UAE’s rivalry undercuts Turkey’s Somalia operation

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United Arab Emirates Turkey High Resolution Sign Flags Concept

UAE and Turkey are locked in an escalating rivalry over Somalia’s economic interests

By Judy Maina, judy.maina@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI– Turkey has been the greatest ally for Somalia since it sent massive aid to Somalia during the 2011 devastating famine that killed hundreds of thousands of Somalis followed by massive reconstruction and development projects the Turkish government has undertaken across Mogadishu.

With the ambition of helping the impoverished horn of Africa nation to stand on its feet after decades of war, key pressing challenges including security threats by militants emerged in recent years. However, the Turkish government was quick to respond to one challenge, vowing it’d continue assisting Somalia notwithstanding attacks by al-Shabab.

But then again, one stronger challenge was getting in its way, leaving it high and dry.

The United Arab Emirates, a long time strategic rival of Turkey had started copy-cat major developments in Somalia in a bid to outshine Turkey, a move which infuriated Turkish officials who scaled back their operations in Somalia.

The competition to maximize their strategic interests in the untapped Somali market remains a key priority for both sides, with UAE officials continued to pursue a coordinated soft-power strategy throughout its sphere of influence, using political, economic, and military tools to promote its agenda at the expense of Turkey.

“UAE’s rising influence in Somalia is a key factor that left Turkey more paranoid and wary of Somalia.” A senior Somali official said in an interview with Alleastafrica in Nairobi.

However, experts predict that UAE will have more difficulty presenting itself as a better positioned ally to Somalia than Turkey which came to Somalia’s assistance well before any other country considered dipping into Somalia’s precarious situation.

“Turkey’s Somalia mission could not have come at a better time for Somalia, thus making it an indispensable ally.” said Jacob Moses, a Nairobi-based Somalia expert.

Unlike Turkey which has largely undertaken development and military projects in Somalia, United Arab Emirates’ projects picked a similar approach, providing a calculated support to Somalia and yet again annoyed Turkey.

“By taking such a coherent smart-power approach, UAE’s goal is to outshine Turkey but that’s an unlikely ambition in the eyes on the world and Somalis in general.” said a Somali minister who supervised some projects by UAE in Mogadishu.

He declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

By developing its influence strategy, UAE has used diplomatic channels, holding behind closed doors meetings with Somali leaders who subsequently started promoting its projects through media sponsorships.

“They are using money to help reach their ambitious goals, but Turkey can stay relaxed at this point given its immense contribution to Somalia’s developments.” said Ali Ahmed, a former Somali diplomat of UAE’s Somalia projects.

Despite mounting challenges, Turkey has already secured long-term business contracts with Somalia, leaving few revenue resources for others to manage.

Last year, Somalia has awarded millions of dollars contracts to the two Turkish firms last year to upgrade and run the Mogadishu seaport and airport’s operations.

Albayrak, the Turkish firm which runs Mogadishu seaport’s operation has transferred a one month revenue of $1.582, 000 million dollars to Somalia’s central bank in November last year, a significant revenue from the port which rarely reported ‘smaller’ returns before the foreign firm took over its operations.

Somalia’s government largely relies on foreign aid and donors’ funding to rebuild state institutions in the horn of Africa nation which is recovering from decades of war since the ouster of Islamist insurgents from the capital and surrounding regions in 2011.

Overall, in spite of UAE’s efforts to overtake Turkey, Turkey’s support to Somalia, however, has remained very strong and quite possibly may increase in the next few years.

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