Soft power, a term coined by American political scientist Joseph Nye, is differentiated from hard power by its perceived ability to use a state's values, the legitimacy of its foreign policy and attractiveness of its culture as a source of appeal. Turkey's soft power in Africa has increased tremendously in last decade. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has paid regular visits to different African countries, resulting in growing trade volume, investments and new cultural institutions and widespread humanitarian activities. However, a report called "The Soft Power 30" issued by several United Kingdom institutions in 2017 underestimates this fact.
The report ranks the 30 most influential countries globally in terms of soft power, with Turkey being allocated the final slot on the list. I believe this placement needs to be reevaluated and researched from an African perspective. So far, based on indicators, such as diplomatic resources, developmental aid, education, immigration policies and culture, Turkey's soft power in Africa appears to be rising quite fast. Actually, it is likely on an Africa specific index, that the country would be ranked higher. For example, as of 2017, Turkey had 39 foreign missions, up from just 12 in 2009. Institutions like the Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) are also advancing the countries image. Turkish Airlines, which currently flies to 41 countries in Africa, has the largest airline network on the continent, serving as a source of soft power.
As a result, and in addition to a somewhat flexible visa policy, Istanbul is becoming an important international transit point for Africans. Turkish soap operas are also becoming popular across the continent, opening up people's imaginations to the beauty and culture of Turkey. Moreover, as Turkey continues to change its global narrative, there are spillover benefits for Africa. Currently, Turkey is ranked second, after the U.S., in volume of development aid. But, while the U.S.' humanitarian assistance amounts to just 0.03 percent of its gross national income (GNI),Turkey's contribution totals 0.79 percent. In 2016, Turkey spent close to $6 billion, with Africa receiving 9.54 percent of that amount.
Trade volume from Turkey to Africa has increased from $3.6 billion in 2003 to $20 billion in 2016. However, within the same period, Africa's exports to Turkey have risen only marginally, from about 3 percent to around 5 percent. The number of African students studying in higher education institutions in Turkey with Turkish government scholarships is also growing. Having considered these arguments, I believe that Turkey can make a real impact in Africa by exploiting its advantageous position as a newcomer and avoiding the pitfalls of the continent's traditional partners.
To achieve this, Turkey will have to strategically position itself within the four trends currently shaping Africa's socio-economic landscape: Rising economic growth tempered by the need for inclusive and sustainable development; concerted efforts toward regional integration; ongoing debates on the merits and demerits of developmental aid; and contestations of asymmetrical bilateral trade thatdisfavors the continent.One approach to address these issues is by using the innovation value chain model, which will enable Africa to harness and scale up disruptive technologies in critical sectors such as agriculture, health and energy. This strategy enables the sustainable exploitation of the continent's massive natural resources; expands opportunities for job creation, especially for marginalized groups such as youth and women; increases overall household incomes and reduces poverty; opens up opportunities for regional trade, while developing investment opportunities for Turkish organizations.
* Social scientist and communications expert based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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