Experts: Turkey to make ties with Africa permanent
by Fatih Şemsettin Işık
ANKARAJan 04, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Fatih Şemsettin Işık
Jan 04, 2015 12:00 am
After attending the second Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in Equatorial Guinea last November, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is preparing to make four separate tours and visit a total of 12 countries in Africa. According to information from sources at the Presidency, Erdoğan's first round, which will be in January, will include Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somalia.
Developments in Turkey's relations with African countries have become more salient in the last decade, and in particular, 2014 witnessed bilateral relations on a path for further cooperation. According to data from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the trade volume between Turkey and sub-Saharan countries has increased more than tenfold over the past 13 years, reaching $7.5 billion in 2013, up from $742 million in 2000.
In a speech at the second Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, Erdoğan said, "Turkey has a versatile policy in Africa" and declared that Turkey is ready to take cooperation a step further in energy and transportation.
He said that Turkey has never considered the continent a land to exploit and has always seen it as a friend, saying, "We have always approached Africa with humanitarian motives" and that Turkey has always been proud of Africa's accomplishments.
Separating Turkey-Africa relations into five eras, Mehmet Özkan, the executive director of the International Center for Terrorism and Transnational Crime (UTSAM), said that Turkey has entered the fifth era – a term that demonstrates the necessity for Turkey's consolidating its presence in Africa and cooperating with many other countries on the continent. "This new term is a two-step process. One of them is the fact that Turkey-Africa relations definitely became normal and usual thanks to the [Turkey-Africa Partnership] summit in Malabo. At the summit organized in 2008 in Istanbul, many African leaders had questions such as how serious is Turkey in Africa or what is Turkey's real intention? Now these questions are replaced with, 'In which areas can cooperation be made with Turkey?' or 'How can both sides get the maximum interest in this relation'? " Özkan said.
As the second step of this process, he pointed to what Turkey should do from now on. "It is the time for Turkey to evade the image of being a 'super country' in the eyes of some African countries and perpetuating its presence on the continent with several countries. Especially in Somalia, some actors desire the failure of Ankara as a quite successful country; in fact, they tend to blame Turkey for all negative developments in the country. This situation entails Turkey's conducting more careful policies in the country," he explained.
Turkey's policy on Somalia has strengthened, especially after 2011 when Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, made a visit to Somalia. In an article titled "Turkey-Africa: Solidarity and partnership," penned by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu last November, which was also recently republished in various media outlets in Africa, including in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, he said, "[Erdoğan's] flight turned the course of events in Somalia that have been in turmoil for so long with chronic instability and prolonged social strife creating in turn a serious humanitarian crisis coinciding with severe drought and famine."
Holding this 2011 step in high esteem as setting a precedent for many countries in Africa, Serhat Orakçı, the İHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation Africa director and analyst on African affairs for the World Bulletin, stressed the urgency of further steps for stable and permanent relations with Africa.
"Today, the biggest problem of the sub-Saharan population is extreme poverty. About 450 million people strive to survive with a daily income of under $1.25. Almost 250 million people do not have access to fresh water. More than 500 million people lack electricity. Turkey will host the G20 in 2016. These issues must be framed with candidness in the presence of developed and developing countries. It is necessary to step beyond cases like trade and underground sources and consolidate solidarity with Africa in this 'African opening', " he said.
Orakçı pointed out that Turkey must satisfy people's lack of knowledge to accurately evaluate and practice programs through the correct mechanisms. "When we say Africa, we need to adopt approaches prioritizing dynamism, considering racial sensibilities and its colonial history and taking the continent's multicultural structure into account rather than emotional or pessimistic approaches," he said.
"We have to protect many Africans who unfortunately may be exposed to inhuman practices in our country through this sense. The transition of negative experiences might put a slur on this opening policy." Çavuşoğlu mentioned this historical background in his article last November: "Turkey has never been in a colonial position or relationship with the continent. On the contrary, African nations looked for help from the Ottomans in their struggle against colonial oppressors."
In 2014, Turkey and African countries organized over 20 high-level visits with each other. In 2002, Turkey had 19 representative offices in Africa and now has 39 embassies and 10 consulates, as Erdoğan indicated in the Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit.