After the critical Africa visit

Published 07.06.2016 22:52

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan set out on a trip to East Africa last week, which was crucial in many aspects. I was among the journalists on the trip and traveled on the presidential plane. The first stop was Uganda, followed by Kenya and Somalia.

Before the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power, Africa was a continent that barely had a place in Turkey's foreign policies. Almost no contact was made with the continent until the AK Party came to power. We did not have embassies in most African countries and we did not have any commercial relations or social contact. Thanks to the changing perspective in foreign policy in recent years, Turkey turned its face to the east, north and south instead of solely focusing on the West, which introduced some serious changes. With the aid Erdoğan provided to less fortunate regions, Turkey came to have a unique place in those areas. Africa is one of them, and East Africa in particular.

The most soul-shattering part of the trip was Somalia. Since 2011, Erdoğan has visited this unfortunate country three times. It must be noted that Turkey is the only country whose president or prime minister has paid a visit to Somalia since 1999. The civil war and al-Shabaab terrorism has turned Somalia's capital Mogadishu into a ghost town. Since the security threat is so high, United Nations officials and those of other countries make contacts at the airport and quickly leave the country. Erdoğan, on the other hand, has been clamping down on this threat. Although al-Shabaab attacked a hotel and killed 15 people the day before Erdoğan's visit, apparently to intimidate him, no change was made in the schedule of his visit. Turkey provides a great deal of financial aid to Somalia. With this visit, an additional $2 million will be added to the budget contribution margin each month. Along with humanitarian aid, Turkey also contributed to the construction of the road that connects the airport to the city and the city's greatest general hospital. In the following days, we will also kick off building a harbor and a parliamentary building in Mogadishu. Turkey is now even restructuring the Somali military.

Our embassy in Somalia, which sits on eight acres with additional social complex buildings opened during our visit, is our greatest foreign mission. But why is such importance attached to Somalia? Above all, the country, which was tormented by colonialism and ravaged by chaos and civil war, has a 100 percent Muslim population. This aspect prompts Turkey to guard the country. It is also a strategically significant port. Controlling this location is sensible to rebalance our consolidation of the Middle East. Moreover, aiding this neglected area aligns with Turkey's principle of siding with the oppressed.

I would also like to touch on the other destinations of the visit. Uganda is also a very poor country. Its main income comes from safari tourism and foreign aid. The aid comprises about 40 percent to 60 percent of the country's economy. There is so much lacking in infrastructure and so many things need to be done. In agriculture, mining, tourism and infrastructure, Uganda offers great investment opportunities.

Kenya has great potential for Turkey in commerce of oil, machinery, energy, motor land vehicles and iron and steel. Relations are still in the formation phase, but Kenya particularly has major potential. The U.K. dominates the country's market to a large extent, and this is the main reason the visits of our president stir unease.

Exports from Turkey to Kenya amounted to $131 million in 2015, which included automotive products and flour. Today, there are 40 Turkish firms in Kenya, and the number is likely to climb.

In a nutshell, with its economic potential, Africa is a continent of great importance for Turkey. Turkey's political influence is gradually increasing in Africa while Turkey gives it a kiss of life after years of neglect. Last week's tour provides some insight into Turkish-African relations that are expected to develop in the following days.

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