The African continent has recently come to the fore in international politics. Besides traditional colonial powers, many new global and regional countries have started to become interested in African affairs. Many rising powers such as Russia and China have established bilateral forums with the continent. However, the policies followed by these global and regional powers differ from one another.
In my Daily Sabah article from Oct. 20 of this year, following the last visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to three African countries (Angola, Togo and Nigeria), I discussed the main principles of Turkish foreign policy toward Africa and argued that there are three traditional styles of politics for the African continent: hierarchical/colonial, mutual benefit/equal partnership and free aid.
The first style, which is preferred by many global powers, is totally exploitative. On the one hand, it is difficult to talk about the policies of the colonial Western countries, which have been exploiting the continent for centuries and giving nothing in return. On the other hand, today’s rising global powers such as China and Russia have also been following a different version of the same policy. While China has been trying to create a dependent relationship with African countries through economic instruments, Russia has been trying to create a hierarchical relationship via military power.
The second and third styles, which depend on a win-win strategy and humanitarian and/or developmental aid respectively, are preferred by Turkey. On the one hand, Turkey is one of the largest contributors of humanitarian and developmental aid to the African continent. On the other hand, Turkey has been trying to contribute to the state-building capacity of African countries by focusing on infrastructure projects, agricultural production, investment opportunities and bilateral trade.
Turkey uses both soft and hard power in its relations with African countries. While it continues to increase its humanitarian and developmental aid to the continent through governmental and nongovernmental organizations, Turkey tries to improve security and defense relations with the continent. Turkey has shown this comprehensive approach toward Africa during the Third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in Istanbul last week.
The theme of the summit was declared as “enhanced partnership for common development and prosperity,” reflecting Turkey’s vision of Africa. Erdoğan, who made a historic speech during the summit, has emphasized once more that Turkey is determined to develop a cooperative relationship with Africa based upon the principle of equal partnership and that Africa needs to demand more representation in the global system. Erdoğan has called on African countries not only to diversify their bilateral relations with Turkey but also to act together in international platforms and struggle for a more just world system.
Furthermore, Turkey has been trying to increase political awareness of the African peoples as well as states. Turkish authorities and institutions claim that Africa did not lag behind but was left behind by the colonialist powers and they have been intending to generate anti-imperialist consciousness throughout the continent in order to get rid of the dependency path determined by the Western countries. It is clear that the more they are aware of the exploitative relationship with global actors, the more the African countries will turn to alternative countries such as Turkey to strengthen their relations.
As a result of strong confidence between Turkey and African countries following two decades of the African initiative, Turkey has become a real and effective strategic partner of African countries. Turkey has been trying to invest in improving cultural and humanitarian diplomacy with African countries. In return, African countries have been trying to diversify and expand their relations with Turkey. In other words, the two sides now expect to institutionalize and to consolidate their strategic partnership.