The Turkey Factor in MN's Somalis

A delegation from Turkey visited Minnesota during the week of March 23 to discuss their country’s relationship with Somalia. The delegation which included a senior member of parliament from the ruling party held series of meetings with Minnesota’s Somali community to boast Turkey’s activities in Somalia.

This was not the first time a Turkey delegation visited Minnesota. In 2012, Turkey’s Deputy Ambassador Timur Soylemez in America came to accept appreciation note from Somalis for his country’s contribution to the humanitarian relief effort in Somalia after severe drought killed hundreds of thousands.

Since the drought episode, Turkey’s involvement of Somalia only intensified. Turkey has one of the largest foreign presences in Mogadishu. Turkey’s leader Recap Tayyip Edrogan visited Mogadishu twice becoming the only non-African head of state to do so.

As anything that involves Somalia, the concentration of Turkey in Mogadishu has added division in Minnesota’s Somali community. Biggest compliant has been this concentration attests to Turkey's favoritism for certian region of Somalia.

In fairness, Turkey has engaged various fiefdoms of Somalia. Turkey facilitated number of high level meetings in Ankara and Istanbul among Somalis to hammer-out conflict.Turkey facilitated meetings attracted Somalis from Minnesota and Canada always eager for an opportunity to become involve Somalia’s politics under the diaspora banner.

Despite the disagreement among Somalis, no doubt Turkey has economic and political interests in Somalia.

Turkey went through a decade of a remarkable economic growth. Turkey’s economy grew an average of 5.2 percent in 2002-2012 culminating with Gross Domestic Produc (GDP) over $800 billion. This decade included 2008-2009 when most economies in the world including United States were contracting.

The industry and service sectors of Turkey’s economy have fairly developed in this era but agriculture and non-governmental sectors continue to lag.

The absence of diversity in Turkey's economy handicapped ability to export for further expansion. In 2013, Sweden exported $182 billion worth of goods and services from $580 billion GDP compared to Turkey which exported $167 billion from GDP of $822 billion.

Turkey continues to search for export destination. Somalia battered by long time conflict is prime candidate for an experiment in agriculture and non-governmental sectors of such emerging economy as that of Turkey.

Moreover, Turkey has been led by a relatively devout Muslim leader in most of last decade. Recap Tayyip Erdogan has made very clear his desired to introduce Somalia a political Islam that’s reflective of Turkey system of government compared to Saudi type of political Islam currently dominating Somalia. Saudi type of political Islam has fueled arm struggle in already chaotic Somalia. Erdogan floated deploying troops from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with Turkey on the lead to replace brutal and often abusive African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Turkey’s political objectives are clear but the politics to accomplish appears to go through North America particularly Canada and Minnesota. Somalia has had governments in name only over 20 years and Somalis from Canada and Minnesota always grabbed lion’s share.

The current one is no different. The Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke holds Canadian passport. Abdi Aynte, a long time Twin Cities resident and naturalized American citizen has been recently appointed a minister. Other members of Minnesota’s Somali community play various roles in Somalia politics.

There are also individuals and groups vying to capitalize on Turkey’s interest of Somalia. For example, religous leaders in Minnesota’s Somali community would like to see more support from Turkey for faith initiatives.

At the moment, Turkey appears to be investing secular political activism within Minnesota’s Somali community. Global Somalis Diaspora (GSD), a group founded in Turkey in 2014 recently opened offices in Minnesota and Canada. Members of GSD met seperately in Minneapolis to discuss Somalia’s future in the week of March 23 as well.

There is an opportunity cost for Minnesota’s Somali community. Efforts and energy spend on Turkey’s activities in Somalia certainly lead to distraction from the focus required for urgent issues.

The biennium state legislative session in St. Paul is going to end soon. Legislators and their staff working to push through laws which could bring positive impact to Minnesota’s Somali community struggled to find witnesses to testify in favor of pieces of legislations and the necessary advocacy to gardener support in committees and house floor.

Deteriorating housing conditions continue to build over several months in Cedar Riverside, a Minneapolis neighborhood which thousands Somalis call home, burst to crisis level with two protests in one month.

Another urgent isue is Counter Violent Extremism pilot program, the federal led effort to dissuade Somali-American youth from joining overseas terror groups. US Attorney in Minnesota asked community leaders to form a steering committee that consists of 15-20 people. At least for the week of March 23, meetings with Turkey delegations were higher priority than coalescing around a strategy to safeguard vulnerable youth.

If there was one thing Turkey delegation and Minnesota's Somali community to discuss, it's a strategy to interdict Somali-American youth traveling through Turkey heading to Iraq and Syria. Community energy and meager resources will lead to better returns when channeled and directed on urgent issues such as these happening on the community's backyard rather than Turkey’s foreign policy and politics towards Somalia.