Turkish-African cooperation: the anti-colonial frames of Erdoğan’s trip

Turkish-African cooperation: the anti-colonial frames of Erdoğan’s trip

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in the Angolan capital Luanda on 17 October. The visit to Angola is the start of a four-day diplomatic tour to Africa. The Turkish head of state will also visit two other countries: Nigeria and Togo.

Ahead of his African tour, the Turkish leader gave a press conference, where he said Turkey was “becoming Africa’s leading trade partner”.

“Our relations with African countries are not based on colonialism and we want to succeed together with our brothers and sisters across the continent,” Erdoğan stressed.

The Turkish President’s visit to Africa comes ahead of two major forums: the two-day 3rd Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Summit on October 21 and the two-day 3rd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit on December 17.

Anti-colonial sought

The Turkish President’s visit to Africa and the future Turkey-Africa Economic Forum takes place against the backdrop of growing anti-colonial tendencies in the region and following President Macron’s inconclusive Africa-France Summit.

Turkey demonstrates to France and to the (former) European colonizers that it is a more desirable partner for African countries than they are.

The continent’s countries are increasingly dissatisfied with the place they occupy in a Western-centric world. Consequently, they are reorienting their foreign policy and economy, away from the former colonial powers, in particular France and the USA, and towards the new powers of China, Turkey and Russia. African countries are actively developing relations also with India, Japan and South Korea. Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are all trying to promote their interests in Africa. Africa is becoming a space where many non-Western actors operate, enabling African countries to build multi-vector partnership systems.

Turkey plays a key role in this change. Over the past 14 years, Turkey’s foreign trade with Africa has increased five-fold, from $5.4 billion at the end of 2003 to $25.3 billion by 2020. The number of Turkish embassies in Africa has increased from 12 in 2002 to 43 in 2021. Turkey is developing trade and economic cooperation with and investing in African countries.

Another important chapter of Turkey’s activity in Africa is the activity of humanitarian foundations, the support for initiatives aimed at developing education (Maarif Lyceums) and other humanitarian programs (TİKA). Ankara’s focus on Africa in the development of its humanitarian power is evident from the title of a book that First Lady Emine Erdoğan launched on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September: “My Travels to Africa”.

Measuring security: Turkey and Russia at the forefront

For Africa, however, the military and technical and security dimensions are of paramount importance. Terrorism, separatism and conflicts between ethnic and religious communities are major challenges to Africa’s development. African states have also re-evaluated their partnerships in these matters. In particular, former French colonies have increasingly focused on cooperation with Russia. In Central Africa, for example, they have, with the help of Russian military specialists, managed to relatively stabilize the situation in the country and to thwart the attempt by pro-French militants (Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) to seize power. The dispatch of Russian military specialists to Mali is now in discussion. The French military has been engaged in an anti-terrorist operation called Operation Barkhan in that country since 2013, and it has failed. Last year, the Malian military overthrew the pro-French President Ibrahim Boumacar Keita, disgruntled by the paralysis of power in the country. This summer, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the scrapping of the operation in Mali and the withdrawal of French troops from the country. In Mali, France was unable or unwilling to end terrorism.

The authorities there are now looking to Russia. However, they may turn to Turkey too. For example, Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga said in a recent interview with Anadolu that Mali “needs a friendly country such as Turkey to fight terrorism.

It is quite possible that Turkish specialists will arrive in Mali before or at the same time as the Russian ones, if cooperation on security with Mali continues at the forum in Istanbul.

Mali is actively cooperating with Turkey. Since 2018, Ankara has started hosting Malian officers for training in Turkey and supplying Mali’s army with light weapons and ammunition. Last year, Turkey signed a close military cooperation agreement with Niger, Mali’s neighbor. Turkey is successfully training the Somali army.

In addition, Turkey is actively stepping up arms sales to African countries, which are giving up old and inefficient French weapons in favor of better and cheaper Turkish weapons.

Africa Intelligence, which covers military and intelligence developments on the African continent, noted on Sept. 24 that countries in western Africa were increasingly abandoning French weapons in favor of Turkish ones.

According to the Akşam Newspaper, the new exports have made Turkey a serious competitor to France in the region’s military sector.

In February 2019, a “Framework Agreement on Military Cooperation” was signed between Turkey and Chad involving President Erdoğan and Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno.

In December of the same year, Otokar exported 30 Cobra and Cobra 2 tactical wheeled armored vehicles to the Republic of Ghana. Turkey’s defense exports to the country amounted to $24,688,000 in 2020.

Burkina Faso procured from Turkey Cobra armored personnel carriers and 4 mechanical demining devices manufactured by ASFAT.

The Turkish Armed Forces are also expected to establish a military base in Niger as part of the agreement signed with Niger in July 2020.

Africa Intelligence notes that in his African tour in Angola, Nigeria and Togo the President of Turkey is accompanied by a significant delegation from the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB). The SSB reports directly to the presidential administration and is responsible for military procurement on behalf of the Turkish Armed Forces. The result could be the signing of lucrative defense contracts.

“In the defense sector, Turkey’s ambassador to Nigeria Hidayet Bayraktar has been actively courting the navy chief of staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubaru Gambo, and the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Farouk Yahaya, since August. And in Togo, the Turkish defense industry is intending to take full advantage of Lomé’s ambitious plan to bolster the Forces Armées Togolaises (FAT) as set out in its 2021-2025 military planning law”.

Turkey’s growing influence in Africa and its impressive multifaceted cooperation is entirely an achievement of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a testimony of the international recognition of Turkey’s as a great power. Very active in Africa’s economic and humanitarian spheres, Turkey has demonstrated that it wants to play an increasingly important role in the African continent’s security. This applies not only to Libya, but also to the sub-Saharan Africa.

The future: anti-colonialist cooperation

The African tour, the following Turkey-Africa Business Summit later this month and the third Turkey-Africa Summit in December should strengthen Turkey’s influence in Africa. For successful deepening of cooperation, according to Turkish experts, Ankara must be realistic about its strength, engaging with states that, like Turkey, are cracking down on the control structures of the old colonial powers and the US.

These are primarily China and Russia. The latter, like Turkey, is particularly active in the security field.

Chris Matlhako, deputy general secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa at the UWI-sponsored academic conference “Africa and Multilateralism” stressed that Turkish-Russian cooperation was “very important” for Libya as well as for Syria.

According to conference participants, Libya, where the interests of Turkey and Russia are most tightly intertwined, could become an example of peaceful conflict resolution between the two countries Africa. This is especially relevant in view of the possibility of the emergence of specialists from both countries in Mali and other African countries, who would be interested in cooperating with both Ankara and Moscow.

Mehmet Perincek, an expert at United World International, described possible cooperation between Turkey and Russia in Libya as follows: “Russia and Turkey could play a guarantor role in Libya militarily. The two sides can be the guarantors of the security of the two different regions for which they are responsible.

The retired Lieutenant General, former Head of Intelligence of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, Ismail Hakkı Pekin, earlier came up with a similar initiative: “Russia and Turkey should not clash with each other and should instead form an alliance with each other”.

Prof. Dr. Semih Koray, Member of the Presidential Council of Turkey’s Vatan Party noted that “there is a strong awakening against US and French imperialism in a broad range of countries, such as Algeria, Guinea or Mali. And rising up against the US and France, all these countries consider Russia and Turkey as their natural allies. This supports the Turkish-Russian alliance in Africa, which can constitute an example of success in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism.

In addition to Russia, Turkey could cooperate with China in key regions of Africa. Only such multipolar cooperation could guarantee the interests of both Turkey and the African powers (each seeking to diversify its cooperation with foreign powers) in the struggle for the future of the continent.

In turn, the emergence of new powers on the continent, such as China, Russia and Turkey, provides African countries new opportunities and solutions for problems on the continent that exclude the former colonial powers.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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June 2024