• Sunday, September 24, 2023
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The future of Afro-Turkish relations

The future of Afro-Turkish relations

Sometime in 2020, at the start of what is now widely understood as anti-French feelings and sentiments in the Sahel that have snowballed into general anti-Western feelings in some parts of Africa, French President Emmanuel Macron quickly identified the architects of what he termed as “propaganda.”

Macron, in a speech to Francophone African leaders at a summit in Paris, identified Russia, China and Turkey (now known officially as “Turkiye”) as the driving forces behind the growing calls for a French exit from (especially) francophone Africa, where the country led an international peacekeeping counterterrorism force in several countries especially Mali and Burkina Faso.

Macron’s explanation was driven largely by fears that the three countries–China, Russia and Turkiye–called “revisionist powers” in addition to Iran and North Korea, are looking to supplant France and the West as the dominant players in Africa–a fear that is driven by the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that has seen improved infrastructure in many African countries.

Too often, Afro-Turkish relations are seen within the prism of the emerging East-West geopolitical rivalry and competition. As convenient as that may sound, a specific focus on Turkiye’s relations with Africa reveals deep historical connections that traverse politics and economics.

Turkiye, one of the three major centres of Islam, provides spiritual direction for influential sects with prominent Muslim politicians as members. A majority of Nigeria’s Muslims, for example, are Sunni, so they draw influence from either Saudi Arabia or Turkiye.

In the present circumstances, such relations have transcended the spiritual to more physical and consequentially tangible issues of state relations. Turkiye’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK) has 45 business councils in African countries in order to promote bilateral trade and mutual investment.

The country’s total trade volume with African countries expanded from $3 billion in 2003 to $26 billion in 2021. Its foreign direct investment (FDI) on the continent is close to $10 billion. Turkish private companies are also monitoring Africa for investment and business opportunities.

For example, Turkiye’s flag carrier, Turkish Airlines (THY), now flies to 61 different destinations in 40 African countries across the continent. The partnership and cooperation in the field of energy is exhibiting great promise too. Turkiye imports oil and LNG from African markets.

Algeria has become the fourth largest gas exporter to Turkiye and Nigeria-Turkiye bilateral trade constitutes 90% of Turkiye’s LNG imports from Nigeria. In 2017, oil and mineral-rich Chad announced its invitation to Turkish companies for oil extraction in the country.

Similarly, Somalia invited Turkiye to explore oil in its seas. Additionally, Turkiye signed a maritime deal with the UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Libya allowing for the creation of an exclusive economic zone from Libya’s northeast coast to Turkiye’s southeast coast and the exploration of oil.

Turkiye considers agriculture a strategic sector in which it can improve its relations with African countries as well. In this regard, in 2017, Turkiye organised the first Turkiye-Africa Agriculture Ministers Meeting and Agribusiness Forum in the city of Antalya and inked deals with six African countries in the fields of agriculture, fishery and livestock. 40 ministers of agriculture from 54 African countries participated alongside the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the African Union Commission.

Food security, nutrition, financing and credit opportunities, agroindustry and development issues were discussed by the parties to improve Turkiye-Africa cooperation. It is common for implementation projects of Turkiye’s official development agency, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency’s (TIKA) offices in Africa to provide agricultural tools, seeds, fertilisers and pesticides to local farmers in order to improve their agricultural capacity.

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Beyond trade, the future of Afro-Turkish relations lies heavily in the sociocultural impact of the education that Turkish schools provide for many children on the continent. Many Turkish-International Schools owned by the Gullenist Movement under Fethullah Gulen still operate in Nigeria and other Africa countries despite the difficulties and fractures in the relationship between Gulen and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkiye’s current challenges such as a resurgent Kurdish militancy in its northern borders; the February 2023 earthquake that led to the death of about fifty thousand people; flatlining Lira amidst an inflation rate one of the highest in the world, leaves the country and government of Erdogan less room to engage in diplomacy, choosing rather to prioritise heavy, pressing matters such as the war in Ukraine.

However, the bread and butter issues of Turkiye’s influence in Africa also can hardly wait or be sidelined given the primacy of Eastern competition from Russia and especially China.

Turkiye’s presidential elections in May will give whoever wins an opportunity to double down on cooperation between the country and the African continent. My main advice would be for them to look at Africa as diverse, not continue the worn-out approach of coming to us as we are a single bloc. We are not.

Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence