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Why Turkey, Atmis jostle for control of Mogadishu Port

Sunday April 28, 2024

Turkish Navy Ship F514 docks at the Mogadishu Sea Port following the signing of a defense and economic agreement between Somalia and Turkey in Mogadishu, Somalia on April 23, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS

The African Union peacekeepers in Somalia say they will not cede the security of the strategic commercial infrastructure yet, even as they hand over more responsibilities to the Somali National Army. The Mogadishu seaport remains key to securing the capital and intercepting supplies that sustain Al-Shabaab warfare.

The port is where national, regional, global — and even parochial — interests in Somalia play out: Turks want it for economic reasons; the peacekeepers want it for security and tactical operations; the Somalis want it for business; and the Shabaab want it to sustain their war chest.

Officers of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis) say the seaport is strategic for the Somalia government and the AU force as the main supply route and alternative exit in case of any emergency, and as such, it remains a high Shabaab target.

Port reports show that traffic has improved in recent months, as it now receives between 10 and 15 vessels per week unlike in the past when security was not favourable and docking ships were not more than three per week.

“The seaport remains one of the main targets of Al Shabaab within Mogadishu, therefore our forces remain vigilant and combat-ready to avert any attack,” said Lt Marcelino Bukenya Muwonge, Intelligence Officer for the Seaport Forward Operating Base (FOB) manned by Ugandan troops under Atmis.

The port which is 4km east of Mogadishu airport on the Indian Ocean coastline within Ham Jabab District in the Somalia capital, serves as a commercial hub of Somalia and is the only FOB that Atmis maintains within the city.

Since 2014, Turkish private firm Albayrak Group was handed the rights to operate and manage the port – renewed in 2020 for another 14 years – in a deal that sees the company collect revenue to be shared with the Somali Treasury on a 45-55 percent split. But Turkey has recently inked new deals with Somalia, including a defence and economic agreement in February 2024, in which Ankara will provide maritime security support, which on April 23, saw a Turkish navy vessel, TCG Kinaliada F514, dock at Mogadishu.

The Ugandan contingent under Atmis has been mentoring the Somali Navy Force, and Coast Guard, taking them through skills on how to operate on the coastline.

“Turks took over the port; they are collecting revenue and offer naval security support, but that does not mean our role to secure the facility is diminished,” said Maj Peter Mugisa, spokesperson of the Uganda contingent of Atmis.

For instance, the port is accessed by both vehicles and pedestrians through one entry point which has outer and inner security layers manned by the Somali Police Force and Atmis respectively while Turkish and Somali intelligence personnel play complimentary security roles within the port.

Somali forces are directly in charge of security at the main entry for ships, containers and stores while the main control point and other positions, including towers, are manned by Atmis.

Critics say there are too many players with language disparities and divergent interests, which often clash.

Capt Aggrey Kalanzi, Seaport FOB Commander, said that due to the language barrier, communication often fails.

Al-Shabaab and its collaborators have attempted to exploit the disharmony of the many layers of security and interests in the personnel manning the port to smuggle in warfare supplies, the most recent being on September 17, 2023, when Atmis seized three containers carrying Shabaab military equipment.

The shipment from Yemen included JS crop drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, sniper rifle scopes, guns, gun accessories, night vision gadgets, swim goggles, spy goggles, military recording pens, military uniform for Burundi National Defence Forces, radios and camouflage, among other items.


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