When he set foot on African soil for the first time in 2005, touring Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had two goals: to bring his country out of an almost exclusive relationship with the West and to open previously unused areas to Turkish trade.
The The Turkish government first tried to improve ties with Africa in 1998. Liberal Foreign Minister Ismail Cem drafted an “action pact for Africa”, but it was never implemented due to the serious economic crisis in Turkey. The coming to power of Erdogan’s Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi and the rise of the pious and dynamic Anatolian bourgeoisie in business changed the scene. On the trail Turkish Airlines – which now serves 60 African cities – and giant conglomerates that have set out to win business on the continent, small Turkish companies are also looking for opportunities.
Fifteen years after Erdogan’s first visit, Turkey is a big player now. The the government is a “strategic partner” of the African Union and a non-regional member of the African Development Bank. Its trade with Africa grew from $ 3 billion in the early 2000s to more than $ 26 billion in 2019.
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Since many Turkish-African business forums; the latest took place by video conference on October 8 and 9, 2020. Turkey’s main business lobbies, Tusiad and Musiad and Deik (the Council on Foreign Economic Relations), are active on the continent. They are backed by TIKA, a Turkish development agency with 22 offices in Africa and funding projects in the construction, agriculture and health sectors. Too restores buildings from the Ottoman period, such as the Ketchaou Mosque in Algeria.
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This is part of the soft power of Ankara, which is not limited to the Turkish drama series that is raging in North Africa. Construction of hospitals, like the one in Mogadishu, free medical operations and donating a bus fleet to Conakry – the list of gestures of generosity from the state, NGOs or private companies is long. In addition, there is the work of seven Iunus Emre cultural centers and the Maarif educational foundation, present in 31 African countries.
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Political ties are also well established. Like Russia and China, Turkey generally tries to avoid telling other countries what to do. In resolving crises, like the one in Mali, that advocates the use of “African solutions”, or, if that fails, those from the United Nations. He is also lobbying for better representation of the continent in international institutions.
As for other actors in Africa, the discourse of the Turkish government is sometimes less smooth. Erdogan often quickly punishes France’s colonial past, world indifference to diseases affecting the continent or to the basic mercantile interests of its competitors, which it opposes in a “victorious”, egalitarian and fraternal relationship.
While defending Ankara’s political interests – such as the intervention in Libya – Erdogan encouraged Foreign Minister Mevlüt vuavuşoğlu and his administration to acquire African expertise. Among their goals: the organization of the third summit of Turkey and Africa and opening an embassy in every country of the continent. Now there are 42 of them, and soon 44 with Togo and Guinea-Bissau.
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Erdogan has developed friendly relations with several leaders, such as Guinea’s Alpha Conde, Senegal’s Macki Sall and Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou. His affinities with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarai led to the signing of an agreement on the Turkish-Libyan maritime border in the eastern Mediterranean. Erdogan’s good ties with Somali President Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed and the fact that the first head of state is visiting war-torn Somalia have enabled Ankara to open a military base in Mogadishu, where 200 Turkish soldiers are training the national army.
This article is available in the print edition of The Africa Report: “Africa in 2021 – Who Will Be the Winners and Losers of the Post-Covid Era?”