Turkey's bold gesture.

Author:Rivers, Martin
Position:AFRICA AND THE WORLD
 
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Without banging any drums, Turkey has been steadily expanding its presence in Africa and now has 36 embassies across the continent, including one in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. This is an exceptional show of confidence in a country that the rest of the world seems to have given up on. Martin Rivers reports from the Somali capital.

Anyone who doubts Turkey's long-term commitment to Africa need only look at the growing number of star-and-crescent flags fluttering outside diplomatic missions across the continent. The distinctive red motif now adorns 36 embassies in Africa, three times as many as in 2009.

Each new mission speaks to the growing inertia of commercial and political ties between Ankara and its partners on the continent. Bilateral trade with sub-Saharan Africa is up tenfold since the turn of the century, totalling $7.5bn in 2013. Among Turkish contractors, Africa now accounts for 19% of international business volumes. Turkey's heavy-duty exports--notably iron, steel, machinery and vehicles--are helping the continent down the laborious path of industrialisation.

One embassy, though, stands out less for its economic providence than the simple audacity of being opened in the first place. In October 2011, Turkey joined a handful of plucky African states in sending an ambassador to Somalia, the war-torn nation in the Horn of Africa that had lacked a functioning government since 1991.

The move came two months after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's then Prime Minister, became the first non-African leader to visit Mogadishu in nearly two decades. Building on the momentum of the 2010 Istanbul Conference on Somalia, jointly convened with the UN, Erdogan's message was clear: Ankara will take a leading role in bringing peace and stability to Somalia. An initial focus on food aid during the 2011 East Africa drought--the worst to hit the region in 60 years--quickly evolved into long-term development projects.

Today, foreign visitors land in Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport on the wings of a Turkish Airlines plane and into the arms of Favori, a Turkish airport operator; cars on the city's heavily congested roads drive unknowingly over Turkish-laid asphalt; and Somali youth flock to agriculture and fishery schools built in the capital with free cash from Ankara.

"People always tend to question the real motivation behind Turkish actions in Mogadishu," Olgan Bekar, Turkey's ambassador to Somalia, tells African Business during an interview in his heavily guarded city-centre embassy. "Really the answer is very simple: humanitarian motivation. In Somalia, we are setting an example of the humanitarian assistance model; one that is different from the already established assistance programmes of the international community.

"Of course, after...

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