Turkey has accepted an invitation from Somalia to explore oil reserves off the East African country’s coast, bringing into focus Turkish efforts to exert influence on the strategically important region. Abdirashid Mohamed Ahmed, Somalia’s minister of petroleum, announced last October that the country was opening up fifteen blocks for oil companies to bid on. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not elaborate on the specifics of how Turkey intends to follow through on the invitation from Somalia.
The two countries’ relationship goes back at least a decade. Since 2011, when Erdoğan visited Somalia, Turkey has been a major source of aid to the African country. What initially started as a humanitarian mission grew into deeper economic and diplomatic cooperation. Turkey increased its aid, founded new development projects, and became involved in the state-building process by acting as a mediator of the civil conflict. It was also one of the first countries to resume diplomatic relations with Somalia and resume flights to the capital of Mogadishu. Turkish companies presently manage Somalia’s main airport and seaport, and help to train state military forces.
Although Turkish involvement in Somalia began out of humanitarian concerns, its continuing presence owes to geostrategic interests as it tries to challenge the influence of regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, especially following the 2017 Qatar–Gulf diplomatic crisis. But more than that, Turkey’s economy has been hard hit over the last several years, notably in the energy sector. Securing key oil resources remains a high priority for the beleaguered state. However, this can potentially draw Turkey into a long-standing dispute with neighboring Kenya over who has access to maritime zones and the oil and gas reserves located there. The dispute about an area approximately 10,000 square kilometers in size has yet to be resolved at the International Court of Justice.