Turkish students initiate media project for Africa
by Yusuf Selman İnanç
ISTANBULOct 13, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Yusuf Selman İnanç
Oct 13, 2016 12:00 am
With the recent wave of tumultuous events happening in Turkey's own backyard, one tends to wonder if Ankara will regress to the old, cautious foreign policy of the pre-Justice and Development Party (AK Party) era. The five-year civil war in Syria, deadly conflicts in Iraq and the broken relations between Turkey and Egypt after Abdel Fattah el-Sissi ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, all have us wondering: Where is Turkish foreign policy headed? Ankara's main goal is to establish solid relations with other countries, including Africa, and one group of young people initiated a Twitter-based project with the hope of sharing Turkey's vision with African countries while providing information about our country to those who do not have access to the Internet. I met this group of young people who are eagerly working to create a webpage in both French and English for the people of Africa.
The group's Twitter account, Crescent Star Africa, aims to provide accurate, unbiased information to African people that hasn't been muddied by Western propaganda. While most people in the region only have access to Western media outlets like the BBC and France 24, one of the initiators of the project, an international relations student, Ebu Zer Demirci, said: "We believe that we can reach every corner of Africa using our webpage. In so doing, African people who, as a whole, largely sympathize with Turkey will have the chance to read accurate news and learn more about our country - an opportunity that gives us the chance to further strengthen foreign relations." Touching on the July 15 coup attempt orchestrated by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), Demirci said, "We know that FETÖ has long been exploiting the good intentions of Africa towards Turkey. Despite [FETÖ's] terror acts, they have reflected themselves as purely innocent and attempted to break relations." Saying that they will tell the truth to Africans, Demirci added, "As soon as we opened the Twitter account, hundreds of thousands of people started following us and asking when the webpage would open. It shows that Africans would like to know the truth about Turkey."
Although it is popular in Turkey to study relations between the EU and Turkey and the Middle East and Turkey, those young people seemed to be quite eager to study Africa. The co-founder of Crescent Star Africa, an international relations student at Ankara University, Ahmet Kaşan, said: "The Ottoman Empire had very warm relations with the continent. We share a common history. I believe that Turkey, which does not have a history of exploiting Africa or its people, should focus on Africa as the 54 countries there have great trade potential that can boost our economy." Touching on the example of Somalia where Turkey has contributed to the economy, infrastructure, education and stabilization of politics, Kaşan said: "The opening towards Africa in 2005 has been very fruitful. When other African countries saw what Turkey was doing in Somalia, they also wanted to cooperate with Turkey."
Another co-founder of Crescent Star Africa, a student at Bilkent University, Selçuk Gör, said: "It must be noted that six of the world's fastest growing economies are in Africa. Turkey also has a rapidly growing economy. Taking Turkey and the continent together could create miracles." Demirci added that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the champion of Turkey's policy on Africa.
When asked what makes Turkey different from other powers on the continent, the three agree that Turkey's mentality when approaching Africa is different, as Ankara favors equal relations unlike France, the U.K., U.S. and China, which have established relations based on the superiority-inferiority dichotomy. "Africans are also aware of this fact," Gör said, adding, "Africans also believe that Turkey's investments will contribute to their economy hugely." Demirci added: "Western countries have such a bad reputation. China has a different mentality but still is not favored by African people, while Iran has its own sectarian agenda. But Turkey provides aid and wants to make investments from that result in mutual benefits." Kaşan stressed that the global rivalry between the U.S. and China affects Africa as well, adding: "The U.S. and China are main investors in the region, and their rivalry has deepened in the last decade. Therefore, they have been pinning the weaknesses [of these countries] against each other. However, Turkey is far removed from any imperialist agenda." The three young students, however, repeatedly emphasized that a media outlet that explains Turkey to Africa directly is definitely necessary. Saying that presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın supports the idea, the group assures this will be put into effect soon. The webpage will feature not only daily news but also analysis on various subjects. A Turkish section will address Turkish businessmen, students and academics. In this way, Crescent Star Africa will bridge the gap between Turkey and Africa directly.
Since the AK Party came into power in 2002, relations between Turkey and several African countries have been strengthened by increasing humanitarian aid and cooperation in several areas and trade. The number of Turkish embassies on the continent increased to 43 according to data from 2015, up from 12 in 2003. The number of African embassies also increased in the same period to 53, up from 10 in 2008. Turkish Airlines (THY) also started flying to more destinations. In 2002, THY only flew to 10 destinations in Africa, but now it flies to 47. As such, the number of passengers has also increased. While it was less than 150,000 in 2002, it is now more than 2 million per year. The lifting of visa requirements for nationals of eight African countries also played a big role in the rising number of travelers. The changing policy has also brought new opportunities to both Turkish and African businessmen. The trade budget passed $25 billion, up eightfold from 13 years ago. Ankara has signed economic cooperation agreements with 38 countries and has established free economic zones in four countries. Turkey also continues to increase its humanitarian aid and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) has opened 16 offices and launched more than 200 projects in the region. The Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) has provided $100 billion in humanitarian aid to Somalia and $1.5 million for the fight against Ebola.