Turkey's Approach to Africa

Published November 23rd, 2021 - 09:25 GMT
Turkey declared the year of 2005, the Year of Africa in the country and in the following years they hosted the Conference on Strategic Cooperation between Turkey and Africa.
Ankara, Turkey - 24 August 2021: A France West Africa postage stamp shows view of Great Mosque of Djenne. Mosque is located in the city of Djenne, on flood plain of Bani River. Circa 1947..

By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh and Zahra Darbandsari 

In the past centuries, Turkey had a strong presence in North Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) and the Horn of Africa (Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia) as an Ottoman Empire. But with the increasing influence of European powers on the African continent, the Ottoman’s presence and influence gradually disappeared.

With the formation of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the decline of power, the Western-oriented view, internal problems, etc., led to the decrease of Turkey-Africa relation. In the 1990s, Turkey considered the policy of developing relations with African countries, but with the rise of the Islamist Justice and Development Party, the country paid more attention to the issue of expanding relations with the continent. Turkey declared the year of 2005, the Year of Africa in the country and in the following years they hosted the Conference on Strategic Cooperation between Turkey and Africa.

Turkey’s Political-Geopolitics objectives 

In 2005, Turkey was admitted as an observer member of the African Union. Holding of the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit, the participation of representatives and leaders of about a dozen African countries, and increasing Turkish political and economic officials’ travels to Africa, show that Turkey is paying more serious attention to Africa in its new foreign policy. In this regard, the number of embassies in Africa has now reached 43 embassies and 61 missions. Aside from Erdogan's presence in the African Union in 2007, his visit to some 30 African countries  over nearly two decades is a sign of Turkey's significant efforts to stay in Africa.

In another dimension, Ankara sought to gain a greater presence in Africa by defining Turkey as an ‘African-Eurasian state’ and reciprocity policy.

Nevertheless, with the change in geopolitics and world trade and the emergence of new powers such as China, India, Brazil, etc., Turkish leaders are paying more attention to the acquisition of a suitable geostrategic position in Africa. In this regard, Turkey, using the geo-strategic position of Somalia, found a suitable foothold in the Horn of Africa.

Apart from this, since 2015, Turkey, with a military base in Somalia and later with security and military cooperation with Libya in 2019, has made efforts to introduce itself as a power in African geopolitics. On the other hand, sales of Turkish defense and military equipment to Africa have increased in recent years. In fact, countries such as Chad, Ghana, Senegal, Libya, Kenya, etc. are good customers for Turkish armored vehicles, drones, ALTAY tanks and etc... .Some of these countries, such as Ethiopia, are very interested in obtaining Turkish drones to fight the opposition.

Turkey's economic goals in focus on Africa:

Turkey is a developing country, so it intends to increase its exports. On the other hand, given the vast potential of African countries, Turkey considers the region as a source for importing raw materials and energy. Algeria, for example, offers an opportunity to reduce Turkey's dependence on Russian and Iranian gas.

Ankara says that it views Africa through the lens of cooperation, not its own interests. In this regard, the ‘Turkey-Africa Summit 3’, was hold with the aim of mutual investment opportunities in a wide range of fields (including energy, agriculture, etc.).  From this point of view, Turkish products are of higher quality than Chinese goods and cheaper than Western products and are becoming more popular in African markets.

In addition, the nearly 30 coordination centers of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), the Board of Foreign Economic Relations (DEIK) and the Joint Trade Councils play an important role in Turkey's multidimensional economic and trade approach to Africa. At the same time, the current trade volume of $ 25 billion per year could be a step towards the $ 50 billion trade volume between Turkey and Africa and the acquisition of the position of a top strategic partner for African countries.

In fact, Turkey is trying to increase its economic influence in Africa by holding joint meetings and conferences with African countries, providing aid, credit and loans, establishing bank branches, supporting development projects, expanding Turkish Airlines to 60 African destinations, and so on. 

Turkey's opportunities and challenges in Africa

What is clear is that Turkey has expanded its relations with African countries bilaterally, multilaterally and in the form of regional organizations. However, in the short term, Turkey does not intend to maximize or prioritize its military and geopolitical influence in the Black Continent. But there is no doubt that Turkey's strategic focus on expanding economic relations will also bring medium- and long-term political and geopolitical benefits to the country. Turkey now seems to be showing more foreign policy potential by increasing its involvement in resolving continental crises, such as mediating the Ethiopian-Sudanese-Somali crisis. On the other hand, the presence of Turkish soft and cultural power in the Muslim regions of Africa is of special interest.

Although some describe the goals and intentions of Turkey in Africa as neo-Ottoman-ism, But Ankara is trying to strengthen its position and soft power in Africa by using the presence of students from 51 African countries in Turkey, the presence of African Turks in Turkish cities, and the presence of Turks in African countries. 

In this regard, the future delivery of TURCOVAC vaccine to the countries of this continent without a profit-oriented approach  is considered by Turkey.

Turkey seeks its national, security and political interests in the continent, especially in the north of the continent and Muslim countries, with the knowledge of historical experiences and reactions of North African countries to the policies of the Ottoman period. Therefore, on the one hand, it tries not to arouse the sensitivity of African countries and to prevent their sharp reaction to Turkey's goals. However, it must be said that Turkey's economic-geopolitical motives were more evident in crises such as the Libyan civil war. This has provoked reactions from key North African actors, such as Egypt, to the Turkish approach.

In fact, in recent years, despite Turkey's extensive efforts to influence developments in Libya, many countries, including Egypt, have called Libya's agreement with Ankara on maritime territory as "illegal and non-binding."

In addition, Cairo fears Turkey's friendship with Ethiopia to confront Egypt over the ‘Great Renaissance Dam’. Therefore, it seems that the scope of opposition to Turkey's role in Africa is becoming more prominent and could put Turkey in a tight spot.

In addition, some European countries, such as France, have extensive political and security influence in many African countries. Paris claims that Ankara is acting to the detriment of France's relations with West Africa under the ‘Turkish Model’ brand.

In addition, there has been criticism from the opposition over the past decade over the expansion of Turkey's military, security and economic presence in Africa. Some see Ankara's presence in Somalia as the expansion of Turkey's unilateral trade, the increase of non-competitive costs of port services, and a complete disaster.

What is clear is that the widespread increase in Turkey's political, geopolitical, economic and military presence in Africa in competition with other major players in the region is not widespread. But Turkey's role and influence is so growing that it has chosen Somalia to launch missiles into space.

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