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Turkey moves to become a major player in Africa

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When, in 2005, he first set foot on African soil, on a tour of Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco and Tunisia, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had two goals: to pull his country out of an almost exclusive relationship with the West. and to open previously untapped areas for Turkish trade.

The Turkish government had made a first attempt to improve ties with Africa back in 1998. Liberal Foreign Minister Ismail Cem drafted an “action pact for Africa”, but it was never implemented due to the severe economic crisis in Turkey. The rise to power of Adalet ve Kalkınma Erdogan’s party and the rise of the devout and dynamic Anatolian bourgeoisie in business changed the scene. In the footsteps of Turkish Airlines – which now operates in 60 African cities – and giant conglomerates that have decided to do business on the continent, small Turkish companies are also looking for opportunities.

Fifteen years after Erdogan’s first visit, Turkey is now a big player. the government is a “strategic partner” of the African Union and a non-regional member of the African Development Bank. Its trade with Africa has grown from $ 3 billion in the early 2000s to more than $ 26 billion in 2019.

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There they are many Turkey-Africa business forums; most recently took place by video conference on 8-9 October 2020. Turkey’s main business lobbies, Tüsiad and Müsiad and Deik (council for economic relations with foreign countries) are active on the continent. They are supported by TIKA, the Turkish development agency, which has 22 offices in Africa and funds projects in the construction, agriculture and health sectors. As well renovates buildings from the Ottoman period, such as the Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers.

This is part of Ankara’s soft power, which is not limited to the Turkish drama series that have raged in North Africa. Construction of hospitals, such as the one in Mogadishu, free medical operations and the donation of a bus fleet to Conakry – the list of gestures of generosity from the state, NGOs or private enterprises is long. In addition, there is the work of seven Yunus 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 usually tries to avoid telling other countries what to do. In resolving crises, such as the one in Mali, she advocates the use of ‘African solutions’, or, failing that, those from the United Nations. It is also lobbying for a better representation of the continent in international institutions.

Diplomatic courage

Regarding other actors in Africa, the Turkish government’s discourse is sometimes less calm. Erdogan is often quick to destroy France’s colonial past, the world’s indifference to diseases affecting the continent or the basic commercial interests of its competitors, to whom it opposes a “win-win”, equal and fraternal relationship.

While defending Ankara’s political interests – such as its intervention in Libya – Erdogan has encouraged Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşo dhelu and his administration to acquire African expertise. Among their objectives: organizing a third Turkey-Africa meeting and opening an embassy in every country on the continent. There are now 42, and soon 44 with Togo and Guinea-Bissau.

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Erdogan has developed friendly relations with several leaders, such as Alpha Condé of Guinea, Macky Sall of Senegal and Mahamadou Issoufou of Nigeria. His affinities with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj led to the signing of an agreement on the Turkish-Libyan maritime border in the eastern Mediterranean. Erdogan’s good ties with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and the fact that he was the first foreign head of state to visit war-torn Somalia enabled Ankara to open a military base in Mogadishu, where 200 Turkish soldiers are training the national army. .

This article is available as part of the print edition of The Report Report: ‘Africa in 2021 – Who will be the winners and losers of the post-Covid era?’

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