By Jebril Domenico – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
As part of its efforts to boost its presence on the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean coast, Turkey has cemented ties with Somalia and Djibouti, through economic and military agreements.
Through developing ever-closer ties with these countries, Turkey seeks to achieve strategic and economic goals including boosting trade and establish a launchpad to expand its presence and investments throughout Africa.
Through a sequence of steps, Turkey is bolstering its presence at ports in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. In late September 2017 in Somalia, Turkey officially opened its biggest overseas military base, which includes three military residential complexes, training venues, and other facilities, South of the Horn of Africa’s capital Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean.
The move reflects growing Turkish-Somali trade and investment relations. Turkey attempted to exploit this growth to achieve other strategic goals. The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency has offered a total of US$400 million in aid to Somalia, a huge amount that helped Turkey to secured support from the Somali government for the Turkish military base. It is estimated that the trade between Somalia and Turkey totaled $200 million in 2018, in favour of Turkey. In 2003, it was $2 million.
Djibouti is another country on the Red Sea where Turkey seeks to bolster its presence. In December 2016, Turkey signed an agreement with the country to build a five million square meters free economic zone on the Red Sea. This free-trade zone in Djibouti would serve as a trade hub that enables Turkey to export manufactured goods as well as raw materials to the wider East African region.
The move was in line with Djibouti’s political and economic openness to regional and international powers, aimed at attracting foreign investments to drive development.
Turkey is making diligent efforts to enhance its ability to compete with regional powers that have a special interest in building and developing seaports on the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean to make a trade and investment gains.
These efforts would provide an opportunity for Turkey to achieve trade and economic integration, and cement partnerships with some international economic powers that are equally ambitious to bolster their presence on the Red Sea coast.
For instance, China established a 46 square kilometers free trade zone in Djibouti as part of Beijing’s plan to expand trade routes through the One Belt and One Road Initiative, a grand scheme for knitting a network of roads, ports, railways and other infrastructure projects spanning more than 60 countries.
Turkey’s movements can contribute to increasing trade between Turkey and two African countries. Turkey is well aware that its trade with Somalia totaled just $5.1 million in 2010 but ballooned to $200 million in 2018 Hence, new seaports can help Turkey increase exports to existing markets in Somalia.
For Turkey, rapidly growing trade with the region provides a significant trade link to Africa, as its bilateral trade volume with this continent reached $17.5 billion in 2015, a three-fold increase in volume compared to the records of 2003.
Turkey is not the first country to look forward to building maritime partnerships with countries in this region. But although other regional and international powers already have a presence in this region, it is perhaps possible to argue that moves by any country to bolster its presence at seaports do not necessarily mean they would reduce gains for the other involved countries, as is the case in Djibouti where military bases of several foreign countries were already established.