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Turkey's star is rising in Africa

November 2, 2021 at 11:30 am

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) attends the 3rd Turkey-Africa Economy and Business Forum at Istanbul Congress Center in Istanbul, Turkey on 22 October 2021. [TUR Presidency/ Murat Cetinmuhurdar – Anadolu Agency]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tour to Angola, Togo and Nigeria last month attracted a lot of attention on more than one level. The tour concluded just days before Ankara hosted the third Turkish-African Economic and Business Forum and the third Turkish-African Partnership Summit.

Erdogan aimed to strengthen cooperation between Ankara and these three countries in political, economic and security affairs, in an affirmation of Turkey’s continued policy of openness to equal partnership with the continent. The Turks are proactive in terms of cooperation in humanitarian aid, and focus their speeches on the need to get rid of the remnants of colonial policies and instead develop partnerships, integration and policies of mutual benefit.

Over the past two decades, Ankara has gradually but noticeably increased its influence in Africa, increasing its diplomatic presence from 12 embassies in 2003 to 42 this year. This was accompanied by a rise in the volume of Turkey’s direct investment in countries across the continent from $100 million to about $6.5 billion, while the volume of trade has increased more than fivefold. Furthermore, Turkish Airlines now flies to 51 African cities. Of all national leaders, Erdogan has probably visited more African countries than anyone else, with 46 visits to 30 African states.

The strengthening of Turkey’s relations with Africa began when it was appointed as an observer member of the African Union in 2005, and then a strategic partner in 2008. Five years later, Ankara launched a policy of partnership with Africa, and although the focus in Turkey’s relations was initially on the humanitarian, diplomatic and economic levels, an additional element has entered the equation: security and defence cooperation.

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Turkish military hardware is gaining popularity in Africa, Asia and Europe. Armoured vehicles and attack drones are at the top of the agenda when it comes to discussing defence cooperation between Turkey and the countries in Africa. Security cooperation in terms of combating terrorism and extremism benefits from Turkey’s experience in this field. During Erdogan’s recent visit to Angola and Nigeria, the sale of Bayraktar (TB2) drones, which have performed strongly in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan, was discussed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Togolese President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe (R) hold a joint press conference in Lome, Togo on October 19, 2021. ( Murat Kula – Anadolu Agency )

Ankara has sold these advanced drones to thirteen countries, including Ukraine and NATO member Poland. As a strategic ally, Qatar was one of the first countries to obtain TB2 drones from Turkey. In Africa, it is understood that Tunisia, Morocco and Libya have them. Some reports suggest that Ethiopia has already taken delivery of a limited number of Turkish drones, while purchase orders from other African countries have been discussed.

Turkey’s multidimensional openness to the African continent indicates that Ankara has started to balance its soft and hard power there. Its military presence in Somalia and Libya, in addition to the increased involvement of its defence industries in Africa, is an indication of this. However, Turkey’s political, diplomatic, economic, and military openness to Africa does not suit the agendas of global powers, especially the Western powers that have always considered the continent to be their own backyard.

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Hence, the French interest in Turkey’s activities in Africa reflects the efforts by the West to undermine Ankara’s openness to the continent. Paris is a declining power internationally, and is losing its traditional influence in Africa. French arrogance and cultural colonialism, in addition to its bloody history, prevent the preservation of its colonial legacy indefinitely at a time when the Turks are not burdened by such considerations.

Over the past two decades, Turkey’s policy of openness and partnership with Africa have enhanced its diplomatic and economic weight, and provided momentum as a rising power. Focusing on humanitarian diplomacy was an important entry point for Ankara in Africa that must be preserved and strengthened during the next stage. However, it’s the security partnership which, if it succeeds, will be the most prominent aspect in consolidating the foundations of this partnership in the long term and expanding economic cooperation significantly.

Turkey’s strategy in its foreign policy would not have succeeded during the past two decades without the presence of political will and social and security stability, as well as a strong local economy. If these factors are weakened in any way, it could be unable to continue with its strategy in the medium and long term. At the moment, though, Turkey’s star is rising in Africa.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 30 October 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.