Erdoğan’s trip shows growing influence in Africa

Published 24.01.2015 01:17

In the mid-1990s, Turkey adopted a policy of engaging with the African continent and Latin America. Yet it was not until 2008 that Turkey started playing an active role in Africa. Since then, Turkey's influence on the continent has grown, just as the popularity of other countries has fallen.

In August 2008, the African Union declared Turkey a "strategic partner" at the Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit. In May 2010, Turkey hosted the 4th U.N. Conference on the Least Developed Countries, and it has never looked back.

Turkey has engaged with Africa as a partner and as a friend of the people, and has been accepted by Africans as such. Turks are regarded as the grandchildren of the Ottomans who ruled North Africa for several centuries, not as a colonial power, but as their big brother who came to "provide" rather than "exploit." This feature of the Ottoman Empire is why there is no Turkish speaking country in Africa, while there are still countries where the languages of the colonial powers are spoken.

Turkey has expanded its area of influence in Africa by blending soft power tactics such as transportation links, trade, education and last but not least, religious services, with its foreign policy. The architects of this success are Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he was prime minister and Ahmet Davutoğlu when he was foreign minister. Now one is president and the other prime minister, and their Africa policy is going from strength to strength.

First, Turkey opens an embassy in an African country, then launches Turkish Airlines flights to that country. Then economic links are established and Turkey starts providing social and religious services.

Once again, Erdoğan as the President of Turkey received a warm welcome wherever he travelled in Africa, and naturally, this is a source of pride for Turkey. The bomb attack by local radical religious terrorists in Mogadishu will not deter Turks who are determined to help their brothers and sisters to climb out of the current mess that Somalia has been pushed into.

According to international reports Turkey has become the largest donor among non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and one of the most active countries in providing humanitarian aid and peace-building in Somalia. Turkey has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in assisting Somalia, and at least a hundred million went to provide 1,200 Somali students scholarships to study in Turkey.

While UN agencies and international relief agencies provide aid to Somalia from a distance due to security concerns, Turkish aid workers are on the ground in Somalia. Thursday's terrorist bomb attack will not deter the Turks, but rather will add to their determination to help the impoverished Somali masses. Turks understand that the terrorists are tools used by those who are unhappy with Turkey's growing role in Africa in general, and in Somalia in particular.

Turkey will continue its peace-building mission as it has already established a high level of trust within the government, various armed groups and war-torn communities. With its Islamic background, Turkey holds a unique position in Somalia compared to other foreign actors.

The Somali experience has shown that Turkey's strength comes from its capacity to respond to peace-building challenges by using its different capacities and resources in a coordinated way to provide assistance, bolstering the Somali economy and investing in youth education.

A major challenge for Erdoğan and his administration in Africa is to find a way to replace the massive educational and economic structure that the Gülen Movement established in the continent. Their schools are located all over the continent, and via the influence of these educational establishments, the Gülen Movement has managed to gain control of important economic assets. Now, as the government accuses movement of plotting to overthrow it, Erdoğan and his colleagues have to offer substitutes for the Gülen establishments so that a serious vacuum is not created. This is an important issue that should not be neglected.

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