Hurriyet Daily News
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Turkey has expressed its hope that the Somalia Conference in Istanbul will constitute an important turning point in ending violence in Somalia and launching a new political process to establish a national government, in a move to end armed conflict among different local clans.
“I attach great importance to this conference as it could introduce active contributions to solving the ongoing problems in Somalia and ending the violence there,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview.
Bozdağ is the most senior member of the government responsible for delivering humanitarian aid to the world’s poorest and most dangerous country in which to live. Tasked by the prime minister with visiting the country every two months, Bozdağ has traveled to Somalia five times since Aug. 19, 2011, the day Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the country and launched an overall reconstruction campaign. Bozdağ describes the day as a milestone in Somalia’s history. “There is a need for a holistic approach to solving the security problems in Somalia. An increased number of troops is important for dealing with the violent groups, but it also requires steps in the fields of health, education, infrastructure and employment. Turkey’s approach is based on this reality, that security conditions can only be improved if social issues are also addressed,” Bozdağ said.
Saying that the Somalia Conference being held in Istanbul will help draw the international community’s attention to the country, Bozdağ said that one first in the history of Somalia will be experienced in the course of the gathering.
“Around 300 opinion leaders and representatives of different clans will also take part in the conference. It will be very important to provide a place for them to come together to discuss their own matters, as they are the real sufferers in the situation. This is a first,” Bozdağ said.
A first in Somalia
These leaders represent all parts of Somalia, including Somaliland in the north and Puntland in the south, Bozdağ noted, adding “We hope these participants will take the necessary steps to end armed conflict and establish peace and security in the country.”
According to Bozdağ, this conference appears to be the best opportunity to come close to a solution to the problems in Somalia. “The new government is set to be established in August.
This conference will also be an important opportunity for different Somali political groups to compromise on a consensus government and carry their hopes through to a new era and turn them into successful results,” he said.
What has changed since Aug 19?
It has been nearly a year since Turkey and Turkish NGOs launched their humanitarian aid mission in
Somalia, Bozdağ said. “When we first landed in Mogadishu, there wasn’t a soul in sight on the streets, no economic or construction activity, but it was full of desperate faces.
On my last visit, however, markets had been established, people had started trading, and everyone was smiling.”
Turkey’s engagement in Somalia pushed the country to stand on its feet and gave Somalis hope for future, Bozdağ said.
Health, education, infrastructure
The immediate problems Turkey undertook to address were poor health conditions, malnutrition and a lack of infrastructure to provide clean water and sanitation. “Due to a lack of basic medicines, children were dying of treatable maladies. Due to a lack of qualified medical personnel, even simple operations could not be carried out,” said Bozdağ. Following Turkey’s efforts to improve health conditions “Somalis are no longer waiting for death, but for treatment,” he said.
Apart from the Turkish government, a number of Turkish NGOs are also building hospitals and clinics in Mogadishu and some other parts of the country to address the needs of Somalis. In addition, a vocational medical school is being built by Turkey to train medical personnel.
Education is another area in which Turkey is helping Somalis. More than 500 Somalis are have been awarded grants to study at Turkish universities, in a plan to provide qualified engineers, doctors and other professionals to help in the re-construction of the country. In a move to improve the country’s infrastructure, Turkey modernized Mogadishu Airport to allow international flights. That was followed by Turkish Airlines’ decision to begin offering regular flights to Mogadishu from Istanbul.
“That is another very important step we have taken,” Bozdağ said. He also mentioned that Turkey will be rebuilding the road connecting the airport to downtown Mogadishu in the coming months.
Opening a Turkish embassy in Mogadishu was another landmark development according to the deputy prime minister, who said “That also pushed other countries to open their embassies in Mogadishu.”
When reminded that Turkey’s interest in Somalia received different reactions from international community, which questioned the real intentions of the Turkish government, Bozdağ said: “Turkey did not go to Somalia with political or other objectives. Turkey’s only motivation is its humanitarian approach. This is the generosity of the Turkish people for God’s sake, not only to Somalia but to all those who are in need. … Almost 99 percent of Turkey’s aid is coming from the Turkish people’s donations.”
Whatever Turkey and its institutions are doing, the most important factor is the will of the Somali people in turning the course of their fate, Bozdağ said. “What we are actually doing is helping Somalis to realize this. ‘If you are committed to [change], if you decide to change the flow of things, then you’ll overcome all your problems’ is the message we are delivering to them. I see that they have realized this and I hope they will succeed in it.”