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Turkey's next aid to Somalia will be in Brussels

HDN | 8/24/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The world’s diminished attention span and Turkey’s expanding diplomacy increasingly challenge one another over so many crises: Turkey steps into the breach of Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West.

The world’s diminished attention span and Turkey’s expanding diplomacy increasingly challenge one another over so many crises: Turkey steps into the breach of Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West. The prime minister becomes the first leader to visit brutalized Somalia in a quarter century, forcing the world to look a famine in the eye. The foreign minister rushes to Benghazi as Libya’s tyrant mounts a bloody last stand in Tripoli.

So much could be said about Turkey’s unique contributions in these and other emergencies. But perhaps the most important is the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government’s ability to navigate a concept I’ll call the “crises multiplex.” While most of the world can at best watch one horror film at a time, Turkey somehow keeps her eyes on the screen in every salon.

Which is why it is now time for Turkey to move this unique gaze to another little seen and little understood cancer, what journalists in Africa have called the “double piracy” of Somalia.

Before starvation riveted the world’s attention for a moment on Somalia, the Horn of Africa’s sole capital in the media marketplace was piracy; the capture and ransom of supertankers and the odd yacht as the only service sector. But discussed only rarely in the Western media was the “other piracy,” that of the plundering by the European Union fishing fleet of Somalia’s fish stocks. This travesty has played a key role in driving Somali fishermen to the crime of piracy in service of the warlords who have ruled their country since 1991.

Somali writer Mohammed ‘Waldo’ Abshir has linked the destruction of Somalia’s fishing industry by foreign fleets with the rapid growth of piracy along the coastline. For Somalia’s collapse coincided with a moratorium on EU fisheries. Unable to fish in EU waters, fleets from Europe and Asia headed for Somalia’s unprotected 3,300 miles of coastline, where they plundered fish stocks, reckoned to be of some 200,000 tons and worth about $300 million a year.

Aid groups and Somalia’s nominal government have made occasional appeals for help in developing a coast guard and fisheries protection. At a European Commission sponsored donors conference in 2009 the issue arose briefly, but quickly disappeared. Nathalie Charboneau, the European Commission’s fisheries spokesperson, told the newspaper EU Observer that fishing fleet operators have been given “strict instructions not to transgress the Somali” fisheries.

Erdoğan has very clearly and dramatically established Turkey’s moral authority on the world’s obligation to Somalia’s ravaged people. Turkey has in recent weeks taken the international lead, both in terms of government support and private NGO aid, to go beyond famine and help Somalians rebuild their country.

Turkey also has deep ties within the European Union hierarchy and deep understanding of the way the machinery of Brussels works. Turkey’s newly created Ministry of European Affairs is formally tasked with negotiating Turkey’s own entry into the European Union. Nothing prevents EU Minister Egemen Bağış, however, from using this painfully acquired skill on behalf of Somalia, which has been much abused by the EU.

This is Turkey’s new urgent task for Somalia.

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