By Mohamed Omar*
Earlier this week, the Turkish president and his dignitaries were warmly welcomed at the new Mogadishu International Terminal. The key purpose of the visit was to inaugurate and witness the grand opening of what was once known as Digfeer Hospital, now renamed Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Mogadishu.
This occasion follows the visit of Mr Erdogan and his family to Mogadishu during the devastating famine of August 2011. At the time, Prime Minister Erdogan was the first leader from outside Africa to visit Mogadishu. It was significant in many ways.
Firstly, it was during the holy month of Ramadam. Secondly Mr Erdogan brought his family to visit, converse with and hug the famine-affected population and they then generously delivered a monetary donation from the Turkish public to the transitional Somali Federal Government. Mr Erdogan addressed Somalis as “brothers and sisters”, warning that the famine in Somalia was “a test for civilization and human value” and urged all world leaders “to do their parts, not only for short term humanitarian assistance but the long term economic development of Somalia”.
This was a man with a plan, ready to execute it. As such, since that time, Mr Erdogan was elected President of Turkey, where he maintained his promises. Turkey deployed personnel in Mogadishu as part of the Somali rebuilding effort, whilst also offering scholarships to young Somalis to study in Turkey. In addition, on Sunday, the Turkish government pledged to intensify further its efforts by building 10,000 houses within two years to house IDPs (Internally Displaced People), thus redefining the lost image of the Somali capital. Turkey’s involvement in Somalia has been received with mixed feelings by Somalis. For instance, Mohamed and Haawa are happy with the Turkish unilateral commitment in Somalia; they regard the involvement as “a light at the end of the tunnel”. They met the news of investment with exuberant waving of Turkish flags. They have named their new born twins Istanbul and Erdogan, and often downplay the commitment of the International Community in Somalia in comparison to the effectiveness of the Turkish approach.
Mohamed and Haawa are excited about Mr Erdogan’s promises; confident they will be delivered and have already started fantasising about how Mogadishu will look once the 10,000 houses are built. On the other hand, Jamaal and Mariam are sceptics. Although grateful for Turkish assistance and generosity, they are weary of its involvement in Somali affairs. Essentially, they argue that in International Relations, the State is a selfish entity, and as such Jamaal and Mariam don’t regard Somalia and Turkey as partners or equal traders.
They see Turkey as an exploiter, willing to do whatever means necessary to benefit from Somalia’s natural resources. They believe that Turkey is adopting a soft power approach to win Somali hearts and minds, thereby creating the political environment for resource extraction.
Let’s face it, these two groups will debate and argue until the cows come home. Whilst I think this is a healthy and necessary discussion, it will be fruitful only if conducted in a mature, respectful and above all inclusive manner – by involving all Somalis. Undoubtedly, both sides of the argument are keen to express that their views are in the best interests for Somalia; both are keen to see a functioning and prosperous future for the State. To be fair, it is also important to acknowledge the progress Somalia has made in recent times. But, in my opinion the Government must improve on its transparency mechanisms and information access to gain credibility and trust from Somalis and partners. This aspect of the issue should not be taken lightly, especially in this context.
The following are three key suggestions on the importance of an open and transparent government:
1) Somalia depends on external funders, therefore clear information on how the funds are acquired and spent is required.
2) Access to information is necessary to ensure the integrity and reputation of Government officials.
3) Government officials should be open for public scrutiny before an independent and impartial Committee.