After NATO countries, African countries are also knocking at the door of Turkiye for collaboration with the defence industry. With Turkiye's Bayraktar TB2 Drone, Turkiye has been experiencing high demand on collaboration with African countries. In Africa, the TB2 Bayraktar model is in high demand after it was used during the conflicts in Libya and Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the past few years.
Turkiye's military sales in 2002 were valued at about $1 billion, and annual exports stood at around $248 million. According to the report of Defence Industry Manufacturers Association in 2021, Turkiye's defence and aerospace sector sales reached $10.1 billion, and exports totalled $3.2 billion, exceeding $2.6 billion in imports even though Italy, Germany, France, the US, Russia and China are more effective countries in the region regarding defence.
Comparatively, Africa is a new market for Turkish defence firms; defence and aerospace exports to the continent are rising, from $83 million in 2020 to $288 million in 2021. Turkish companies have sold various equipment and armoured vehicles to 14 African nations: Burkina Faso, Algeria, Chad, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somali, Rwanda and Uganda.
On the other hand, NATO's demand for Turkiye's drones always becomes a push for African countries. Following last month's rift between NATO and Turkey, Finland has begun a charm offensive to win over Turkiye to its NATO application, suggesting it could buy Turkish drones and slacken arms sales rules, as well as insisting it was tough on terrorism. After this step, the French-speaking West African nation of Togo acquired a shipment of Bayraktar TB2 Drone as it plans to use Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2s to monitor its northern border and to support its fighting forces. Last month, eight soldiers were killed in an attack, claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main terrorism alliance in the Sahel, linked to Al-Qaeda in the country.
In Somalia, Turkish-trained soldiers have, for years, been fighting against Al-Shabaab militants. Still, a prolonged political crisis in Somalia has raised fears among international partners that the Somali military will be entangled in local conflicts.
Accordingly with military base diplomacy, Turkiye has reportedly set up a web of 37 military bases across Africa in total, in line with Erdogan's affirmed goal of tripling the annual trade volume with the continent to $75 billion in the coming years. Ankara already has a military base in Somalia, and Morocco and Tunisia reportedly took their first delivery of Turkish combat drones last September.
Regardless of internal conflict in African countries, they have to build their capacity not only for security concerns or protecting themselves against international threat but also the technological welfare of the defence industry. According to an article published by Eugene Gholz, political scientist on Defence Management and technology and Harvey Sapolsky, former Director of MIT Security Studies, one of the biggest threats to any nation is to feed the defence innovation system. The biggest challenge between teh US-China power war is that the United States is falling behind technologically, especially vis-à-vis China. Therefore, threats of terror, increasing geopolitical rivalry [and] growing conflict zones and eagerness on empowering the defence industry with high technology have dictated a major increase in defence spending in Africa, offering, among others, export opportunities to Turkish manufacturers.
To sum up, political and diplomatic tensions with NATO countries might affect Turkiye's newly established strength and ability to expand its markets across Africa. At the same time, NATO solidarity must be the priority for Ankara after more than 70 years of membership within the alliance. Therefore, Turkiye's effectiveness on the African continent is closely tied to its relations with NATO.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.