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A recent defense deal between Somalia and Turkey has great significance for Somalia and the region’s security. The agreement, which covers both land and sea, aims to enhance defense cooperation between Turkey and Somalia. It includes the possibility of Turkey providing both training and equipment for a Somali navy.

Its near-term impact should, however, not be exaggerated.

Instead, it should be understood as a good-faith agreement signed between asymmetric powers whose interests overlap a little, at present. My research on the geopolitics and security agreements over the past few decades covering Turkey, Somalia, and the wider East African region leads to my analysis that Mogadishu and Ankara entered into the agreement for different reasons.

Turkey, the more powerful partner, signed the agreement to bolster its reputation as a security partner and an important actor in sub-Saharan Africa. It wants to cement its role as a critical player in Somalia’s future and improve its international visibility and prestige domestically.

Turkey plans to expand its training role to the maritime realm in Somalia and complement its terrestrial military training facility in Mogadishu. It may also provide — but is unlikely to sell (given Somalia’s severe budgetary constraints) — arms to Somalia now that the arms embargo has been lifted.

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Somalia, as the less powerful partner, signed the agreement to build its defense capacities, particularly offshore. It entered into the deal eventually to gain the capabilities to project force throughout the territories it claims.

Mogadishu’s means to project force in its territorial waters are currently limited. Hence, the illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and piracy.

Somalia’s leaders likely hope that Turkey will be able to train and equip Somali soldiers and sailors. This would give Mogadishu the capability to project limited force and thus better police its territories, both maritime and terrestrial. In doing so, it hopes to eventually gain a monopoly on the use of force within its borders, including semi-autonomous regions such as Jubaland and the de facto-independent state of Somaliland.

Limited Scope

In my view, there are limitations to what Turkey can achieve through this agreement in terms of its ambitions in the region. Even if the agreement were fully implemented, Ankara would not be involved in confronting Mogadishu’s rivals (including Ethiopia) within the region.

In short, the agreement is limited in scope and in terms of capabilities being offered. It will need to be long-term to accomplish anything close to affecting political and military outcomes on the ground — inside and outside Somalia.

It does not, in my view, represent the beginning of a new system of regional alliances that will pit Turkey and Somalia along with Egypt against Ethiopia, Somaliland, and possibly other regional states such as the United Arab Emirates.

The Background

The Turkey-Somalia agreement should be seen in the light of what the deal gives each signatory — not as part of a new system of regional alliances that are adjusting to the deal signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland at the beginning of 2024.

Under this agreement, Ethiopia will get a 50-year lease on a strip of land on Somaliland’s Red Sea coast for naval and commercial maritime use, and access to the Berbera port. In return, Addis Ababa would recognize Somaliland’s independence from Somalia.

This deal has set off a diplomatic storm in the region. It has been opposed by Somalia and Turkey, as well as the U.S., China, and Egypt. The agreement is certainly important. It has the potential to make an impact on the political and security fabric of the region as Ethiopia may eventually have a maritime security and commercial footprint in the Gulf of Aden.

These two recent deals in the Horn of Africa, however, are driven by the national interests of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Somaliland. They speak to their primary interests — territory and sovereignty.

The genesis of engagement and agreements with external actors has come from one or more of these Horn of Africa states. This was similarly the case with the 2017 Berbera Port deal between Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Dubai’s DP World. It was the case with Qatar’s engagement with Somalia on electoral politics, also in 2017.

It should come as little surprise that the region’s states — like others in the international state system — work to further their interests in their own backyard.

For its part, Turkey’s interests, like those of other foreign powers in the Horn of Africa, are generally opportunistic. Their intent is short-term gains. In my view, Turkey doesn’t have military interests in the Horn of Africa, and Ankara has limited capabilities even if it did.

This isn’t a criticism of Turkey. All states have limited capabilities and they generally prioritize them — especially when it comes to security architecture — close to home, where it matters. Turkey is no different.

No Gunboat Diplomacy

Turkey will be a good partner for Somalia and vice versa. They have a decade of history together and the agreement gives both Ankara and Mogadishu something of value.

In Turkey, Somalia has found a capable partner that can offer training, expertise, and some arms. And this means that the context was only partially about the recent Ethiopia-Somaliland deal.

Mogadishu’s leaders are under no illusion.

They know their own projection of limited power against what they see as encroachments on Somalia’s terrestrial and maritime territories is years in the future. But so is Ethiopia’s floating of a navy off the coast of Somaliland.

We should, therefore, not expect Turkish-trained and equipped Somali troops to be invading Somaliland, or Turkish ships crewed by Somali sailors to be skirmishing with Ethiopia in the Gulf of Aden any time soon. Instead, we should understand the agreement as one among many that may become embodied as something of strategic value only much later.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Brendon J. Cannon is an assistant professor at Khalifa University.

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