Why Turkish aid model is proving to be a success in Somalia and elsewhere

Sunday April 1 2012


Thanks to China, a new development aid paradigm is taking root in African countries.

African governments no longer have to grin and bear the heavy-handed, top-down, paternalistic and patronising approach of traditional Western donors.

The new aid model, which is increasingly being adopted by other emerging economies, emphasises mutual trade benefits and infrastructure development, both of which have been credited with significantly improving African economies in recent years.

This model is in sharp contrast to that of traditional donors, which have been focusing more on humanitarian aid and governance issues and less on trade and infrastructure development.

The traditional donors’ approach is now increasingly being viewed as one that creates dependency and one that has little or no impact on economic development.

Though traditional Western donors are quick to point out that China’s record of human rights does not make it a trustworthy development partner, African governments have responded enthusiastically to Chinese aid, particularly infrastructure development.

It is no secret that lack of infrastructure is hindering Africa’s growth and that Chinese investment in that area is what is propelling the continent’s economies forward.

African governments have realised that poverty cannot be alleviated in an environment where there are no roads to allow farmers to take their produce to markets.

This is especially so where a large proportion of people remains poor due to lack of access to education and economic opportunities afforded by improved technical capacity and infrastructure.

Fortunately, many emerging economies are realising their foreign policy towards Africa should be based on the Chinese, rather than the Western, model.

Turkey is among those countries that have adopted an Africa policy that emulates China’s, and nowhere is this more evident than in Somalia.

I recently spoke to Dr C. Kani Torun, the Turkish ambassador to Somalia, who told me that his government is focused on improving the country’s infrastructure because “without it, there can be no development in the country”.

Turkey was the first country in 20 years to open an embassy in Mogadishu last year, following a much-publicised visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in August last year.

Mr Turun says that the Prime Minister’s visit was an “ice-breaker that showed the world that Mogadishu is no longer a No-Go area”.

Last month, Turkish Airlines became the first long-distance international commercial airliner in two decades to land at Mogadishu’s Aden Abdullahi Adde airport; it now offers two flights a week from Mogadishu to Istanbul.

Turkey’s investment in infrastructure is already evident in Mogadishu. Here it has rebuilt one hospital and is in the process of rebuilding two others.

It is also renovating and rehabilitating the airport, repairing the National Assembly building and is building a conference hall that will accommodate 1,500 people.

Sceptics claim that the Turkish presence in Somalia is not entirely based on altruistic ideals, and that Turkey hopes to gain from the vast resources that Somalia is rumoured to have.

Mr Turun admits that Turkey’s ambitions are not just to give aid to Somalia, but to increase trade opportunities between the two countries.

Somalis have readily embraced the Turkish presence in their country because it is seen as non-militaristic and non-interventionist, and focused on physical infrastructure, which has been badly damaged in the last 20 years.

The London Conference on Somalia held in February this year is seen as a belated attempt by Western powers to regain influence in Somalia and as a response to increasing Turkish presence in the country.

Turkey’s approach in Somalia, if successful, will pave the way for other emerging economies to make a significant contribution to Somalia’s economy and society, and to establish a new development paradigm based on a win-win situation for both donor and recipient.