Investigative Reports

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Somalia’s Deal With Turkey Is Aimed at Ethiopia

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Somalia announced yesterday it had signed a defense and economic cooperation deal with Turkey that reportedly includes maritime security support, authorizing Ankara to train and equip the Somali navy so it can better defend its territorial waters. The deal was signed earlier this month and will reportedly be in force for the next decade. (AP)

Our Take

The Somalia-Turkey agreement is just the latest development in the continued fallout from a deal signed on Jan. 1 between Ethiopia and Somaliland, that remains unrecognized internationally. That agreement grants Ethiopia, which is landlocked, access to some of Somaliland’s coastline and use of its port, potentially in exchange for diplomatic recognition of Somaliland.

Until this year, the Somaliland situation, while an irritant for Mogadishu, had largely been static. Somaliland had enjoyed de facto independence for decades without having made any progress on international recognition, while Somalia focused more attention on its war against the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab. Now, Ethiopia’s reported pledge to recognize Somaliland—notably at a time when quasi-states appear to have more leverage in the global order—has set off a cascade of regional effects, including some saber-rattling.

For its part, Somalia remains particularly suspicious of the potential role that the United Arab Emirates played in the Ethiopia-Somaliland agreement. That’s because the Horn of Africa has increasingly become an epicenter of geopolitical competition among Middle East powers. The UAE, in particular, has become a major player in the Horn and has previously facilitated ties between Ethiopia and Somaliland. So Somalia’s suspicion is not unfounded.

It makes sense, in this context, that Somalia would seek to strengthen its partnership with Turkey, which has become an increasingly close ally. Turkey already provides development aid and military training to Somalia, and in 2017 opened its largest overseas military base in Mogadishu.

With this new agreement, that partnership extends to Somalia’s territorial waters, potentially serving as a deterrent to Ethiopia’s use of Somaliland’s coastline. At the same time, however, the Turkey-Somalia deal is sure to escalate tensions in the region and further entangle the Horn in longstanding Middle East rivalries.

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