ISTANBUL (Xinhua) --
Turkey has been diligently working to expand its
influence in Africa, a move to boost its ambitious strategy to
emerge as a global actor in the region.
frequency of visits to Africa by top Turkish officials since the
beginning of this year indicates the importance Turkey attaches
to the continent.
As many as 10 African countries have been visited by top
Turkish officials in recent months.
Turkey’s interest in Africa is particularly fostered by the
expectation that the continent will emerge, with its
fast-growing economies and rich natural resources to be
exploited, as a major global actor in the second half of this
During his recent visit to Uganda, President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan revealed Turkey’s perception of Africa saying, "nobody
has probably any doubts that Africa will occupy a central
position in the 21st century."
"Particularly sub-Saharan Africa is one of the target markets
"It is not only a source for raw materials, but also a
strategic partner that could serve to diversify Turkey’s energy
suppliers," said Ufuk Tepebas, a Turkish lecturer in the Centre
for African Studies at University of Basel in Switzerland.
The Turkish president returned only last week from his
Eastern Africa visit covering three countries—Uganda, Kenya and
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was in Rwanda before
joining Erdogan for the four-day visit.
In early March, Erdogan toured four countries in Western
Africa—Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Guinea, while Senegal is
another spot the president visited earlier in the year.
Erdogan was accompanied by several cabinet ministers and
around 150 business people during his visits to the eastern and
western coasts of the continent.
Turkey’s interest in Africa dates back to 1998 when it
launched an open-up policy toward the continent, but things
actually turned serious when Turkey adopted in 2003 a strategy
to develop economic and trade ties with the continent.
Turkey then declared the year 2005 as the Africa Year in the
country, which was followed by the organization of the first
Turkey-Africa Cooperation summit in Istanbul in 2008.
The second cooperation summit was held in Equatorial Guinea
In 2008, Turkey became a strategic partner to the African
Union which comprises all the 54 countries of the continent.
Turkey has been a member of the African Development Bank
since January 2013, a status which relatively raises Turkish
companies’ chances to take part in public tenders and
Turkey had embassies in only 12 African capitals in 2009. The
current figure is 39 and Ankara is aiming to open missions in
all the 54 countries in the continent.
In return, the number of resident African embassies in
Turkey, which was as low as 10 some five years ago, has also
increased to 32.
It is also quite revealing as far as Turkish interest in the
continent is concerned that the Turkish Airlines, Turkey’s
national flag carrier, is the foreign company flying to the
highest number of destinations in Africa.
It currently flies to
48 destinations in 32 countries in the continent.
Boosting economic ties is a major motivation for Turkey’s
As Erdogan indicated during his latest visit
to the continent, Ankara is ready for joint ventures in a wide
range of sectors from defense to agriculture, tourism,
construction and infrastructure.
At present, Turkey’s total direct investment in Africa is 6.2
billion U.S. dollars.
Since 2003, Turkey’s trade with the
continent has increased sevenfold, with around 40 percent of the
growth achieved in the past five years.
The total trade volume, which was around 20 billion dollars
in 2015, is far from being satisfactory considering that
Turkey’s trade volume with Germany alone has reached almost 42
With its growing population and poor infrastructure, Africa
is hungry for investments and Turkey is seeking to have a
largish share in a market where it competes against giants like
China, India, Brazil and the European Union.
With the Turkish economy being beset for the past several
years by sluggishness as well as problems in the country’s
traditional export markets due to deteriorating political ties
and civil wars in the Middle East, the Ministry of Economy has
declared the year 2016 as the Year of Africa.
"New markets are vitally important for the Turkish economy.
Africa is an attractive market with its growing economies and
the increase in the number of urban consumers," said Hasan
Ozturk, an Africa analyst at the Istanbul-based think tank Wise
Men Center for Strategic Studies (Bilgesam).
Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, who was with Erdogan
during last week’s visit, told the Sabah daily that he expects
Turkey’s construction and energy companies as well as exporters
of various machinery may well get lucrative deals in Africa.
Noting that only 10 percent of the people in Africa have
access to electricity, the minister was quoted as saying:
"I can’t imagine the huge demand in investments in
electricity when the (10 percent) ratio will go up to around
The continent, rich in minerals, human resources and
agricultural land waiting to be exploited, also looks quite
promising as far as oil and natural gas reserves are concerned.
Six out of the 10 economies with the biggest growth rates in
the past 10 years are in Africa.
"It seems to me we will be talking about huge developments in
Africa some 30-40 years from now," stated Tepebas, who worked
earlier as coordinator for the African Institute at the
Istanbul-based Turkish Asian Center for Strategic Studies.
Analysts agree that Turkish interest in Africa has also to do
with the country’s ambition to become a global actor, a global
power if possible, as the discourses of some top government
figures have revealed.
According to Ali Engin Oba, a former Turkish diplomat who
served as ambassador to Sudan and the Democratic Republic of
Congo, the ambition to become an influential actor in global
politics is the main reason for Turkey’s interest.
In a display of Ankara’s ambitions to become a global power,
a Turkish naval task force composed of four warships and three
helicopters toured around Africa in 2014.
During the 102-day campaign, the warships made port calls in
Good ties Turkey built with Africa until 2008 amply paid as
Turkey got elected a temporary member of the UN Security
The support from African countries, which make up more than
one fourth of the UN member countries, played a significant role
in Turkey’s election.
"Turkey’s Africa policy is a success story," observed Oba,
who is currently head of the Department of International
Relations in Cag University.
Humanitarian aspect is also visible in Turkey’s approach to
While expanding its influence, Turkey has been trying to win
over hearts in Africa through aid and services provided by
various humanitarian organizations and the Turkish Cooperation
and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
As Turkey’s development aid agency, TIKA has offices in 14
countries and is providing aid and services in 28 countries in
African countries, with a good number of them being among the
world’s least developed countries (LDCs), are among the main
beneficiaries of Turkey’s development aid.
In the past five years, Turkey has provided LDCs with more
than 1.6 billion dollars in development assistance.
Across Africa, TIKA has so far implemented projects in such
areas as health, agriculture, animal husbandry, education and
training, capacity-building, well-drilling and clean water
TIKA, which has completed projects in around 40 countries in
Africa, also built hospitals and schools.
"If TIKA did not have the capacity to extend to Africa, we
wouldn’t be able to make projects to win Africans’ hearts,"
Ahmet Davutoglu said several years ago when he served as
Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs.
As education is another front of Turkey’s Africa initiative,
around 4,500 students from Africa are currently receiving
education in Turkey through scholarships provided by the Turkish
In Turkey, the total number of university students from
Africa is 12,057, while 135 African professors currently teach
in Turkish universities.
In their efforts to knit closer ties with Africa, Turkish
officials have usually highlighted, as Erdogan and Cavusoglu did
in their latest visits, Europe’s colonizing past in Africa while
Turkey has never had such motives toward the continent.
Cavusoglu said in Rwanda, "we see Africans as genuine and
"Turkey has no imperialist ambitions."
Turkish efforts to be more influential in Africa, however,
are not a complete success story.
Despite efforts, the trade volume seems to have stuck around
19-20 billion dollars in the past several years.
"Turkey hopes to increase bilateral trade volume with Africa
to 50 billion dollars, a figure the country had actually
expected, based on unrealistic expectations though, to achieve
"Turkey has relatively regressed in Africa (in recent years)
and failed to adequately counter initiatives here by the
continent’s other strategic partners," said Tepebas from
University of Basel.
According to Cag University’s Oba, a Turkish diaspora should
be created in Africa for Turkey to have a significant influence
in the continent.
"Turkey should encourage its citizens to get settled in
Africa," he remarked.
For Bilgesam’s Ozturk, Turkey’s biggest deficiency as regards
Africa is a lack of information.
"Turkey does not sufficiently know Africa.
language is taught in a university in Turkey," he said.
Despite the government’s readiness to boost ties with Africa,
the number of think tanks with a focus on Africa in Turkey is
quite limited, while those focusing on the continent lack
funding to conduct researches on the ground.
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