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Alexey Boguslavskiy

Political Analyst, RIAC Expert

One can hardly fail to notice Ankara’s opening policy to Africa, despite its relative novelty, primarily due to Turkey’s increased activity in this area. The statistics speaks for itself. The President of Turkey R. Erdoğan has become an absolute record-breaker among leaders of non-African states by the number of visits on the African continent, Sub-Saharan African countries being the major focus. Until 2000’s these countries had been beyond the orbits of Turkish foreign policy.

R. Erdoğan made 30 trips to 23 African countries since his first visit to Ethiopia and South African Republic as the Prime Minister in 2005. The most recent visit was made in January 2017 to Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar. The former Turkish President A. Gül kept the pace, as after visiting Kenya and Tanzania in 2009 he became the first Turkish leader to visit Africa.

Modern Turkey–Africa relations started only 20 years ago. According to some sources, the «opening up to Africa» strategy was developed by a group of visionary diplomats who served in Africa at the end of 1908’s. Though it took 10 more years to adopt the official action plan (published in 1998) and seven years to start its implementation. It was’t until 2005 that Turkey declared a «Year of Africa», and R. Erdoğan made his first African tour, his country being accorded observer status by the Africa Union the same year.

One can hardly fail to notice Ankara’s opening policy to Africa, despite its relative novelty, primarily due to Turkey’s increased activity in this area. The statistics speaks for itself. The President of Turkey R. Erdoğan has become an absolute record-breaker among leaders of non-African states by the number of visits on the African continent, Sub-Saharan African countries being the major focus. Until 2000’s these countries had been beyond the orbits of Turkish foreign policy.

Stratfor
Turkish Export to Sub-Saharan Africa

R. Erdoğan made 30 trips to 23 African countries since his first visit to Ethiopia and South African Republic as the Prime Minister in 2005. The most recent visit was made in January 2017 to Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar. The former Turkish President A. Gül kept the pace, as after visiting Kenya and Tanzania in 2009 he became the first Turkish leader to visit Africa.

Modern Turkey–Africa relations started only 20 years ago. According to some sources, the «opening up to Africa» strategy was developed by a group of visionary diplomats who served in Africa at the end of 1908’s. Though it took 10 more years to adopt the official action plan (published in 1998) and seven years to start its implementation. It was’t until 2005 that Turkey declared a «Year of Africa», and R. Erdoğan made his first African tour, his country being accorded observer status by the Africa Union the same year.

Trade as Priority

The African market reserves that hadn’t been used before, were taken notice of by the Turkish government and entrepreneurs. Initially, it was Northern African countries.

Ankara’s increased interest towards the states across the Mediterranean sea and to the South was initially driven by economical reasons at large. 30-35 years ago Turkey marked its transition to export-oriented development. So when Justice and Development Party came to office in 2002 it not only followed the course but also put effort to implement it. The country’s export increased fourfold: from $40 billion in 2002 to $158 billion in 2014 [1]. Its diversification being held at the same time.

Turkish direct investment to Africa had a tenfold increase primarily in small and medium businesses with low competition pressure from large companies.

The African market reserves that hadn’t been used before, were taken notice of by the Turkish government and entrepreneurs. Initially, it was Northern African countries who were closer to Turkey geographically, culturally, historically, and religiously. Turkish export to this region grew from $3 billion in 2004 to $13 billion in 2015. Later Sub-Saharan African countries started showing their interest, in 2015 the Turks exported $4 billion in goods compared to $750 million in 2004. The largest Ankara’s customers being South African Republic, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Côte d'Ivoire.

In the last 15 years the total trade between Turkey and Africa had grown 2.5 times and in 2015 it made about $18 billion, though the last few years were marked by stagnation in turnover indicators. In the last 15 years Turkey signed trade and economic cooperation agreements with 39 African countries, investment protection agreements — with 22 countries, double-taxation agreements — with 11 countries. The number of Turkish sales offices in the region has increased from 4 to 26.

Turkish direct investment to Africa had a tenfold increase (according to some sources, up to $5-8 billion), primarily in small and medium businesses (construction, light industry, and production of household goods), with low competition pressure from large companies, from China, for instance, whose resource backing is totally different in scope and who is less interested in small turnover companies. So far Turkish contractors have undertaken over 1,150 projects in Africa worth of $55 billion.

Ankara is using flight connection development as a separate and effective tool to strengthen the ties with Africa.

Ankara is using flight connection development as a separate and effective tool to strengthen the ties with Africa. The intensity of this activity cannot stay unnoticed. And while in 2003 Turkish Airlines didn’t perform any flights to the region, there are flights to 51 airports in 34 Sub-Saharan African countries at the moment. Due to air travel development the number of African tourists visiting Turkey increased from 210 thousand in 2006 to 885 thousand in 2015.

Turkey is trying not only to take the role of Africa’s protector, but also attempting to imply that there is historical ground for it.

In November 2016 Ankara hosted the first Turkish-African business forum, that gathered 3,000 participants, 2,000 of them representing the economic community of 45 African countries. Dozens of contracts were signed with South African Republic, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania, and other countries. The very fact that such a major event took place several months after a coup d'etat attempt in Turkey is the sign that Africa is leading Turkey’s top priority list in terms of economy and foreign policy.

The Turks are promoting R. Erdoğan and his party’s message on the return of Islam to the political stage by interceding for the local political elite who preach moderate Islamic ideology in the Muslim countries of the continent, primarily in the North of Africa.

R. Erdoğan’s speech at the forum was mainly politically-centered, and not economically. The refrain of his speech was the coinciding interests of Africa and Turkey in national identity protection sphere that is threatened by the West-driven globalization approaches and cultural values imposed.

Political Track

It is true that over the last decade Turkey has been taking steps to create an image of Africa’s herald in the international arena. In 2008 Turkey was declared as a strategic partner of the African Union with an obligation to annually transfer $1 million for its activity, obtained an observer status in all African subregional organizations (EAS, ECOWAS, SADC, COMESA, etc.), and became a non-regional member in African Development Bank in 2013. Turkey is trying not only to take the role of Africa’s protector, but also attempting to imply that there is historical ground for it. Many experts see Ankara’s proliferation of such information as a claim to reestablish its political influence or even dominance in the region, that used to be part of the Ottoman Empire, and beyond. In this way, the Turks are promoting R. Erdoğan and his party’s message on the return of Islam to the political stage by interceding for the local political elite who preach moderate Islamic ideology in the Muslim countries of the continent, primarily in the North of Africa. Until recently, in Sub-Saharan African states that hadn’t felt Turkey’s presence until 2000’s, Ankara was aiming at two key objectives on political level — to support the interests of its business operators and to mobilize the support of Turkey’s foreign policy initiatives. One of the key tools to resolve these issues, apart from the Turkish leadership's frequent trips to the continent, was the opening of a number of diplomatic representation offices on the African continent. While there was only one Turkish embassy operating in Sub-Saharan African countries, in South African Republic, in 1997, there were seven offices in 2009, and by 2015 the number increased to 34 offices, with a Consulate General in the unrecognized Somaliland. At the same time, according to R. Erdoğan, Turkey’s ultimate objective is to have embassies in all African capital cities.

Another important tool shall be implementation of Turkish-African cooperation summits. The first event of the kind took place in 2008 in the Turkish capital, the second — in 2014 in Equatorial Guinea, the next is planned for 2019. Such activity is bearing its fruit in general. African countries unanimously voted for Turkey’s non-permanent membership in UN Security Council for 2009/2010, and Turkish companies successfully get government tenders.

The new scope of work in Africa appeared in 2013. In 2000’s Gülen Movement Hizmet was promoting education in many countries of the region by opening schools, launching social programs, and was treated by many Africans as a means of Turkish soft power in Africa. Four years ago differing views of R. Erdoğan and Hizmet’s leader resulted in Ankara actively persuading the Africans to disallow «fethullists» subversive activity in their countries. Incriminating articles in the mass media put Hizmet as an organization not promoting the positive image of Turkey in Africa, given that its structures acting on behalf of the Turkish state, are a menace to African brothers and sisters. As a result, «Gülen schools» in Chad, Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Somali were closed and transferred to the Turkish leadership.

While there was only one Turkish embassy operating in Sub-Saharan African countries, in South African Republic, in 1997, there were seven offices in 2009, and by 2015 the number increased to 34 offices, with a Consulate General in the unrecognized Somaliland.

The relevant measures taken by the Turkish government in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Madagascar were not so successful, as the majority of the population is Christian. At the same time, experts state that Tanzanian and especially Mozambique elites are closely tied with Gülen institutions and haven’t taken any restrictive measures against them.

Another important factor in Ankara’s foreign policy is its support of Africa’s development. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) whose representational offices are located in 15 African countries, provided financial support to the continent at the amount of more than $1 billion. Around 1,000 scholarships are provided annually for African students to study in Turkish universities, and 280,000 Africans received medical treatment in their residences in the context of TIKA’s work.

Four years ago differing views of R. Erdoğan and Hizmet’s leader resulted in Ankara actively persuading the Africans to disallow «fethullists» subversive activity in their countries. Incriminating articles in the mass media put Hizmet as an organization not promoting the positive image of Turkey in Africa, given that its structures acting on behalf of the Turkish state, are amenace to African brothers and sisters.

***

Turkish policy in Africa is a good example of how to develop sound interstate cooperation with the countries of the continent from scratch within a short period of time by setting exact tasks and having tools for their implementation. Ankara is not aiming to compete with such heavyweight countries like the USA, China, or India, given that, for the most part, it still achieves its aims in African policy. Moreover, for some states like Somali Turkey has become a major trade and economic partner and donor, and they see Turkey as a main hope for a long-term crisis resolution. It was for good reason that the residents of Mogadishu came out onto the streets of the city on July 16, 2016, protesting against R. Erdoğan overthrow attempt.

1. Africa’s New Partners: Impact on the Continent’s Growth and Development. ISBN 978-5-91298-177-7, Moscow, 2016. p. 116.

2. Same source. p. 118


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