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Somalia

The Horn of Africa is the latest arena of Turkish-Qatari cooperation. Like Libya, the region’s troubles have worsened because of the clash between the Turkish-Qatari and Saudi-Emirati axes, with the UAE and Qatar leading the battle for influence in the region. Unsurprisingly, Qatar’s moves in the Horn are complemented by Turkey. Both countries seek to revive the Muslim Brotherhood in East Africa and retain Somalia as an asset.

Qatar’s activity in Somalia stretches back to 2012, when it funded Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s successful presidential bid, according to a UN report.53 Hassan Sheikh came from the Damul Jadiid faction of al-Islah, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Somali branch. Damul Jadiid, meaning “new blood,” devoted its efforts to spreading Islamism and received support from both Turkey and Qatar.54

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But Qatar soon lost patience with its client, coming to see Hassan Sheikh’s government as corrupt and weak, like its predecessors.55 In the 2017 election, Qatar allegedly gave Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, a last-minute financial boost that propelled him to victory.56 Farmajo allegedly has connections to the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group al-Shabaab through Fahad Yasin, an ex-Al-Jazeera journalist who purportedly couriered Qatari money to Somalia during the 2012 elections and ran Farmajo’s 2017 campaign.57 Yasin became one of Farmajo’s early cabinet appointments, named as chief of staff – a move which added to perception that the Farmajo administration was tied to Doha.58 In August 2018, Farmajo promoted Yasin to deputy director of Somalia’s National Intelligence Security Agency.59

While it supports Somalia’s government, Qatar is among al-Shabaab’s main foreign backers, according to a 2017 interview in Germany’s Der Spiegel with an al-Shabaab commander-turned-informant. He claimed Qatari sheikhs brought $20 million to Somalia in 2016 to line the pockets of his al-Shabaab bosses, who used the funds both for personal expenditures and to pay fighters and buy weapons.60

In July 2019, The New York Times disclosed an audio recording of a phone call between Qatar’s ambassador to Somalia and a businessman close to the Qatari emir in which the latter, Khalifa Kayed al-Muhanadi, suggests that Qatar is sponsoring terror attacks in Somalia to further its interests. Commenting on a car bombing at the port of Bosaso in northern Somalia, Muhanadi claimed, “we know who are [sic] behind” the attack, which was “intended to make Dubai people run away,” referring to the UAE’s business interests in Somalia. An Emirati company called P&O Ports manages the Bosaso port. “[L]et them kick out the Emiratis,” Muhanadi added, “and I will bring the contract here to Doha.”61

According to a former senior advisor to the previous president of Somalia, Qatari charities –including Qatar Charity, Eid Charity, and the RAF Foundation – work with people whom the Somali government suspects are tied to al-Shabaab. The advisor further claimed that these charities operate in areas controlled by militants or with a heavy militant presence. This adds to the evidence that Qatar cooperates with Somali militants.62 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain placed these charities on a blacklist in June 2017, claiming they funded al-Qaeda.63

Doha has heavily invested in Somalia since Farmajo rose to power in February 2017. Farmajo visited Doha in May of that year, with Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani promising budgetary support for the federal government.64 When the blockade began in June 2017, Farmajo officially kept Somalia neutral, reportedly turning down an $80 million offer from an unnamed Gulf minister to side with the Saudis and Emiratis – although the semi-autonomous regions of Galmudug, Puntland, and Hirshabelle did cut ties with Qatar, a result of successful UAE and Saudi leverage.65 In November 2017, Qatar agreed to provide $200 million to fund the construction of two highways linking Mogadishu to Somalia’s northern and southern regions as well as the restoration of several federal government buildings in the capital.66

In May 2018, a Qatari official told Reuters that Doha had given $385 million in infrastructure, education, and humanitarian assistance to Farmajo’s government.67 In December 2018, Qatar and Somalia signed eight memoranda of understanding covering such diverse fields as maritime transport, taxation, investments, trade and technical cooperation, and ports, among others.68 In January 2019, Qatar donated 68 armored vehicles to Somalia, stating that it would bolster Somali efforts to combat Islamist insurgents.69

Ankara has also stepped up its engagement with Somalia in recent years. In fact, Turkey is Somalia’s largest foreign investor.70 Ankara’s largest overseas military base and school is in Mogadishu, opened in September 2017 at a cost of $50 million. Turkish interest in the country dates back to 2011, when Erdogan coordinated relief efforts for the crippling famine that struck Somalia that year. At a time when the West was ignoring Somalia, Erdogan led a delegation of senior cabinet officials, journalists, leaders of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and others on an official visit to the country during Ramadan – the implicit message being that Turkey would not abandon fellow Muslims.71 In doing so, Erdogan became the first non-African leader to visit Somalia in two decades.72

Since 2011, Turkey has pumped in more than $1 billion of aid to the country, including by building schools and hospitals.73 Albayrak Holding, a Turkish conglomerate known for its ownership of various pro-Erdogan media outlets,74 received a 20-year contract in 2014 to operate the Mogadishu port, while Turkish company Favori runs Mogadishu’s international airport.75 Turkish Airlines is the sole international carrier flying to Somalia.76 In 2016, Turkey opened its largest embassy in the world in Mogadishu.77 Turkish-Somali trade has blossomed, skyrocketing from a paltry $5.1 million in 2010 to $123 million by 2016. In early 2018, the two governments inked a bilateral trade deal, building on previous pacts that covered energy, electricity, education, and fisheries, among other sectors.78

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