the SNA is consistent with Turkey’s foreign policy aims in the country. As the SNA becomes a more powerful security actor, the article also shows how it may be (mis) used, by whom, and for what purposes, and identifies the risks this might pose for Turkey, Somalia and the wider region.

Re-examining the Base The Political and Security Dimensions of Turkey
Turkey attaches great importance and is investing in the training of Somalian soldiers in both Turkey and Somalia. DEVRİM DERİN / AA Photo

 

Introduction

On September 30, 2017, Turkey officially opened a major military training installation in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. Omitting mention of Turkey’s military presence in Northern Cyprus, Turkish and international media described the facility as Turkey’s largest foreign military “base.” For some observers, the opening of the facility, following the establishment of a base in Qatar and military intervention in Syria, was further evidence of a more muscular turn in Turkish foreign policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.1 Taking this further, some pundits extrapolated from these moves a desire by Ankara –or, more specifically, Turkish policymaking elites– to resurrect some vestiges of the former Ottoman Empire. For Decottignies and Cagaptay, the establishing of the Qatari base, which predated the inauguration of the Turkish facility in Mogadishu, signaled, using a rather implausible historical analogy, Turkey’s return to the Indian Ocean after more than four hundred years, whence the Ottomans battled (unsuccessfully) with the Portuguese for supremacy.2 Explaining Turkey’s current foreign policy in Somalia as somehow driven by its Ottoman past provides meagre explanatory power at best and ignores the political and security goals of both Turkey and Somalia. It also ignores Turkey’s increasing presence and significant investments in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.3

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Call for Paper | Politics of the Balkans and Future Perspectives