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Mogadishu, Somalia

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the southern city of Mogadishu became Somalia's most important city. Mogadishu, Merca, and Baraawe, had been major Somali coastal towns in medieval times. Their origins are unknown, but by the fourteenth century travelers were mentioning the three towns more and more as important centers of urban ease and learning. Mogadishu, the largest and most prosperous, dates back at least to the ninth century, when Persian and Arabian immigrants intermingled with Somali elements to produce a distinctive hybrid culture.

The meaning of Mogadishu's name is uncertain. Some render it as a Somali version of the Arabic "maqad shah," or "imperial seat of the shah," thus hinting at a Persian role in the city's founding. Others consider it a Somali mispronunciation of the Swahili "mwyu wa" (last northern city), raising the possibility of its being the northernmost of the chain of Swahili city-states on the East African coast. Whatever its origin, Mogadishu was at the zenith of its prosperity when the well-known Arab traveler Ibn Batuta appeared on the Somali coast in 1331. Ibn Batuta describes "Maqdashu" as "an exceedingly large city" with merchants who exported to Egypt and elsewhere the excellent cloth made in the city.

Through commerce, proselytization, and political influence, Mogadishu and other coastal commercial towns influenced the Banaadir hinterlands (the rural areas outlying Mogadishu) in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Evidence of that influence was the increasing Islamization of the interior by sufis (Muslim mystics) who emigrated upcountry, where they settled among the nomads, married local women, and brought Islam to temper the random violence of the inhabitants.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the locus of intercommunication shifted upland to the well-watered region between the Shabeelle and Jubba rivers. Evidence of the shift of initiative from the coast to the interior may be found in the rise between 1550 and 1650 of the Ujuuraan (also seen as Ajuuraan) state, which prospered on the lower reaches of the interriverine region under the clan of the Gareen. The considerable power of the Ujuuraan state was not diminished until the Portuguese penetration of the East African coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Among Somali towns and cities, only Mogadishu successfully resisted the repeated depredations of the Portuguese.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is another country which has army presence in Somalia. It runs one military facility in Mogadishu and has agreed to a deal with the breakaway region of Somaliland in the country's north to establish a second. The UAE opened a military training facility in Mogadishu in 2015 to train members of the Somali Armed Forces, and a Dubai-based firm has managed Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport beginning before the government transition.

In November 2017 Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire visited the UAE-funded military training center in Mogadishu, which offers training to members of the Somali Armed Forces. Upon his arrival, the Somali Prime Minister was received by Mohammed Ahmed Al Othman, UAE Ambassador to Somalia. Khaire toured the center’s facilities and observed the UAE team supervising the training of Somali soldiers, expressing great admiration for the advanced level of training provided.

Turkey - Anatolia Barracks

Somalia is the centerpiece of Erdogan's pivot to Africa, which has seen Ankara open 27 new diplomatic missions across the continent and strengthen ties with countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. Turkey set up its biggest overseas military base in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, increasing Ankara's presence in the Horn of Africa country. Officially opened on 30 Septemer 2017, the base, which reportedly cost $50m, will train 10,000 Somali troops and has the capacity to train at least 1,500 soldiers at a time, according to Turkish and Somali officials.

"This is the largest training base of its kind outside of Turkey," Hulusi Akar, Turkey's chief of General Staff, said at the ceremony. "The government of Turkey and its army will provide all the needed support to our brothers in Somalia," Akar said. The base, spread over four square kilometers, has been under construction for the past two years. "This academy is part of our commitment to rebuilding our army," Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre said at the inauguration ceremony.

Turkey already has several thousand troops stationed in Somalia and its Parliament voted in February 2018 to extend their period of deployment. Somalia has been at war since 1991, when clan-based militia groups overthrew the government of long-time leader Siad Barre before they turned on each other. In the last decade, the western-backed government has been battling the al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, al-Shabab, which wants to impose a strict version of Islamic law. Hamza Egal, a Nairobi-based Somalia analyst, told Al Jazeera "Turkey has been a strong ally in Somalia's state building, but it also seeks mutually lucrative interests with the fragile state".

The $50 million base opened on Saturday and is staffed with 200 Turkish personnel. However, they will soon be joined by over 10,000 Somali and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers participating in the fight against Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, or al-Shabaab for short. A branch of al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab fought the Somali government in an eight-year civil war that has killed thousands and displaced millions.

Although al-Shabaab was forced from major cities by 2012, the organization still exists in force as an aqueous terrorist and guerilla network that continues to sow chaos throughout war-torn Somalia. To better combat them, Somalia and the African Union are attempting to restructure their military and police on the model of Ankara. The Turkish military has ample experience fighting guerrillas in isolated and rural areas, such as the Kurdish rebels in southern Turkey as well as Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

The AMISOM soldiers in Somalia are primarily drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. However, Somalia intends to eventually replace them with Somali troops and lessen their dependence on the African Union to protect themselves. "The Somali government is under constant reminder that time is running out for AU troops, and the only troops who can replace them are Somali soldiers," said Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to Voice of America.

Since a 2011 visit from then-Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (now Turkey's controversial president), Ankara and Mogadishu have forged a strong diplomatic, economic, and military relationship. Turkey's single largest embassy is in Mogadishu and they have spent millions in humanitarian aid after the 2011 Somali famine that left 250,000 dead.

Writing for British International Affairs think tank Chatham House, Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University David Shinn said that the realignment is "driven by the region's growing economic importance to Ankara; its interest in diversifying away from the Middle East; and the apparent desire for influence among sub-Saharan Africa's large Muslim population."

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Page last modified: 03-04-2018 18:12:49 ZULU