IntelBrief: Somalia-Türkiye Defense Deal and the Regional Implications for East Africa

Somalia and Türkiye recently agreed to a ten-year defense deal that will see Ankara helping Mogadishu with security cooperation and building the capacity of its naval forces.

While both Somalia and Türkiye have said that their agreement was long in the works and unrelated to the January deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland, the timing is notable and seems to be intended to send a clear message to Addis Ababa, as well as the United Arab Emirates.

During the meeting between Somali Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur and Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler, the discussions also touched upon training for Somali special forces, access to munitions, equipment, and logistical support, and assistance developing Somalia’s air force.

While many analysts are focused on great power competition, there are myriad examples of regional competition being overlooked, shifts in the balance of power in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, the eastern Mediterranean, and elsewhere that will significantly impact regional alignments over the next few years.

Somalia and Türkiye recently agreed to a ten-year defense deal that will see Ankara helping Mogadishu with security cooperation and building the capacity of its naval forces. Somalia’s executive and legislative branches quickly approved the agreement, known as the “Defense and Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement.” The deal comes on the heels of an early January agreement between Ethiopia and Somaliland, wherein Addis Ababa and the breakaway region that has long advocated for autonomy and which Somalia insists is part of its territory, would cooperate on an Ethiopian naval base along the coast of Somaliland that would give it access to twelve miles of coastline for the next fifty years. As part of the defense pact, Türkiye will help Somalia develop sea assets, build a naval capability, and assist with training Somali forces to focus on maritime security. This includes, according to Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, helping to counter “terrorism, piracy, illegal fishing, toxic dumping and any external violations or threats” to Somalia’s coastline. Somalia’s location on the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, with access to the Red Sea, makes it highly attractive for several countries jockeying for position to expand their geopolitical influence throughout the Horn of Africa.

While both Somalia and Türkiye have said that their agreement was long in the works and unrelated to the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland, the timing is notable and seems to be intended to send a clear message to Addis Ababa, as well as the United Arab Emirates, which played an instrumental role in facilitating the deal with Somaliland. Still, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced: “We tell the Somali people that the agreement…is solely about cooperation between Somalia and Turkey on maritime defense and economy. It is not in any way aimed at creating hatred or a feud with another country or government.” Even while supporting Somalia and strengthening its own position in East Africa, Türkiye is seeking to avoid antagonizing Ethiopia, a landlocked nation of 120 million and one of the most significant geopolitical players on the African continent. Türkiye has sold drones to Ethiopia recently as it fought against a rebellion in Tigray. Türkiye has pledged to help build Somalia’s navy so that it can protect its territorial waters and keep open the shipping lanes critical to the global economy. There is also an economic aspect to the assistance—by helping Somalia maintain the integrity of its maritime borders, Türkiye is also helping Somalia contribute to recovering its natural resources.

During the meeting between Somali Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur and Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler, the discussions also touched upon training for Somali special forces, access to munitions, equipment, and logistical support, and help developing Somalia’s air force. Türkiye has long been invested in the Horn of Africa and Somalia in particular, where Ankara has its largest embassy and a massive military base and plays a key role in operating various transportation hubs in the country. Türkiye has trained more than 16 thousand Somali troops, while the United States and Eritrea have also been involved in training Somali forces in the fight against the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab. Mogadishu recently signed a $100 million deal for the United States to build five military bases to train the Somali special forces unit Danab, which remains on the front lines against al-Shabaab. At the end of the year, Somali security forces are preparing to assume control following the shceduled departure of the African Union Transition Mission (ATMIS). Somalia also recently signed an enhanced defense cooperation agreement with Uganda, as Kampala is also part of the group of countries fighting against al-Shabaab militants that have developed a regional capability to launch attacks. Al-Shabaab has remained a stubborn threat in Somalia and still ranks among al-Qaeda’s most capable and dangerous franchise groups.

While many analysts are focused on great power competition between the United States, Russia, and China, there are myriad examples of regional competition that are being overlooked, shifts in the balance of power in areas like the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere that will significantly impact regional alignments over the next few years. Gulf powers are heavily invested in what happens across sub-Saharan Africa and the tensions that exist in the Middle East often spill over into other areas, including across Africa. What is happening in East Africa is a microcosm of what is occurring globally. Moreover, much of what is occurring is impossible to disaggregate from regional political dynamics completely and is related to other overlapping issues and must be viewed through this lens to be properly understood. In addition to working with the UAE to gain access to Somaliland, Addis Ababa and Abu Dhabi have cooperated in the conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which has strained relationships between Ethiopia, on the one hand, and Sudan and Egypt on the other.

Check Also

Iraq Needs a New Kind of Partnership With the United States

The Path to Sustainable Cooperation Two decades ago, the United States assisted the Iraqi people …