Turkey continues to strengthen its position in Africa. The three-day visit of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboun to Turkey ended on May 16. The key moment of the official visit of the head of the North African state was the negotiations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the signing of many agreements: in the field of mining, education and culture, environmental protection and defense cooperation.
“As two countries that play an important role in ensuring peace and stability on the African continent, we are determined to strengthen defense industry cooperation,” the Turkish president said.
Algeria is the key and strongest country in North Africa in terms of industrial and defense potential. The strengthening and intensification of Turkish-Algerian cooperation is part of a more global process – the liberation of African countries from the control of colonial powers and their search for new partners for development.
From colonialism to neocolonialism
Despite the process of Africa’s decolonization that began after 1945, most African countries have remained dependent on their former colonizers for decades. The very structure of the economies of these countries (suppliers of certain resources and agricultural raw materials), shaped in colonial times, was confined to a strictly defined role in the global division of labor, focusing on the markets and manufacturing industries of the former metropolises. On the other hand, the elites who came to power in these countries had been raised in the metropolises, where their families lived and still live. They did not invest in the development of the countries even the capital they could have obtained from the supply of resources. Moreover, the lack of investment in human capital made labor extremely cheap, which made raw materials supplied by Africa even cheaper: African diamonds, uranium and cocoa could be bought for next to nothing, but the products of their processing could be sold at an exceptional profit for themselves. African uranium became the basis of France’s energy industry and its defense power – its nuclear status.
A vicious circle of super-exploitation was formed in which African economies were controlled by external actors and worked for the prosperity and strengthening of Western European countries above all (at the expense of cheap raw materials, labor and capital exports from Africa to Europe).
The major colonial powers of the 19th century: France and the United Kingdom still retain control over African elites. In addition to the factors noted above, the UK uses “soft power” (culture and education), a network of private military companies operating across the continent and a global interstate organization – The Commonwealth of Nations. France uses the CFA franc as the currency of West Africa, direct military power (French troops) and the control over the ECOWAS integration organization.
French structures of control over former colonies are less flexible than British ones. This largely explains the fact that it is the territories in France’s traditional sphere of influence that are most actively trying to break free from neocolonial control.
On May 13-15, mass rallies against French neocolonialism were held in Mali and Chad. Thousands of people in Bamako and N’Djamena protested against the presence of French troops in Africa and against Paris’ attempts to control their countries.
Previously, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso fell out of French control, patriotic military uprisings supported by the street protests brought to power militaries opposed to pro-French elites. Of a number of these countries, Mali has had the most dire security situation, leading to the most revolutionary changes. It is Mali that now attracts the most attention of the international community.
The French in Mali could not provide an effective fight against terrorism. Moreover, in order to facilitate the exploitation of the gold-rich country, the army was underfunded; Paris supported separatists in the north and looked the other way on the actions of terrorists. As a result, Mali turned to Russia for support. Last year Paris decided to withdraw its military contingent from Mali. In the January France imposes, along with ECOWAS countries, economic sanctions against Mali. Nevertheless, the people of Mali as demonstrated by last weekend’s rally in Bamako support their leadership in the fight for the sovereignty of the country, challenged by France.
The rally in Mali took place against the backdrop of preventing an attempted coup d’état, which was most likely backed by France. On the night of May 11-12, a group of military officers planned to stage a coup d’état. The vigilance of Mali’s internal security forces prevented the attackers from carrying out their plan to overthrow the government in Bamako.
In Chad, the situation is different. A year ago, dictator Idriss Déby, traditionally supported by the French, was killed in a battle with rebels. And it seems that only now the country is really “unfreezing” and is on the path to real change. Chad is one of the world’s least developed countries, being among the poorest and most corrupt states in the globe.
Chad, unlike Mali, the Central African Republic, Guinea and Burkina Faso, is of systemic importance to the “Françafrique,” the neocolonial system of governance of Paris. Not surprisingly, the authorities of the country have already arrested five of the organizers of the protests.
However, the protests in Chad mean that France’s dominance here is fundamentally shaken.
The African continent is gripped by protests against France, symbolizing a crisis of French influence. The methods of controlling former colonies are ineffective when African elites and counter-elites are faced with the prospect of profitable and, most importantly, sovereign cooperation with other international players.
Alternatives to the West: China, Russia? Turkey’s underestimated power
Usually, when it comes to alternatives to French and generally Western domination in Africa, the first thing researchers pay attention to is Russia and China. The Chinese presence in Africa is obvious. The new economic superpower offers large-scale infrastructure projects and generous loans, does not interfere in domestic politics, does not pay attention to “human rights” and is interested in mutually beneficial cooperation.
Russia also draws attention to itself by its successful stabilization of the situation in the Central African Republic, its help to Mali in the fight against terrorists, and its activity in Libya. Protesters against French rule in Africa use Russian flags. It looks spectacular.
In April, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a bill that obliges “Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall develop and submit to the appropriate congressional committees a strategy and implementation plan outlining United States efforts to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its proxies in Africa.
The U.S. is seriously concerned about the Russian presence in Africa. The “Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act” would give Congress the power to investigate African countries that have become close to Russia. Military operations, investments, connections and financial flows of Russian businessmen in Africa will be monitored.
But Turkey’s much stronger multilayered cooperation with Africa is less visible, although it is stronger and most positively perceived by Africans themselves. Turkey is working on multiple fronts at the same time.
Diplomacy: With its 43 embassies (there are 55 countries in the African Union), Ankara now has one of the densest diplomatic networks in Africa. Turkey is a key player in the diplomatic settlement in Libya.
Military and technical cooperation: In Libya, Turkey has demonstrated its effectiveness. Its military advisers and weapons helped stopping General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli. Camp TURKSOM is a stronghold of Turkish military presence in Somalia and the Horn of Africa – providing support and training to the Somali army and Turkish interests in the region. Turkish military equipment especially drones are attracting the attention of more and more states: From Morocco through Benin and Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso, Chad and Ethiopia to Angola.
In 2020 Ankara signed a military cooperation agreement with Niger with the possible opening of a military base in the future. Niger is in France’s zone of influence. It is the main source of uranium for French nuclear power plants and, after the withdrawal of French troops from Mali, a port of entry for the French presence.
Economy: Turkish-African trade stands at about U.S.$25 billion, a five-fold increase since 1998. Turkish companies are present throughout the continent. This is not only economic giants, but also small and medium-sized businesses. Turkey is linked to Africa by many links at the level of small companies, which makes these links very stable.
Humanitarian sphere and culture: the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) are active in 22 African countries. Turkey’s Maarif Foundation is providing education to over 17,500 students through its 175 institutions in 25 countries in Africa.
If Russia provides security, China – economic development, Turkey can offer African countries both security and long-term development as well as fruitful cooperation and mutually beneficial development of business, both large and not so large, and humanitarian and quality educational projects. Ankara stakes on comprehensive cooperation and respect for partners’ sovereignty, which African partners value.
Libya: a disaster at the hands of the West and the only way out
An example of Turkey’s effective policy and special status in Africa is Libya. For 10 years after the Western invasion of Libya, the country suffered from internecine wars and conflicts. Only the conclusion of mutually beneficial agreements between Tripoli and Ankara in November 2018 was able to put Libya on a path toward stabilization. Turkish military advisers and weapons were able to prevent Libya from being taken, and de facto stopped the war in 2019. Turkey’s intervention gave impetus to the peace talks and the process of stabilization in the country.
Now, however, Libya is once again in turmoil. Two governments are now opposing each other in the country. The first is the government of Fathi Bashaha, formed on the mandate of the parliament sitting in the east of the country, the House of Representatives. The second is the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, sitting in Tripoli. It was established under the auspices of the UN for elections in December 2021, but has failed to carry out its primary mission.
Fighting broke out overnight in Tripoli on May 17 between supporters of Fathi Bashagha and Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. Bashagha arrived in Tripoli, after which fighting broke out between his supporters and opponents in the capital. Fathi Bashagha had planned to give a press conference in Tripoli and apparently begin work on preparing for his government from Tripoli.
In the end, however, Bashagha was forced to retreat from Tripoli. The attempt to seize power failed. At the same time, neither can Dbeibeh force Bashagha to abandon his claim to the position of prime minister. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army supports Bashagha. Libya is fractured, and compromise seems impossible. Moreover, the U.S.’ attempts at dialogue have failed. It is obvious that the United States and American diplomat Stephanie Williams, supposedly representing UN interests in Libya, are not interested in dialogue, but in establishing their control over Libya, where Turkey and Russia have long played the key role, not the US. Not coincidentally, the U.S. is now seeking to bring Libya’s oil revenues under its control, de facto eliminating Libyan sovereignty. The U.S. is now in favor of the temporary freezing of oil revenues in the National Oil Corporation (NOC) account at the Libyan Foreign Bank (LFB) until there is agreement on a revenue management mechanism, which will be fully controlled by the US.
Only Turkey and Russia can help Libyans to restore order and sovereignty in the country. Ankara is closely linked to the authorities in Tripoli. Moscow is in eastern Libya. Both sides are interested in stability in Libya. However, the United States actively opposes equally the Turkish and Russian military presence in Libya, and both Moscow and its alleged ally, Ankara are, for Washington, obstacles to establishing its control over the strategically important country in North Africa and the Mediterranean. As early as 2020, the U.S. Congress demanded sanctions against Turkey and Russia
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly demanded that Turkey and Russia withdraw their military personnel from Libya.
For their part, Turkey and Russia are capable of putting an end to U.S. imperialist policies in Libya and Africa as a whole by reaching an agreement. Both countries demonstrate the ability to negotiate and respect each other’s interests. Both are in the same position in Libya and in Africa in general – they are rising powers, anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, which oppose the old powers (France, the United States, the United Kingdom). This is in the interests of the Africans themselves, who often do not want to choose between Ankara and Moscow but want to work with both powers, against France and the United States.
In Libya, Russian-Turkish agreements could create a basis for real peace, strengthening Ankara’s position and eliminating any attempts to oust Turkey by France and the United States. This would create a basis for active cooperation in other African countries as well, marking the onset of a new, truly multipolar era for Africa.
As the former head of Turkey’s General Staff Intelligence Agency, Retired Lt. Gen. Ismail Hakkı Pekin said:
“Russia and Turkey should not clash with each other and should instead form an alliance with each other and with countries such as Algeria and Libya for North Africa. We can actually solve most of our problems in context of Libya. But if we choose seek short-term gains and enter into clash with each other, than the imperialism will prevail”.