Turkey has started construction of a factory in Mogadishu, Somalia, that will produce uniforms for the country’s military, giving it a capability it has not had in over two decades.
Somali Defence Minister Abdulkadir Sheikh Ali Dini laid the foundation stone for the factory in January 2016. It was supposed to be completed that year, but construction did not take place due to “a variety of reasons”, according to Bashir Mohamed Gobun, commander of the prison guards. He was speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony earlier this week.
The ceremony was attended by Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire, Defence Minister Hassan Ali Amardamb and Turkish Ambassador Mehmet Yilmaz. Khaire thanked the Turkish government for the construction of the factory.
Somalia relies on imported uniforms to meet its military requirements, but al Shabaab militants have also been able to obtain the same uniforms, who have used them in attacks on government and military facilities.
Turkey provides a lot of assistance to Somalia, and trains hundreds of students a year at a training base in the capital Mogadishu. This was opened in September 2017 as Turkey’s biggest overseas military base. At the time Turkey said it would train 10 000 Somali soldiers there, with the base being able to train 1 000 soldiers at a time. More than 200 Turkish military personnel are reported to be stationed at the base. Turkey is also providing Somalia with training support and equipment to establish the country’s navy and coastguard.
The opening of the $50 million base signalled ever-closer ties between Turkey and Somalia. Turkey’s relations with the Horn of Africa date back to the Ottoman Empire, but President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has become a close ally of the Somali government in recent years.
“It’s a country where Turkey could make a difference without necessarily having to compete with regional or global powers,” said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ankara’s initial focus on aid, as opposed to security assistance or overt backing of political parties, helped build trust, he added.
Turkey’s vast aid effort at the height of the 2011 famine endeared it to many Somali people, and it has continued to pour in aid, much of it from private companies. It has built schools, hospitals and infrastructure and provided scholarships for Somalis to study in Turkey. Erdogan has visited Mogadishu several times and when he made his first trip there in 2011 he became the first non-African leader to visit the war-ravaged nation in 20 years.
Somalia’s government has a number of foreign backers, including the United Nations, the African Union, and the United States, who are assisting it in building a functional national army capable of taking on the fight against al-Shabaab.