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  • Sirad Jafar Mohamed

The Role of Graduate Students in the Context of Somali-Turkey Relations


Turkey started to open its doors to international students in the 1960s. However, during this period, scholarships were provided within the framework of bilateral agreements signed with other states. From the 90s onwards, with the support of Turgut Özal, the "Great Student Project" was launched in 1992 and policies towards international students were systematized. In the 2000s, important steps were taken in the field of international education, reflecting the reforms in Turkey's foreign policy, culture, social policies, and economic growth. In 2010, the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities was established, and in 2012, the "Turkey Scholarships" program was launched under it. As a result, the higher education scholarships granted by the Republic of Turkey were renewed under the name of "Turkey Scholarships" and made more effective. Within the scope of Turkey Scholarships, which receives hundreds of thousands of applications every year, there are thousands of foreign students who have graduated from Turkish universities or are still continuing their education (İbrahim, 2019). Students who graduate from Turkish universities and return to their home countries make a significant contribution to improving relations between their home countries and Turkey through exposure to Turkish culture, values, history, and even politics and diplomacy. On the other hand, those who choose to stay in Turkey and continue their lives here by getting a job or engaging in trade make gains for themselves and contribute to Turkey's economy and development to some extent. In this article, the contributions of Somali students who graduated from Turkey to the relations between Turkey and Somalia and their current potential will be evaluated in the case of Somali students. Although our study could not be supported by statistical data, it is important in terms of drawing attention to the issue.


Somalia, together with Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia, is located in the northeastern region of Africa known as the 'Horn of Africa'. It has geostrategic importance as it controls a significant part of the Red Sea, the global maritime trade route linking Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Somalia, which has the longest coastline in Africa, has a coastline of approximately 3000 km (Özkan, 2014). Due to its location and coastline, it is located on the most important transit route of Middle East oil. The Horn of Africa region is one of the most important transit routes in the world and stretches along the Gulf of Aden and the Bab-ul-Mandeb Strait. Somalia has been an important commercial center by building powerful empires in the Horn of Africa. The opening of the Suez Canal to international maritime traffic made the Horn of Africa region even more important. Thus, towards the end of the 19th century, European colonizers flocked to Somalia. The imperialists divided Somalia into French Somalia (Djibouti), British Somalia (Somaliland), and Italian Somalia in accordance with their own interests. Today, Somalis constitute one of the largest ethnic blocs in the Horn of Africa. The geostrategic importance of Somalia is based on its gold, uranium, and oil raw materials (Heyle, 2018).

Turkey-Somalia Relations

With Turkey's transition to a multifaceted foreign policy, the African continent, with which it has not had any contact for a long time, has started to be on the agenda again, especially after 1998. The African continent, which has been on the agenda with problems such as the remnants of the colonial past, drought, hunger, civil war and instability, has struggled with these problems throughout the last century. However, these problems and related deaths have continued in many countries of the continent. Somalia, located in East Africa, also suffers from such problems and has long faced crises caused by drought, hunger, poverty, political instability and terrorism, and despite being a strategically important country with rich natural resources, it has been defined as a failed country for a while. In the summer of 2011, the hunger crisis in Somalia was one of the most severe crises in the world, and Turkey's aid to the country with a large landing in the country enabled it to enter Somalia as a new actor, thus rebuilding long-neglected relations (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency [TIKA], 2015). Since 2011, Turkey has become a partner country in Somalia and has acted with the idea that Somalia's development would bring stability. Here, Turkey's approach to the issue has been a more holistic approach that sees development, stability and security as interconnected, overlapping with the needs of the country.

In 2011, in addition to aid and commercial agreements, the Somali-Turkey relationship that came to the agenda in this period intensified with the participation of NGOs, and in 2012, nearly 1000 Somali students were granted scholarships within the framework of Turkey Scholarships in return for the promise made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his visit to Somalia on August 19, 2011 to grant scholarships to more than 1200 Somali students. In the following years, as a result of these efforts coordinated by TIKA, Diyanet Foundation and the Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities (YTB), Somali students who want to study in Turkey have come to Turkey by prioritizing the departments that Somalia needs, such as social sciences, agriculture, civil engineering, political science and international relations. Somali students receive their education in different universities of Turkey in the departments they prefer. Somali students are expected to support the development of Somali society after graduation and play a significant role in the economic, social and political restructuring of Somalia in the long term. At the same time, it is aimed to work on how to develop an effective international student policy that brings them together at a common point by taking into account bilateral relations and to maintain the continuity of the friendship bridge of the countries.

The Role of Somali Students in Turkey-Somalia Relations

In the XXI century, Higher Education Scholarships are one of the most effective and obvious soft power tools of developed and developing countries. As it is known, soft power is a tool that enables states to achieve their desired goals in the long run without using force by adopting their political values and culture to a person or a society through cultural means such as educational scholarships. In recent years, Turkey's Higher Education Scholarships for international students through the program called Turkey Scholarships has become one of the most important soft power activities of the country. In the case of Somali students, it is observed that Somali students have already played an important role in the sincere development and progress of the Turkey-Somalia relationship, which came to the agenda in 2011, in the economic and sociocultural fields, especially in the political field.

In the fields of politics and diplomacy, students graduating from Turkey take positions at the state level and in embassies due to their knowledge of Turkish and Somali; in the field of economy, they also play key roles in the development of bilateral relations in this field, as can be seen, due to their command of the Turkish language. In the socio-cultural field, Somali students have become indispensable in both medical treatment and investment funds organized from Turkey to Somalia, as well as in the delivery of aid from Turkey to some needy segments in Somalia in order to bring the societies closer to each other, again because they speak Turkish.

In the last eight to ten years, Turkey's policy towards Somalia within the scope of its opening to Africa action, which it prepared about 20 years ago, has started to yield results, especially in the economic field with the contributions of Somali students graduating from Turkish universities. Many Somali students, regardless of their majors, have enabled Turkish investors and businessmen to enter the Somali market in addition to the development of trade relations between Turkey and Somalia. Likewise, these students have been instrumental in enabling Somali investors and businessmen to enter the Turkish market. Therefore, Somali students, who play a dual role, who study and settle in Turkey and work in various jobs, know both Turkish and their own language, which gives confidence to the businessmen coming from Somalia and facilitates their arrival and work. Generally, Somali businessmen who come to Turkey trust and come because they have friends in Turkey or compatriots recommended by someone. This is because when they come here for fairs, trade or investment, their compatriots provide guidance and communication.

On the other hand, the adoption of Turkish language by Somali students returning to their country after completing their education gives confidence to Turkish investors and businessmen going to Somalia. Because Turkish language is not a common language in Somalia like Arabic and English. Therefore, assuming that a Turkish businessman does not speak a foreign language when he comes to Somalia, he inevitably needs someone who speaks Turkish in order to communicate with his partners, to trust them and to be trusted. Rather, working with a Turkish graduate who knows the culture and market of the country makes it easier for him to settle in the country and integrate both socially and economically. Somali graduates who prefer to work in Turkey, on the other hand, give confidence to Somali businessmen and make it easier for them to come to Turkey, as well as enabling the companies they work for to expand to Somalia since they know different foreign languages besides Turkish. For this, they undertake tasks such as following the markets in different regions of Somalia, conducting field research, finding customers and making cooperation or agreements with local companies in Somalia, sometimes regionally and sometimes on a language basis.

Today, the Turkish companies in Somalia are able to compete with foreign companies in many sectors and the turnover of some of them has grown exponentially thanks to the contributions of Turkish graduates. Likewise, some Turkish hospitals in Somalia's health sector have become pioneers in health tourism practices and Somali patients have been directed from Maghreb and European countries to Turkey for treatment. Somali patients who come within the scope of health tourism provide a significant amount of foreign currency inflow to Turkey since their treatment procedures are charged in dollars. Apart from all these, there are also graduated or still studying Somali students who have established their own businesses or created a commercial network by sending goods from here to Somalia. As a matter of fact, many students or groups of students have established commercial, tourism companies or international cargo companies and are expanding their businesses.

Somalia Turkey Alumni Association

Turkey, which has become an important education hub in recent years, offers higher education opportunities to students from all over the world through the "Turkey Scholarships" program and produces thousands of graduates every year. Graduates returning to their home countries after receiving undergraduate, graduate and doctoral education at various universities in Turkey contribute to the development of their societies and build bridges of friendship between Turkey and their home countries. "Somalia Turkey Alumni Association", which was established in 2016 by Somali students who returned to their countries after receiving graduate-level education in Turkey, has established a place where it will serve. The building in Mogadishu, where they continue their education and training activities, located on the campus of the Turkey Maarif Foundation, was allocated to the Somali Turkey Alumni Association. The reason for the establishment of the association is to establish contact with Somali students who graduated from Turkey and to ensure continuity of communication through this association. This association, which has carried out different activities since its establishment until today, in addition to project work, student meetings, education fairs, iftar programs and studies on finding jobs for students returning from Turkey.

On the other hand, the Turkish Ambassador in Mogadishu has set the goal of increasing solidarity and cooperation with the graduates of Turkey to ensure the continuity of the bridge of friendship between Turkey and the students who graduated from Turkey and in this direction, both our Embassy and other Turkish institutions continue their work. This association has more than 200 students who graduated from Turkey and the majority of them preferred to receive their education in Turkey and return to Somalia. These students are members of the Somali Turkish Alumni Association and continue their work by obtaining the necessary permissions from the Embassy in order for the association to become more active. The majority of the members of this association, which has more than 500 graduates from Turkey, are those who completed their education in Turkey and chose to return to Somalia. These students, as members of the Somali Turkish Alumni Association, cooperate with the Embassy in order for the association to become more active.

They help students who are members of the association and those who are worried about finding a job to find a job by providing guidance. On the other hand, these students carry out the same programs or activities in Somalia as they did in Turkey.

The same "International Student Gathering Program" implemented by UDEF for all international students in Turkey has been one of the most important activities of the Alumni Association in Somalia in recent years. This international student gathering, which has been held regularly for the last three years, has attracted the attention of the people living in Somalia by organizing a cultural festival, the cultural richness of Somalia and the promotion of Somalia. The purpose of the Somali Alumni Association is to strengthen the contact between Somali students who graduated from Turkey and at the same time to strengthen the bond of friendship between Somalia and Turkey. In particular, the students and alumni associations in other countries with whom Somali students graduated while in Turkey will contribute to the development of political, cultural, economic and commercial relations between the two countries.

The Potential of Somali Students

Despite the positive results achieved in recent years, Somali students studying in Turkey face difficulties in integration during their education process and after graduation, especially in terms of professional integration. When we look at the scholarship policies of Turkey Scholarships, it is understood that the scholarship students studying in Turkey are given great importance to conduct their university education and research in Turkish. However, even though the first year of education is allocated to the Turkish preparatory program and students learn Turkish up to the C1 level, they have difficulties in expressing themselves in oral exams such as presentations and proficiency exams or in written exams, thesis, and article writing. This situation leads to some students not being able to deepen their studies and their studies are not productive, while others lose their motivation and abandon their studies. At the same time, this condition prevents some students from producing quality work despite their academic abilities. However, in some fields, it may be possible for students to produce high-quality, original, and useful research if they are educated in their own language.

On the other hand, Somali students who complete their education and want to work in Turkey face some professional integration problems. Sometimes they cannot find a job in their field, sometimes they face low employment and low salaries, and sometimes they cannot be hired for security reasons. Therefore, some Somali students who are very good in their field do not return to their countries after their education and have to migrate to America or European countries where they think the environment is professionally suitable and job opportunities are favorable. Some Somali students, especially those studying at the graduate level, have serious potential and various academic talents when they graduate. If this potential is discovered and utilized, important results can be achieved for both Turkey and Somalia.

For example, although there are sometimes students who can be considered geniuses in fields such as industry, technology, technology and defense, the lack of language skills or the restriction of some projects to natives for security reasons may cause the talents of these researcher students not to be discovered. However, it may be useful to recognize the potential of these students and offer them the opportunity to apply for projects by easing the nationality requirements. In terms of politics and diplomacy, as many Somali students who graduated from Turkey are still involved in the development of high-level relations between Turkey and Somalia, the efficiency of their contributions can be increased by taking into account the importance of the existing students and providing them with the necessary opportunities. If these students, who are familiar with both Somalia and Turkey, are well trained, they can be very useful in determining Turkey's Somalia policy or strategies against other non-continental actors due to the increasing competition in the region.

Of course, while doing all this, it is essential to pay attention to the interests of the parties and to establish relations on the basis of mutual equality. After receiving their education in Turkey, Somali students earn both themselves and their families and Turkey, which hosted them for a while for education, by staying in Turkey and finding a job or returning to Somalia and working with Turks. Turkey's action plan for opening up to Africa, which was prepared 20 years ago, is actually being realized with the contributions of graduated African students in recent years. There is no doubt that in the long run, as these students are provided with opportunities and opportunities, they will work more productively and positively not only in the economy but also in the fields of politics, diplomacy, academia and strategy. Therefore, this picture proves that Turkey's investments in the field of international studentship have not been in vain and shows that this field should be given even more importance and guest students should be taken care of more closely.


The relationship between Turkey and Somalia goes back almost 500 years. However, with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the changing political balances in the world, the relationship between Turkey and Somalia has had its ups and downs. After the end of the bipolar world, Turkey, which turned towards a multidimensional foreign policy, put forward the 'Opening to Africa' policy in 1998. Since the declaration of the policy of opening to Africa, Turkey has carried out commercial, economic, political, health, cultural and educational activities with the countries in the continent. In this context, Turkish aid to Somalia, which started in 2011 with the drought in Somalia2 , has increased with the country's discovery of its Joe-strategic importance and natural resources. Turkey has developed schools, hospitals, military bases and commercial cooperation in Somalia. And in this process, scholarships were provided to nearly 1000 Somali students. As a result of these relations, Turkey has become the country preferred by Somalis for health and education. Turkey has played a major role in the development of Somali-Turkey relations with its scholarship programs for Somalia. The Somali diaspora is also systematically organized in Istanbul and plays a key role in the development of bilateral relations. Turkey has established an international student association in Somalia as part of the 2016 UDEF and this association has helped Somali students who graduated from Turkey to develop.


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