Ankara, Turkey – Turkey’s growing investments, humanitarian aids and peaceful security influence challenges the French neocolonialism in Africa. Turkey promotes about being the soft power country who supports most frequently Africa, but its outreach to African countries backfire maligning Europe’s colonial past, especially France, and pursues a geopolitical strategy in Libya.
Turkey has visited a war-torn Somalia in 2011, became the first non-African country to honor Mogadishu in two decades. Turkey visited Sudan in late 2017, and Sudan agreed to lease Suakin Island to Turkey for industrial investments such as building a modern commercial marine port on the island.
Turkey’s outreach to Africa, which began in 1998 and intensified after 2002, is focusing on trade, investments and humanitarian aid. But once Turkey began to add the military dimension in, it caused eyebrows to raise in France. Turkey opened a military base in Somalia in 2017 to train local soldiers and security forces for their national defense strategy. Turkey’s intervention in Libya’s civil war can deter France’s narrative on reopening to Africa.
In July 2020, Turkey signed a military cooperation agreement with Niger, which would allow for bilateral cooperation against the prospective spillover of instability from Libya to West Africa. Turkey has complemented its security outreach to Sahel countries with supplies of humanitarian aid.
This soft power campaign has intensified, as the combined impact of socioeconomic deprivation, political violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbate the region’s humanitarian crisis. In May 2020, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) supplied aid to The Gambia, which aimed to alleviate the country’s food shortages. In June 2020, Turkey shipped a wide array of medical equipment to Niger and Chad, in order to assist their struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Turkey’s outreach to Sahel countries has geostrategic aims, as Turkey seeks to outflank US, France, and China, and Russia and counter the UAE in West Africa. As Turkey’s ability to exert geopolitical influence in the Sahel glows in comparison to established great powers, such as the US, France, and China, and Russia, West Africa is likely to become an increasingly important vector of Turkey’s continental strategy.
In timeline, Turkey left a proud peaceful legacy on the continent, and that Turkey was never a colonial power eyeing Africa’s resources, while pointing to the West’s colonialist past and maligning particularly the record of France.
With Turkey already at odds with France over its close ties with PKK/YPG Syrian Kurdish terrorists the Libyan issue has grown into a flat-out faceoff between the two sides. Turkey backs the legitimate UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli, while France bets on putchist warlord Khalifa Haftar, a massacrist commander of the Libyan National Army.
Turkey escalated the row with France during African tour to Algeria and Senegal in January 2020. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune stated that the French had massacred more than 5 million Algerians over 130 years during 1830 -1960 years.
France is in a panic for losing Africa to Turkey. Indignation is growing over France’s military presence in Africa, with France suffering setbacks in trade and investments. The CFA franc system in former French colonies, which requires them to hold at least half of their foreign-exchange reserves in the French treasury, is coming to an end. And with Turkey’s active Africa opening steadily coming out on top, France is going into anger fits.
Turkey’s Africa strategy really is really hindering France. France has lost economic ground to China and India, which have stormed into Africa in recent years, as well as to Spain, which stands out among Western powers trying to counter the Chinese and Indian thrusts, and even to Britain, another former colonial power. In 2017, the French share of exports to the African market fell to 5.5% from 11% in 2000, while that of China increased to 18% from 3% in the same period.
France’s exports to Africa were worth $28 billion in 2018. Among European nations, Germany was the second biggest exporter to Africa with $25.4 billion, followed by Spain with $21 billion and Italy with $19.9 billion. French imports from Africa, meanwhile, amounted to $27.5 billion. In sum, France’s trade volume with the continent totaled $55.5 billion.
Turkey’s trade volume with Africa had reached over $20 billion, increasing 381% over the past 17 years, with Turkish exports accounting for $16 billion. The target is to reach $50 billion in mutual trade. Turkey’s trade with African countries was nearly $21.5 billion in 2019, with $15.8 billion in exports and $5.6 in imports. The figure stood at $21.4 billion in 2018, with Turkey’s exports and imports standing at $14.4 billion and $7 billion respectively. In terms of Turkish investments in Africa, the numbers are modest and investments often determine the depth of relations.
Turkey’s net investment stock in Africa has reached $2 billion. The market value of those investments has exceeded $6 billion. Turkish direct investments reached at $6.2 billion in 2017, up from $100 million in 2003.
France’s direct investments, meanwhile, stood at $34 billion in the 2014-2018 period, while China was the biggest investor with $72 billion. Trailing behind were the United States with $31 billion, the UAE with $25 billion and Britain with $17 billion.
Turkey eyes the Turkish defense industry as an important realm to boost exports, in addition to the construction sector. During Africa visits, Turkey kept up efforts to market Turkish-made drones, warships, helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles missiles, rifles, howitzers and training aircraft.
Turkey’s efforts vis-a-vis Africa extend beyond trade. The number of Turkish embassies in the continent has reached 42, up from 12 in 2002, while the number of African embassies in Ankara has increased to 36 from 10. In the past five years, 15 new bilateral business councils have been set up, bringing the total number to 45.
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, a government body involved in development work, has opened 22 offices across the continent. Turkish Airlines flies to 58 destinations in 38 African countries. Some 4,500 African students have received scholarships to study in Turkey.
With permanent military bases in Djibouti, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, France retains its intervention ability in “French Africa” as part of what it describes as fighting terrorism. The French military activity, which began with Operation Serval in Mali in January 2013, has expanded to Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger since Operation Barkhane kicked off in August 2014.
Indeed, drawing on Africa’s economic independence from its sustainable development is a smart policy to open room for Turkey in its outreach to the continent. Also, whilst keeping the emphasis on Europe’s colonialist past can ultimately turn into a success of Turkey’s efforts. Turkey’s strategy of reviving its peaceful legacy has been opening multidimensional economic and cultural opportunities in Africa. Turkey’s growing reach and influence in Africa is basically based three categories of interests that are vital for Turkey: economic, security and cultural.
As the diplomatic tug-of-war between France and Turkey escalates, Turkey is lining up new partners in Africa, Asia and Americas, and identifying new markets in China, Mexico, India and Russia.
Turkish involvement in Africa has the goal of expanding its soft economic power to justify its emerging global power status. Turkey’s pursuits in Africa can be summarized around the idea of an ensuring a perpetual “win-win” situation for both Africa and Turkey. This requires an enabling business environment.
Hence, Turkey’s long-term interest in Africa is not limited to bringing aid to the continent but it also aims at developing economic and diplomatic collaboration on an equal basis with equal partners, which would foster mutual economic development and growth. One of the reasons behind Turkish success in Africa is Turkey’s policy that is based on promoting bilateral business interactions that will help to find African solutions to African problems.
Turkish accomplishments in Africa are discussed in the public domain, there exists some fledgling academic research and interest on African affairs in Turkey. There are 17 Africa research centers associated with an academic institutions. There also exists a sizable African community living in Turkey. All of these help increase awareness of Turkey’s involvement with the continent
With emphasizing business interests in Africa, Turkey’s fast-growing industrial sectors can gain access to raw materials directly from the African market. It should be noted that some of the fastest growing economies of the world are located on the African continent. Therefore, demand from the middle classes of those countries on commodities can be counted as the main source of faster-growing Turkish exports to Africa.
Turkey’s foreign direct investments in the continent are also creating positive returns for the Turkish economy. Some of the priority areas for investment are agribusiness, rural development, civil defense, water resource management, the development of micro- and small-scale enterprises, security, health and transportation.
Consequently, Turkey is an honest broker that is able to get projects completed and running in multiple African countries without getting bogged down with local issues. Also, despite security challenges in Africa, the economic opportunities and investments remain potential motivation for African-Turkish cooperation and businesses strategy.