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Maritime Security Aspects of Türkiye-Somalia Defense Cooperation Agreement

26 May 2024

Maritime Security Aspects of Türkiye-Somalia Defense Cooperation Agreement

26 May 2024

A case of bilateral cooperation 

Türkiye and Somalia signed an economic partnership and defense cooperation agreement on 8 February 2024 that turned many heads toward the Horn of Africa at a time of heightened tensions and hostilities in the ongoing war over Gaza and the Red Sea. Details of this framework agreement remain undisclosed and much of the underlying commitments are yet to be worked out in practice. According to press reports, however, Türkiye will train the Somalian army for ten years and help it build a navy, shipyards, and infrastructure to secure its 3,898 km long coastline against illegal activities such as fishing, piracy, and smuggling as well as foreign intrusion.

The agreement is a door opener for larger projects such as the expansion of Somalian ports and road networks as well as a springboard for Türkiye to project power onto East Africa and the Indian Ocean. Although Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is not among Türkiye’s top trade partners,[1] its bilateral trade with Somalia jumped from only US$2 million in 2003 to almost US$400 million in 2023 while Turkish investments reached US$100 million and humanitarian aid touched US$1 billion (the lion’s share of overall aid dispersed in SSA).[2]

Somalia has hosted the largest Turkish overseas military base in the world (TURKSOM) since 2017, whose main goal is to provide specialist training to 10,000 Somalian personnel.[3] Türkiye’s first arrival in Somalia was as part of a NATO mission in the 1990s, but its presence has since evolved into a fundamentally different character. In accordance with Turkish President Erdoğan’s worldview, the base carries symbolic significance for Islamic solidarity between Türkiye and Muslim-majority countries in Africa.[4] Part of the motivation for the latest agreement stems from Erdoğan’s self-styled skepticism of the Western-led neoliberal order and objection to the current structure of the UN Security Council (UNSC) due to its shortcomings in maintaining peace and security, which he phrases as “world is bigger than five.”[5]

This critique of the UN’s failure to adapt to changing global circumstances and the need to reform its ability to render peace-making mission more effective is a favorable method for Erdoğan to raise grievances on behalf of the world’s alienated populace and position himself as the strong man to advance an alternative mechanism for global governance.[6] Somalia stands as a case in point for Erdoğan’s multidimensional diplomacy and ground-up engagement in Africa based on security contracts, trade agreements, and humanitarian aid. With no colonial past and imperial ambitions toward SSA, local people find Türkiye’s expanding footprint in the region more benign than Western actors.

Apart from bridging Türkiye’s strategic outreach with Somalia’s quest for nationhood, state-building, and religious identity, the agreement includes provisions to provide maritime security in Somalia’s 1 million m2 wide Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Extending 200 miles from the shoreline, the zone is a greenfield opportunity for Türkiye to develop capacity and capabilities to protect offshore energy infrastructure and perform drilling operations. It is no surprise that the offshore energy cooperation agreement “involves hydrocarbon exploration and drilling activities”.[7] Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar, in a recent televised interview, stated his objective to start 3D seismic study of off-shore Somalia’s seabed by the end of 2024 and deep-sea drilling in 2025.[8] Somalia has at least 30 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves according to U.S. geological surveys.[9]

In addition to enabling the Somalian government to monetize its natural resource wealth, the energy deal aims to enhance Türkiye’s oil/gas supply security by diversifying its mix of sources. According to unconfirmed reports, the agreement stipulates that Türkiye will receive 30% of the revenue inflows from offshore oil/gas discoveries in return for “bolstering Somalia’s naval capabilities”.[10] Türkiye currently produces 40,000 b/d of oil from its domestic wells, with the aim of raising it to 100,000 b/d within a year, which would cover 10% of its annual demand. Securing sources of supplies is a main driving factor behind Türkiye’s recent push for overseas accords in Libya (2022) and Somalia (2024) on top of its plans to explore for oil in its own Southeast Anatolia and the Black Sea regions.

Maritime security aspects of the agreement

From Somalia’s perspective, the country has long struggled with piracy off its coast, disrupting international shipping lanes and undermining the economy. Türkiye’s assistance aims, first and foremost, to bolster Somalia’s naval capabilities to deter and combat pirate activity. Fisheries are also an important source of income that “provides food, livelihoods, income, and employment opportunities for over 400,000 Somalis who are directly or indirectly engaged in various activities in the value chain”.[11] A more secure Somali maritime domain contributes to the overall stability of the Horn of Africa, and bilateral maritime security cooperation has the potential to significantly improve regional security. But this is not the whole picture, and there is growing competition for influence among many actors involved in the region.

The Red Sea has become a hotspot for heightened risks since the start of the Gaza war. Houthi rebels in Yemen disrupt international shipping, raising concerns about a spillover effect that could worsen piracy operations in East Africa. Türkiye did not join the Red Sea coalition against the Houthis, but even their mere presence complicates Türkiye’s agreement with Somalia, posing risks of a “low-intensity naval conflict” with Yemen, especially if the former is perceived to take a side with the U.S.-led coalition.[12] The U.S. signed a separate agreement with Somalia to open five new military bases and form a more unified, coherent front against China’s maritime access and influence in the region. This comes at a time when the Horn of Africa is becoming increasingly crucial due to its strategic location and growing economic importance. The region faces challenges in securing its waters. Fragmented governance and a lack of a unified security strategy leave it vulnerable. Existing security infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle the evolving threats posed by non-state actors.[13] Past attempts at regional cooperation have also failed, hindering a comprehensive approach.

The lack of effective maritime security governance has therefore led to a reliance on ad-hoc bilateral agreements. Countries prioritize these partnerships over broader multilateral cooperation. This approach stems from economic integration with extra-regional powers, facilitated by linked ports and maritime routes. These routes are crucial, for instance, for China’s Maritime Silk Road route,[14] and countries like the UAE are heavily invested in the region’s ports due to their economic potential. The focus on commercial development is evident in the UAE’s “Blue Economy” strategy of free trade and its involvement in port management deals across the Horn of Africa.[15] Dubai’s DP World has entered Somaliland and managed its ports of Berbera and Puntland since 2016.

Despite their economic value, such bilateral agreements are prone to be preempted by geopolitical tensions, as seen in the recent dispute between Ethiopia and Somalia over access to the sea. Ethiopia-Somaliland MoU for maritime cooperation leases “20 kilometers of the coastline to landlocked Ethiopia for 50 years in return for promises to recognize Somaliland’s independence”,[16] enabling the former to use the port of Berbera and build a naval base. This strategic move affected the perceptions of other actors in the region, namely Türkiye and Egypt, although Ethiopia defended the move as a request for “sea access based on mutual benefit”.[17] While neighboring Eritrea views Ethiopia’s ambitions with suspicion, Türkiye re-iterated its interest in Somalia’s stability and territorial integrity as well as its preference for dialogue and respect for international law. Resolving these conflicts and fostering regional cooperation will be crucial for establishing a more secure and prosperous Horn of Africa.

It is early to say if these recent maneuvers will lead to a regional stand-off, but neither Somalia is likely to open a front with an external power, nor Türkiye will risk its relations with the Gulf to engage in a conflict over Somaliland. The kind of escalating tensions in Libya back in 2019-2020 are unlikely to repeat over Somalia. It would also be an oversimplification to suggest that the “Ethiopia-Somaliland-UAE camp is facing against Somalia-Eritrea-Türkiye camp”.[18] The balance of economic and political relations between the UAE, Türkiye, and countries in Africa cannot afford a breakup. While Türkiye, Egypt, and Eritrea back the Mogadishu government, they also maintain strong relations with the UAE, and all actors try to diversify their partnerships to hedge against instability. The recent mending of ties between Cairo and Ankara, Abu Dhabi’s US$35 billion investment in Egypt, and Türkiye’s growing ties with the UAE are testaments to prevailing pragmatism and compartmentalization of bilateral relations.

The agreement’s link to Türkiye’s Blue Homeland concept

The 10-year agreement also raised curiosities about Türkiye’s growing naval posture and ambition to develop blue-water capabilities. This is perhaps best exemplified by recent expeditions of its flagship platform, TCG Anadolu Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), in the Mediterranean and the home-grown frigate TCG Kınalıada’s trip to Japan. With TCG Anadolu, the activism in Turkish foreign policy extends to North Africa, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Gulf, while TCG Kınalıada’s visit to 22 countries till August 2024 is a showcase of Turkish shipbuilding and defense industries. Türkiye’s strengthening economic and diplomatic ties with countries on the Indian Ocean coast are part of a comprehensive strategic vision to develop trade partnerships and secure supply chains rather than purely opportunistic adventures. In the long run, it may lead to new circumstances of power dynamics in the Indo-Africa sphere, which would have been unthinkable for Türkiye in the early 2000s.[19]

Over the past decade, even considering the Russia-Ukraine war, Türkiye’s threat perception has shifted from its traditional foe Russia in the north toward the west and south: the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean. Türkiye’s expanding forward military bases in Qatar, Somalia, and Libya, as well as ports overseas, further underline this shift toward a more activist naval presence and the intention to push the outer boundaries of its sphere of influence from the immediate neighborhood into faraway places in Africa and the Indian Ocean.

Among its key footholds in the region, Türkiye has operated the port of Mogadishu in Somalia since 2013 and signed a 14-year extension agreement till 2034 to “upgrade the port’s facilities amid increasing trade through the key entryway into the Horn of Africa”.[20] With maritime defense cooperation, such facilities are likely to be upgraded to serve the Turkish navy and become home to the new Somalian navy. This case is not unique, however. Türkiye’s potential leasing of the Libyan port of Khoms aims to boost its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, while the base in Qatar underlines Ankara’s broader strategic approach to deepening ties with the Gulf states and countering Iranian influence. Such blue-water expansion projects along sea lines of communication and dual-use port installations resemble, in miniature, China’s “String of Pearls” initiative in the Indian Ocean.[21]

The Türkiye-Somalia agreement intends to ensure freedom of navigation in Somalian waters, establish joint naval bases, and collaborate in maritime trade. Apart from a platform to conduct joint operations and information sharing, the Turkish navy gains full rights to use existing Somali ports and establish new ports and naval bases. The question is, does it dovetail Türkiye’s Blue Homeland (Mavi Vatan) naval concept of forward defense? Coined by Admiral (Ret.) Cem Gürdeniz in 2006, Blue Homeland provides “the legal, diplomatic, financial and political basis for Türkiye’s ownership of an expanded maritime jurisdiction and has become increasingly popular amongst both Türkiye’s political elite and the strategic community” to support the country’s foreign policy activism.[22] As a concept, it designates Türkiye’s maritime areas of interest and jurisdiction; as a strategy, it provides a roadmap to secure the maritime periphery and contribute to the state’s survival in a chaotic region; and as a symbol, it denotes Türkiye’s foreign policy activism and nationalization of global commons via the extension of the Vatan (homeland) concept.

The symbolic significance of the Vatan (homeland) concept deserves further elaboration. As a testament to Türkiye’s heightened interest and rising stakes in regional security, Blue Homeland is an extension of the country’s self-conception as a nation-state in the maritime domain. It concerns not only areas of national jurisdiction but any geographic space where it sees an interest. Former Director of Ankara University’s Center for Maritime Law (DEHUKAM), Prof. Hakan Karan, for instance, claims that Blue Homeland goes beyond Turkish domains: “If, for instance, Somalia grants TPAO (Turkish Petroleum) a license for oil/gas drilling in its own EEZ, the area designated for exploration becomes part of our Blue Homeland”.[23] The idea extends Türkiye’s maritime horizon to wherever it sees national interests and deems it worthy to establish a foothold.

Not everyone believes that Türkiye’s intention in cooperating with Somalia is to magnify its Blue Homeland. The progenitor of the concept, Cem Gürdeniz, for instance, believes that it is a distraction designed to divert Türkiye’s attention away from the Mediterranean, and says, “maintaining naval power in Somalia under today’s economic constraints would be a huge burden for our navy. It is not possible for this agreement to be of urgent and vital interest for Türkiye in this conjecture where the U.S. wants Turkish presence for burden-sharing and countering China’s influence in conflictual places around Africa… We have not had any activities in our Blue Homeland in the Eastern Mediterranean for the last two years. But we volunteer to protect Somalia’s Blue Homeland.”[24] Admiral (Ret.) Türker Ertürk agrees with Gürdeniz and points out that “deploying Turkish naval assets to safeguard Somalia diminishes Türkiye’s defensive capacity in the Eastern Mediterranean against an increasingly ambitious Greece, which receives U.S.’ support to undermine our position.”[25] The argument goes that not only Türkiye’s capabilities are stretched thin in multiple engagements over a vast geography, but it might find itself in an uncomfortable position to navigate the U.S.-China rivalry in a far-away, non-essential theater for its own national security. Türkiye should certainly try to better balance its economic ambitions with the geopolitical realities of the near abroad.

The way forward

The recent economic and defense cooperation agreement between Türkiye and Somalia marks a significant development with far-reaching implications. This bilateral partnership not only aims to strengthen Somalia’s defense capabilities and enhance maritime security but also serves Türkiye’s strategic interests in projecting power into East Africa and securing energy resources. However, the agreement also underscores the complex geopolitical dynamics at play in the region, particularly amidst heightened tensions in the Red Sea and the broader Indo-Africa sphere. As Türkiye expands its naval presence and pursues economic opportunities in the Horn of Africa, it must navigate competing interests and potential conflicts with other regional actors. Moreover, while the agreement supposedly aligns with Türkiye’s Blue Homeland naval concept, some experts caution against overstating its immediate strategic significance, highlighting the need for Türkiye to carefully balance its economic potential with geopolitical impediments. Moving forward, fostering regional cooperation and resolving conflicts will be crucial for establishing a more secure and prosperous Horn of Africa.

To maximize their returns from the agreement, both Türkiye and Somalia should strive for greater transparency regarding the specifics of it, particularly concerning the details of military cooperation and resource exploration. This will help to alleviate concerns about potential threats to third parties and ensure responsible resource management. To foster long-term stability and set a useful precedent, Türkiye and Somalia should prioritize regional cooperation over bilateral agreements as much as possible. Collaboration with other actors in the Horn of Africa is crucial for establishing a more comprehensive approach to maritime security and resource development. For Türkiye, maintaining good relations with regional powers like Egypt and the UAE is essential for navigating the complex competition between the U.S. and China.

[1] Emel Parlar Dal and Samiratou Dipama, “Assessing Turkey-Africa Engagements,” APRI (blog), April 27, 2023,

[2] Tunç Demirtaş, “Somali-Türkiye ilişkilerinde yeni dönem: Rivayetler ve gerçekler – Fikir Turu,” Fikir Turu (blog), May 1, 2024,

[3] Can Kasapoğlu, “Turkey’s ‘African Eagle’ Trains Turkish-Speaking Troops in Somalia: Where Next?,” The Jamestown Foundation (blog), November 20, 2020,

[4] Federico Donelli, “Red Sea Politics: Why Turkey Is Helping Somalia Defend Its Waters,” The Conversation, February 28, 2024,

[5] S. Süha Çubukçuoğlu, “Turkey’s Policy Response to War-Induced Economic Downturn and Geopolitical Shifts,” in Aftermath of War in Europe: The West vs. The Global South?, 1st Edition (Rabat, Morocco: Policy Center for the New South, 2022), 107.

[6] Berdal Aral, “‘The World Is Bigger than Five’: A Salutary Manifesto of Turkey’s New International Outlook,” Insight Turkey, December 13, 2019,

[7] Ezgi Akın, “After Defense Deal, Turkey and Somalia Ink Energy Accord amid Somaliland Tensions,” Al-Monitor (blog), March 7, 2024,

[8] “Haberler,” NTV: Röportaj (Istanbul, Turkey, April 20, 2024).

[9] “Somalia: Country Commercial Guide, Oil and Gas,” US International Trade Administration, January 22, 2024,

[10] Cheuk Yui Kwong, “Turkey’s Influence Grows Eastwards. That’s Welcome,” ASPI: The Strategist (blog), April 21, 2024,

[11] Ibrahim Alegoz, “Türkiye-Somalia Maritime Deal and Why It Matters for the Horn of Africa,” TRT World (blog), March 2024,

[12] Soner Can MILIK, “Op-Ed | Turkey and the UAE Could Benefit Somalia If They Work Together,” Substack newsletter, Turkey Recap (blog), February 28, 2024,

[13] Asia Research Unit, “The Red Sea Crisis and the Future of Regional Maritime Security Governance,” Emirates Policy Center, February 23, 2024,

[14] Sherko Kirmanj and Ranj Tofik, “The UAE’s Foreign Policy Drivers,” Middle East Policy 30, no. 4 (Winter 2023): 61,

[15] Ibid., 70.

[16] Ali Bakir, “How Israel, Egypt, and the UAE View Ethiopia’s Red Sea Deal,” The New Arab (blog), January 22, 2024,

[17] The East African, “Somalia Signs Defence, Economic Cooperation Deal with Turkey,” Zawya (blog), February 22, 2024,

[18] Donelli, “Red Sea Politics,” op. cit.

[19] Serhat Süha Çubukçuoğlu, Turkey’s Naval Activism: Maritime Geopolitics and the Blue Homeland Concept | SpringerLink, 1st Edition, Palgrave Studies in Maritime Politics and Security (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2023), 6,

[20] Magdalene Mukami, “Somalia: Turkish Company to Manage Port of Mogadishu,” AA, December 10, 2020,

[21] Michaël Tanchum, “Turkey‘s String of Pearls,” AIES (blog), 2019,

[22] Rushali Saha and Brendon J. Cannon, “Answering Big Questions about Türkiye in the Indian Ocean,” Orfonline.Org (blog), April 18, 2024,

[23] Hakan Karan, Interview with Dr. Hakan Karan, August 8, 2021.

[24] Cem GÜRDENİZ [@cemgurdeniznet], “20 Şubat’ta Ankara ziyaretinde bulunan Amerikalı Demokrat Senatör Jeanne Shaheen Türkiye’nin Afrika’da, ABD’nin sahip olmadığı ilişkilere sahip olduğunu belirterek ‘Sadece bu ülkeler için değil, bence dünya istikrarı için de önemli olacak alanlarda birlikte çalışabiliriz’…,” Tweet, Twitter, February 25, 2024,

[25] Türkiye’nin Somali’ye Asker Çıkarmasının Sonuçları Ne Olacak? Türker Ertürk Anlattı! (Istanbul, Turkey, 2024),

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