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Somali-American Promotes Better Turkish-Somali Relations

Ahmedei Cheikgurei, left, with the Turkish consul general to the US, middle, and the Turkish ambassador, right. [Hassan M. Abukar/Sahan Journal]

Sahan Journal
By Hassan Abukar
Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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Ahmedei Cheikgurei is both mad and ecstatic about recent events in Somalia. He is mad because of al-Shabaab’s suicide bombing on Turkish embassy in Mogadishu on June 27 in which one Turkish security officer was killed and half dozen others were wounded. Cheikgurei is ecstatic because, even after this heinous attack, the Turkish government has declared that it would not withdraw from Somalia and cease its humanitarian aid to that country.

“I never doubted that Turkey would stand by Somalia,” Cheikgurei says. “Turkish people are known for their great hospitality, moral virtue, warmth, compassion and humanity.”

Cheikgurei, a Somali-American leader and a top officer of the Turkish-Somali American Friendship Association, is quick to point out that Turkey was the first country that came to Somalia’s rescue during the massive famine in 2011, and that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first non-African leader to visit Mogadishu in more than 20 years. He brought the plight of the suffering Somalis to the world’s attention.

Both the Turkish government and its people have since donated hundreds of millions of dollars to Somalia. In 2011 alone, Turkey donated $365 million.

“Turkey is building schools, hospitals, roads, and soccer stadiums, and rehabilitating the main airport, parliament building, and huge markets to spur the economy as well as offering thousands of scholarships to Somali students,” Cheikgurei says.

Cheikgurei, in the center, in Mogadishu with Turkish engineers and medical doctors. [Hassan M. Abukar/Sahan Journal]

What separates Turkish aid to Somalia from other relief projects in Somalia is that it is concrete, unique, and observable, Cheikgurei tells me.

“The Turks in Mogadishu drive their own cars, trucks, and heavy equipment,” he says.

In contrast, Cheikgurei says the UN and other international non-government organizations (NGOs) are nestled in the comfort of Nairobi, “sipping cappuccino and constantly talking about capacity building and empowerment.”

Cheikgurei sees that “arms-chair” approach to aid as counter-productive.

“How can you build capacity and empower people when you hop on a plane from Nairobi to Mogadishu every once in awhile, like a tourist?” he says.

Cheikgurei with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul last year. [Hassan M. Abdukar/Sahan Journal]
Ahmedei Cheikgurei is no stranger to Turkey. He lived there in the 1990s and understands the country and its culture. Moreover, he speaks Turkish fluently and occasionally interprets for Turkish officials who visit the Somali communities in the U.S.

Cheikgurei, who holds an advanced degree in organizational management and leadership, is also the chief executive officer of the new Global Impact Resource Group, or GIRG, an international development company that provides social and humanitarian services.

“My colleagues in GIRG and I aspire to transform Somalia into a twenty-first century nation,” he says.

Over the past 13 months alone, Cheikgurei has visited Turkey three times. He also visited his hometown, Mogadishu, and met with Somali government officials and Turkish diplomats, engineers, medical doctors, educators, and aid workers.

“Somalia can learn a lot from Turkey, especially how to run the state,” Cheikgurei says. “We Somalis are fortunate to have a country like Turkey going out of its way at this juncture of our existence to lend us a helping hand.”

Somalia desperately needs that helping hand. The country has experienced a bloody civil war that has lasted for more than 21 years. Many people have died and the country’s infrastructure has been utterly destroyed. Finally, last fall, Somalia elected a new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and the international community has recognized his government.

Mohamoud has publicly acknowledged Turkey’s role in helping Somalia. “The Turkish government is one of our determined and dependable allies,” he said after the al-Shabaab bombing on the Turkish embassy. “Many Turks have come to Somalia to help our recovery. We have new schools and hospitals because of the their extraordinary work.”

Cheikgurei says Somalia needs what he calls the “Turkish model” in development.  That model, he says, focuses on “needs rather than wish lists [of aid projects] made in European capitals.”

Somalia, according to Cheikgurei, is on the right track in its recovery. “Thanks to friends like Turkey,” he says, smiling.

Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer and political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected].

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