Magazine article African Business

Turkey Courts Africa for Diversification: Turkey's Deepening Ties with Africa Are a Foreign Policy Success, but a Domestic Split Raises Concerns

Magazine article African Business

Turkey Courts Africa for Diversification: Turkey's Deepening Ties with Africa Are a Foreign Policy Success, but a Domestic Split Raises Concerns

Article excerpt

Four African states received a high-profile visitor in March this year when Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embarked on a tour of West Africa designed to boost business ties between his country and regional states.

It was a whirlwind five-day tour, to Cote d'Ivoire, then Ghana, with a stopover at regional powerhouse Nigeria, and finally Guinea. His visit was particularly aimed at deepening Turkey's "strategic partnership" with Africa and developing relations with members of the Economic Community of West African States.

But long before his high-level four-state tour in March, then-Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) had made developing closer relations with African nations, particularly ones with a large Muslim population, a priority.

According to the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs, this plan was initially conceived by Turkey as early as 1998, four years before the president's AKP party won its first general election. Progress has accelerated especially rapidly since Erdogan came to power and after Turkey was granted observer status by the African Union in 2005.

The foreign ministry describes Turkey as an AfroEurasian country and highlights the declaration of Turkey as a strategic partner of the continent by the African Union in January 2008 on its website.

These warm sentiments are not diplomatic hot air according to Akin Unver, senior analyst at consultants Wikistrat and an assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has University, Istanbul. "Turkey's engagement with sub-Saharan Africa has two main reasons: one, to diversify its trade away from Europe, Russia and the Gulf. And two, the rapidly increasing Muslim population in the region," he says. "Demographic trends in African Muslim societies reflect fast growth in the next decade, which is another reason for Turkey to invest in relations now."

The increase in diplomatic activity and intensifying bilateral high-level visits is matched by an increase in activity on the ground by Turkish companies keen to cash in on Africa's increasing urbanisation. The World Bank projects that the proportion of Africans living in urban areas will grow from 36% in 2010 to 50% by 2030.

As a result, the national carrier Turkish Airlines now has one of the most comprehensive airline networks on the continent. Announcing the start of flights to Bamako, Mali, a company spokesperson stated: "Turkish Airlines' Africa network now encompasses 44 destinations with the addition of Bamako, Mali. [This is] the 28th country served in Africa and one of 110 nations served across the globe."

In 2013, more than 200,000 people travelled in roughly equal numbers between Turkey and African countries for business, tourism and cultural purposes. According to the Turkish foreign ministry, the bilateral trade volume with Africa reached $i7.5bn in 2015 --a threefold increase since 2003.

Furthermore, the share of African countries in the overall international business volume of Turkish contractors is now around 19%. Turkish companies such as Kolin Construction have worked on lucrative projects such as a $12401 operation in 2014 to create a 92km road connecting Ugandan to its Albertine region, where oil exploration was under way. …

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