Imagine an ambassador playing games with orphans in Sudan.
Imagine a Nigerian correspondent reporting in fluent Turkish.
Imagine a proud alumnus of the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Ankara serving as the Somalian defense minister…
All of the situations I have mentioned above are now well beyond mere ponderings. Turkey’s recent rapprochement with African countries has been creating strong bonds between the country and the continent, perhaps the strongest since the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The modern Turkish republic, whose attention has always been turned toward the West, willingly or unwillingly neglected the continent despite the immense potential that could be enjoyed by both Ankara and African countries. The vacuum created by the partial withdrawal of the West from the continent (due to several policies and humanitarian failures) was primarily filled by China.
It is safe to say that Africa serves only one purpose for imperialism and exploitation: the extraction of its immense natural resources. The unjust game between Africa and the West has always been a “winner takes all” case, not a win-win situation.
Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the latter has prevailed. Turkey has embraced a proactive foreign policy with the target of reaching even the most remote and neglected parts of the world, especially Africa, and establishing equal relations based on mutual interests. Not only in economic but also in cultural, social and humanitarian terms, Turkey’s investments in the African continent have started to bear fruit – as is evident from the introduction of this column.
But the growing bond between the continent and Turkey has not gone unnoticed. On the contrary, it is being closely watched by Europe, the United States and China. I am sure that every official visit made by Erdoğan, every agreement signed and every investment Turkey makes are being analyzed in many capitals around the world – and also within Turkey. Many Turkish opposition figures continue to question and challenge Turkey’s Africa endeavor, often asking: What are we doing in Africa when we have many unsolved issues in our own country?
If the critics are not satisfied with the cultural accomplishments, then let the figures speak for themselves.
Success in numbers
Turkey has opened a total of 31 embassies across Africa since 2009.
Turkish Airlines (THY) flies to 40 countries with total destinations on the continent now numbering 61 with the latest addition of Luanda, the capital of Angola.
Currently, as many as 4,403 African students are studying at the undergraduate and graduate levels at universities in Turkey, with as many as 8,786 graduates from 51 African nations.
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and the Yunus Emre Institute (YEE) both work to serve Africans via their projects in the fields of development and education.
Ankara has assigned military attaches in 19 countries.
Turkey aims to nearly double its bilateral trade volume with Africa from last year’s $25.3 billion to $50 billion, and later raise this even further to $75 billion.
Turkish contractors have assumed more than 1,150 projects, such as bridges and roads, worth over $70 billion in Africa. Examples vary: The Tosyalı Group has assumed a great deal of mining redevelopment projects in Angola, Turkey has been the biggest investor in Algeria since 2018, and Turkish companies have recently signed deals to undertake many projects in Tanzania.
The last point I aspire to make is the security dimension of Turkey’s Africa policy. The Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), for many years, had reached out to many poor countries disguised as a charity and education provider. One of Turkey’s priorities in the region has been to erase the harmful marks that FETÖ has left on the continent. While many FETÖ schools have been handed over to Turkey’s Maarif Foundation, I sincerely hope we can declare “mission accomplished” in the very near future.