The battle of Mogadishu in 1993 between the United States forces and the Somali militiamen loyal to the self-proclaimed president Mohamed Farrah Aidid, led to the killing of eighteen Americans and the downing of a US helicopter, the Black Hawk, with RPG’s (rocket-propelled grenades) by Aidid men. This was the bloodiest battle involving US troops since the Vietnam War and remained so until the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
Somalis did not believe that the Americans came to Somalia to secure a safe environment or for humanitarian operations: but they believed that they were using the humanitarian crisis as a cover for exploiting the natural resources of the country and to serve their political purposes in the region by having power where the former Soviet Union had once been influential.
The failure of the UNOSOM II mission certainly had a significant impact in US foreign policy; we saw what a lesson it was, as well as the profoundly negative impact of this failure on the worsening conditions in Somalia. Any triumph attached to defeating one of the most powerful countries in the world, conversely only gave the war lords a stronger reason to continue fighting, believing that they were impregnable. This in turn led the country into a series of civil wars, the invasion of Ethiopia, piracy, terrorist activities and ultimately its notoriety as a fallen state.
In my view Somalia has been isolated for twenty years as a sort of punishment for humiliating the Americans, while they used it as a test case of a failing state, recently invoked for example in the fears expressed by some world commentators that Syria may became ‘the new Somalia’.
Somalia was used as an experiment for every sort of corruption you could imagine: illegal fishing, dumping chemical toxic waste, fuelling and supporting terrorist groups like al Shabab and other war lords, using the country as an arms trafficking hub to serve the political and economic purposes of other countries, mainly their neighbours. Somalia was on stand-by for any dirty jobs needing to be done.
Due to the invasion of Somalia and the neglect the country has suffered for twenty years, Somalis have lost faith, hope and trust in the international community. It was never safe for foreigners to travel around in Somalia unless if they had armed bodyguards around them for protection. The only people who used to be pleased to see foreigners were the kidnappers, so they could use them for their own advantage. Especially in Mogadishu, you didn’t expect to see foreigners walking with confidence.
However, the scenario has changed with Turkish involvement in Somalia, in a way that prompts me to ask what it is that the Turks have done differently, to win over the hearts of the people of Somalia.
Two years ago when famine hit East Africa, the Prime Minister of Turkey Tayyip Erdoğan was the first leader to visit Mogadishu with his family in twenty years. Mr Erdogan told the BBC that they wanted to refute the notion that the city was a no-go area. Single-handed, he thus succeeded in again bringing the attention of the international community and the media to a country torn by war and desperately in need of help.
His visit to the country had a huge effect on the Somali community. They felt that finally they would not be allowed to suffer in silence and that this time, help wouldn’t be confined to food aid that would just prevent the Somali people from to starving to death but that perhaps it would offer more help than that for the future. His physical and emotional support has touched the hearts of many people and been seen as very genuine.
In Somalia it is important to show that you are sincere in your dealings with others. In my country, what you see is what you get, and I believe that this is what the Turks managed to understand from the beginning. Turkey's rising role in Africa has brought good fortune to Somalia, by bringing some peace, stability and above all hope to a nation brought to its knees by civil war.
In Mogadishu now you will see a Turkish flag fly next to the Somali flag whereever you go. Somali people genuinely love the Turkish people and want them in their country. They have become a sort of comfort. One of my friends in Mogadishu said to me, ‘Now Turkish people are part of our daily lives, everywhere you go you will see Turkish people moving around the town without any security, building hospitals, treating casualties, and if there are any accidents you will see ambulances driven by Turkish people rushing to the rescue’. She adds, ‘they are the only foreigners who you see driving cars, swimming at the beach, playing football and building the country side by side with Somali’s. They believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. And they are determined to be part of a modern Somalia.’
The commitment the Turkish government has given to Somalia has helped to bind the two countries together. Turkey is the only country in the world that has engaged their locals to help Somalis rebuild their country. If things continue in this way, Somalia will become a success story: a dead country brought back to life, by the Turks.