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Somalia prepares to bid ‘wistful’ farewell to outgoing Turkish diplomat

For the outgoing Turkish ambassador, Somalia, viewed by his foreign diplomatic counterparts as a fragile impoverished country manipulated from outside is a potential strategic partner that deserves Turkey’s maximum attention to recover instead.

By Judy Maina, judy.maina@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI — No matter what your own particular “taste” of politics could be, it’s impossible not to be impressed or enthralled by the bromance of Somalia and Olgan Bekar referred by many as the ‘savior’.

It’s a special bond that a country rarely develops with a foreign diplomat. But, the exposure by Olgan Bekar, the Turkish ambassador to Somalia in the local media is something that other diplomats could only envy but it’s quite natural given the phenomenal boosts in bilateral ties between the two nations.

The 41-year-old veteran diplomat could not have imagined what was in store when he arrived in the Somali capital four years ago to take up his post as the Turkish ambassador to Somalia.

From the beginning, Mr. Bekar’s job as a diplomat meant that he had a ringside view of the situation of Somalia, having taken time out from his preparations to travel to the country — defying all odds.

THE ROUGH JOURNEY

In his first week into the office, the career diplomat’s duties did not get off to an easy start. On his first assessment tour across Mogadishu, things were a lot different than he could have imagined, having witnessed the desperation and hunger faced by thousands of people who fled their homes across the country at the height of the devastating famine in the country and gathered in refugee camps to survive.

The shocking tales that the refugees shared with him have moved the emotional diplomat to tears. During his hours-long subsequent trips across many camps, he shared bond with the kids of refugees.

That was the beginning of an initiative by the then new ambassador who started pushing for a new Turkish-Somalia engagement proposal which highlighted the importance of a humanitarian diplomacy that’d run alongside the other multiple development projects that Turkish agencies were undertaking in Somalia. His initiative that had drawn a favorable attention by the Turkish government has won an immediate approval followed an implementation drive.

For Bekar, Somalia, viewed by his foreign diplomatic counterparts as a fragile impoverished country manipulated from outside is a potential strategic partner that deserves Turkey’s maximum attention to recover instead.

In his mind, the desire to live “in friendship with the poor” and pushing Somalia up” has never left him.

“Turkey is here to put an end to the years of suffering endured by the people of Somalia. People used to ask us why we were here and what national interests we had in 2011 when we first arrived, but they understood the reasons in time,” he said.

Despite Turkey’s emergency intervention and massive humanitarian shipments it had sent in response to the devastating 2012 famine in Somalia that helped the country to pull through the devastating effects of the food crisis, Bekar’s push for more assistance prompted the Turkish government to undertake one of the largest development projects in parallel with a massive humanitarian aid to the post-war Somalia.

Turkey has also become the largest source of foreign donor investor and partner, with some of its citizens started to arrive Mogadishu to explore the country’s few tourist sites, a goodwill gesture that created a bond between the two nations that are now considering making their two capitals, Mogadishu and Istanbul twin cities.

With a clean and neatly constructed roads infrastructure now replaced the once potholed and dirt-filled roads in Mogadishu, thanks to the massive investment by Turkey which can point to a string of reported accomplishments and an arguably outsized presence in an often violent country regularly described as a failed state, the gratitude expressed by the city’s over 2 million residents remains to be infinite.

The ambassador, who has overseen multiple Turkish projects in Somalia over the years, too established a deep friendship with Somalis, including ordinary citizens who have in turn made Turkish cities as their tourist destinations.

INDEBTED NATION

Bekar who has since won hearts and minds of Somalis had received a positive reception for standing out among the long list of foreign diplomats based in Somalia, including a recognition as the Best Friend of Somalia.

“He is a symbol for Turkey’s positive contribution and brotherhood towards Somalia.” said Yusuf Mohamed, a university professor in Mogadishu, noting that the Turkish ambassador would remain an irreplaceable figure for Somalis in the years to come.

As his mission term comes to an end, the Turkish father of three who holds PHD in the Department of Political Sciences from the prestigious University of Vienna, he is certainly seen as the most high-profile foreign diplomat to be based in Somalia that Somalis have seen and known, and left the hearts of many warmed.

“Because of his selfless sacrifices, we are now in a better position than we were before Turkey’s arrival and harvesting the fruits – the savior will be missed by all of us.” said a Somali lawmaker who requested to remain anonymous about the imminent departure of the much-respected diplomat.

Turkey’s presence in Somalia certainly embodies one of the most interesting regional geopolitical developments in the past decade. It also represents one of the most misunderstood and confusing. Why did Turkey choose Somalia? And, after its initial humanitarian intervention in 2011, what internal and external forces have shaped and expanded that involvement? Furthermore, what explains Turkey’s reported triumphs?

“A success story in Turkish foreign politics,” the ambassador said in a recent interview with the Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper, “Somali brothers and sisters wholeheartedly appreciate what Turkey does for them.”

For some parties inside and outside Somalia, Turkey is now viewed as indispensable to Somalia. The keys to Turkey’s reported success in Somalia – where so many other established powers have failed before – may revolve around key critical factors, something that the outgoing ambassador is credited with having steered with ‘special care’.

There is a striking difference compared to 2011,” Bekar noted, adding that the real difference Ankara has made has been with activities that are not limited to distributing bread or flour but erecting street lamps and building roads.

THE POIGNANT GOODBYE  

The first week of November will mark  the end of a four-year reign by the Turkish ambassador to Somalia who often refers the country as the ‘extraordinaire’ whereas he is referred as the ‘savior’ by Somalis, envisaging the deep memory that both would keep with them for years to come..

But for Somali officials who have worked alongside the Turkish diplomat for years, it’s “a nostalgic occasion” to bid farewell to Bekar “after completing his diplomatic duty in Somalia as a very distinguished ambassador.

Emotional scenes have already overwhelmed Somali government offices even before the Turkish ambassador ends his 4-year Somalia mission. He leaves behind a mixed legacy on stronger Somalia — hope for post-war Somalia tinged by political crisis and violence by militants to make a full recovery within a short period.

Nonetheless, as he prepares to bid farewell to Somalia, he wants to go quietly, but his admirers have other ideas: To stage the largest farewell party made for a foreign diplomat in the country’s history.

It’s a grateful nation that has been swept in gratitude mania, and can barely afford to say a final goodbye to a friend who has defied all odds and exceeded all expectations to come to their assistance at the time they needed him most.

Just weeks before the ‘savior’ signs off on his tenure, Mogadishu will hold its breath with a wistful mood until the last minute comes into the air.

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