President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is paying his first official visit to Africa this week after the Second Africa-Turkey Summit that was held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea on Nov. 19-21, 2014. The three-country visit to Ethiopia, Djibuti and Somalia around the Horn of Africa confirms Turkey's commitment to expanding its relations with the continent. Turkey's opening to Africa policy began in 1998 and took a new turn in 2008 when the African Union declared Turkey a strategic partner. The same year, the first Turkey-Africa Summit was held in Istanbul with the participation of all the major African leaders. The third summit will be held in 2019 in Istanbul. In the meantime, a steady traffic of high-level visits, business forums and international partnerships add new dimensions to Turkish-African relations.
In its long and rich history, Africa has created great cultures and civilizations. It has been home to thousands of ethnic communities and tribes. Local, animistic religions as well as the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been part and parcel of the continent's religious diversity. Africa has been an important part of both classical and modern Islamic history. The first Muslim community under the Prophet Muhammad had several people of African descent, the most famous one being Bilal Habeshi, the "Ethiopian." Bilal was a black slave who entered Islam in Mecca and became the first "muezzin" - the one who recites the call to prayer - in Islamic history. His name decorates the walls of thousands of mosques in the Muslim world as the "imam al-muazzinin," meaning the leader of those who make the call to prayer with a beautiful voice.
Facing oppression and persecution, Muhammad sent a group of his companions to the Ethiopian King Negus, known in the Muslim world as Najashi. When the Meccans came to ask for them, King Negus refused to return them and granted them protection in his kingdom. Ever since then, Negus has been praised in the Muslim world as a just and virtuous king. After almost 1,400 years, the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency TİKA, Turkey's official aid agency, is now rebuilding the tomb of Negus with a mosque and cultural center around it.
Today, dozens of Turkish companies are investing in Ethiopia and providing employment to 30,000 Ethiopians. Around 200 Ethiopian students are studying in Turkey with full scholarship from Turkey. Over all, there are about 5,000 students from Africa studying in Turkey.
As part of its global foreign policy outlook, Turkey is expanding its relations with African countrıes. In 2004, Turkey had only 12 embassies in Africa. Today, it has 39 and the next Turkish embassy will be opened in Equatorial Guinea this year. African countrıes had only a handful of embassies in Ankara. Today, there are more than 30 African diplomatic missions in Turkey. A decade ago, Turkey's total trade with Africa was less than $3 billion. Today, the trade volume has exceeded $25 billion. Turkish Airlines flies to about 40 points in more than 30 African countries - more than any other international airline in the world.
In 2012 and 2013 alone, Turkey contributed around $800 million to various aid programs in Africa. TİKA has 12 offices in Africa, doing hundreds of projects around the continent from digging wells and opening clinics to training farmers and restoring historical sites. Dozens of Turkish nongovernmental organizations and aid organizations are also actively helping the needy. What Turkey has done in Somalia has received global recognition and appreciation. In 2011, Turkey led an international campaign to help Somalia in one of its worst moments in modern history. It mobilized its resources to fight famine and disease, contributed close to $500 million in aid and helped Somalis establish a certain degree of security and economic infrastructure.
Somalia still faces major political, security and economic challenges. The absence of a strong central government and the ongoing fight with al-Shabab make it vulnerable in many respects. Despite these challenges, Somalia is also making progress in various sectors. The capital Mogadishu is already showing signs of significant improvement with new constructions and renovations in its air and seaports. New paved roads and buildings have been built. Famine has been contained. The Somalian government is working on a new plan for 2015 and 2016 to improve the country's security and economy.
In addition, Turkey is helping the ongoing talks between Somalia and Somaliland. The last round of talks was held in Istanbul and the high-level officials meetings will continue. As Hassan Shiekh Mohamud, the president of Somalia, said: "Turkey has treated Somalia as an equal partner, respected our requests and insisted on our input. Turkey's perception of Somalia as a future trading partner enabled us to approach our relationship from an equal footing, leading to mutual respect and enthusiastic cooperation. Turkey's role in the development and stabilization of Somalia has been a model of solidarity in hard times."
The rich and powerful countries of the world should help African countries 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 exploitation, but fairness and opportunity.