Emine Erdogan hugs a Somali woman holding a child. Erdogan himself is about to gently squeeze the cheek of a kid to whom he just gave a pack of coloured crayons. Erdogan is on a mission. A mission to relieve the suffering of the Somali people? Or is it a business mission? A promote Turkey trip? Or a PR mission even? All of the above, I guess.
I don’t doubt for a second that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine really do care about the suffering of the Somalis. I do question though the way they picture the help that Turkey is going to give. Erdogan loves to stress that Turkey is giving aid ‘direct’, and not via the United Nations. That way, he says, the money will go ‘direct to the people’.
This is just deceiving the Turkish people. Unless Tayyip is going to give every hungry Somali a certain amount of money in his or her hand, so they can go to the nearest shop to buy rice, bread and vegetables. That could actually be a good idea: Erdogan also took Turkish business men on his trip, and that’s for a reason, maybe these are grocery shop investors?
Sorry for getting cynical. Couldn’t help myself. The truts is of course that no aid money ever goes direct to the people. You always have to use intermediaries, usually aid organizations. They have to go through the authorities to get to the people, and the authorities always make sure they earn some money from that. By asking for taxes from aid organizations for example, and by raising the fees of landing and harbouring rights for aid planes and ships. In Somalia, there are many ‘authorities’: the transition government, but also a whole lot of war lords, especially in the capital Mogadishu and even more so in the south, where the famine is hitting the hardest.
I’m in no way a Somalia expert, but it requires only a little bit of Googling and even just logic to know that the unofficial authorities are happy seeing all these aid workers coming in: they can ask huge amounts of money to let aid pass, and even confiscate food and sell it to the highest bidder. The revenues can be used to buy weapons. Just saying that you won’t participate in these kinds of fraud, is too easy: if you want to give aid, you will have to deal with it somehow. Somalia is considered the hardest country in the world in which to organize aid, along with Afghanistan.
Roads, airports, shopping centres
I think Erdogan is just being very smart. He announced during his visit that Turkey will open an embassy in Mogadishu to coordinate the Turkish aid. Wonderful – but what are embassies usually for? For political ties, but no less for business opportunities. There is a transition government in Somalia, supported by the UN, which Erdogan is so eager not to use in getting his aid to the people. Erdogan sees loads of money coming to Somalia from all over the world (even though Turkish news consumers get the idea these days that Turkey is the only country helping out) and he sees a chance to direct some of that money to Turkey, so he gathers some business men, opens an embassy quickly and then Turkey can start earning money. There is even a very small chance that Somalia in the future will become more stable than it is now (the only way is up), and they might need roads, airports, who knows one day even modern shopping centres, in short all the things Turks are good at.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with seeing opportunities. But be fair and open about it. And Turkish media, wake up and please, ask some questions. Or were the bosses of media conglomerates that are also in construction and other businesses joining Erdogan and his wife on their trip, their first donation/investment being a million packs of coloured crayons?