A new phase in Turkish-African relations

Published 22.11.2014 01:43

The Second Africa-Turkey Summit held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea from Nov. 19 to Nov. 21 heralds the beginning of a new phase in Turkish-African relations. Turkey's "opening to Africa" policy that began in 1998 is now maturing into a full-fledged Turkey-Africa partnership strategy. As the second summit shows, the potential between Turkey and Africa is growing by the day and bearing fruit already. In its long and rich history, Africa has been many things. It has created great cultures and civilizations, it has been an exemplary model of cultural and religious pluralism and it has fought against colonialism and won its independence.

But Africa has also been colonized, exploited, enslaved and violated. It has seen colonialism, brute capitalism, civil wars, corruption, underdevelopment, poverty, epidemics and other problems. Today, despite their young population and rich natural resources, many African nations are struggling with political and economic problems. Yet a new page in Africa's modern history is being turned. Many parts of Africa are once again becoming centers of education, trade, culture and art. Some African countries already have political stability, sustainable economic development, democratic participation and cultural and political pluralism. As the second largest continent on earth with more than a billion people, Africa, together with Asia, is the new rising star of the 21st century.

Having long historical relations with African countries, Turkey is expanding its relations with African nations in both the north and the south of the continent. Turkey's "opening to Africa" policy has come a long way over the last 16 years. Ten years ago, Turkey had only 12 embassies in Africa. Today, it has 39 and the next Turkish embassy will be opened in Equatorial Guinea next year. Likewise, African nations had only a handful of embassies in the Turkish capital Ankara until recently. Today, 30 African nations have embassies in Turkey. The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) now has offices in 12 African capitals and provides technical assistance and carries out hundreds of small and medium-size projects in more than 30 African countries. In 2012 and 2013, Turkey contributed around $800 million to various aid programs in Africa. This amounts to about one third of Turkey's annual development aid. When Turkey hosted the 4th U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Istanbul on from May 9 to May 13, 2011, it set as a goal to help alleviate poverty in more than 30 African countries that are among the least developed countries of the world.

A good example of this political vision and determination is Turkey's efforts in Somalia. A few years ago Turkey led an international campaign to help Somalia in one of its worst moments in modern history. By mobilizing its resources to fight against famine and disease and calling on the international community for help, Turkey contributed millions of dollars in aid and helped Somalis establish a certain degree of security and economic infrastructure. With Turkey's push, other countries and organizations including the U.N. and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also came to Somalia's help. Today, Somalia still faces major challenges including the effects of its civil war, the absence of a strong central government and poor infrastructure. But it is also making steady progress in various areas that have been neglected for decades. Turkey is still acting as a helping hand. As one journalist put it, Turkey is not simply aiding Somalia, it is "building a new country" there.

Turkey's work in Somalia is part of its new vision to foster and deepen relations with African countries. In recent years, high-level visits, diplomatic relations, investment and trade, cultural and educational programs, scholarships, tourism, summits, medical programs have added a new breadth and depth to Turkish-African relations. In 2008, the African Union declared Turkey a "strategic partner." The same year, Turkey hosted the first Africa-Turkey Cooperation Summit in Istanbul.

In 2002, Turkey's total trade with Africa was less than $3 billion. Today, the trade volume has reached $25 billion. Turkish Airlines flies to about 40 points in more than 30 African countries. The first Turkey-Africa Media Forum held in May 2012 in Ankara brought together over 300 African journalists from 54 African countries. Hundreds of Turkey scholarships have been offered to African students over the last 10 years. Turkey's strategic partnership with Africa is in line with Turkey's multi-dimensional foreign policy outlook. It is also in tune with the perspective of "African solutions to African problems" - a perspective that seeks to overcome Africa's colonialist history without creating new types of colonialism and political and economic dependence.

The rich and powerful countries of the world should help African nations to reach political independence, human security and economic development rather than follow policies that deepen political instability and economic dependence. What Africa needs today is not more exploitation, but fairness and opportunity.

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