Turkiye and Africa: How Turkiye is cementing its influence in Africa

On 29th October, Turkiye celebrated its 100th anniversary of its republic. At the Ankara sports Hall, Turkish President Erdogan proclaimed that “With the “Turkish Century” programme , we desire for starting a new strong beginning of the Republic’s new century”. 

Since the Cold War, Turkiye has been aspiring to position itself in the whirlpool of global politics. One of the aspirations can be Africa.

Africa, the second biggest continent of the world, still catches the attention of the West , Russia, China, the Arab World and others as it contains the abundance of natural resources and several strategic pivots such as the Suez Canal and the Bab-al Mandab strait (Where several nations maintain military bases in Djibouti to protect its trade vessels from pirates). Just like the previous countries, Turkey is attempting to maintain a presence in Africa. Thus, Africa might be an essential part of the vision which President Erdogan is vigorously pursuing.

Brief History

The first presence of Turks in Africa was around the 9-13th century when some high-ranking generals  and governors of Turkish origin were serving the Abbasid Caliphate and created several dynasties (the most infamous would be the Mamluks) that ruled Egypt until the invasion of the Ottoman Empire in 1517. As the Ottoman Empire was expanding its horizons, the main attention for Africa was mostly centered on North Africa due to the geographic proximity.  However, the European powers pursued its colonial ambitions from the 18th to late 19th century and the Ottoman Empire was in a staggering decline. The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 paved a route for these expanding colonial empires to expand their empires into Africa deeply. Yet, the Ottoman Empire was barely holding its presence in North Africa. From the late 19th century, Egypt was nominally under the control of the British Empire despite being one of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The Kingdom of Italy, however, delivered a final blow to the Ottoman Empire  as it targeted Libya to be part of their expanding colonial empire in 1911. As a result, the presence of Turks in Africa was severely limited until the mid 20th century.  After the First World War and the War of Independence, the newly established Republic of Turkiye’s foreign policy was primarily focused on European powers and its neighboring countries due to the reconstruction of their young state and security concerns.

Nevertheless, Ankara established diplomatic relations and opened a few embassies in Egypt and Ethiopia respectfully as these two countries were only independent countries from the Western hegemony to a certain extent. Thus, this action became the first step of establishing Turkish presence as a  Republic in Africa.

From Cold war to late 1990s

During the beginning of the Cold war, Turkiye was initially not keen to support the newly founded independent African states as it did not want to sour its relations with the West due to the security threat from the Soviet Union.  Despite the initial reluctance, Turkiye was gradually opening its embassies as the decolonization process took place in Africa. From 1923 to 1998, the  number of embassies in Africa increased from mere two to robust twelve. The 1974 Cyprus crisis, however, illustrated the vulnerability of its reliance on the West. Therefore, Turkiye intensified its diversification of diplomatic channels. The collapse of the Soviet Union and globalization coincidentally presented an opportunity for Turkiye to exert its influence. In 1998, the Turkish government drafted a plan called the “Africa Action Plan”. The plan was aimed to increase its embassies and consulates in Africa and deepen the economic, humanitarian and military cooperations between Turkiye and African states. Yet, during the 1990s, the Turkish economy was experiencing severe fluctuations and the 28th February coup d’etat halted the prospect of its materialization. Nevertheless, these socio-economic factors did not put a period on its daring ambition to exert its influence in Africa.

Contemporary era

In 2002, when the Justice and Development party (AKP) ascended to power, the direction of African policy turned to 360 degrees. Between 2002 and 2007, annual gdp growth of Turkiye was generally more plausible as it was numbering from 5% at minimum and 9.4% maximum according to the World Bank. Henceforth, it enabled the Turkish government to capitalize its resources to conduct a more successful policy towards Africa. From 2003 to 2005, the Turkish government ratified policies such as “Strategy for enhancing economic and commercial relations with Africa ” and lately “Open to Africa. Thanks to these policies, Tukriye managed to cement its relations with African countries: securing strategic partnership with the Africa Union in 2008 during the first Turkish-African cooperation summit in Istanbul and frequency of high-ranking officials’ visit to African states increased dramatically. Plus, the efforts yielded favorable results such as the obtaining non-permanent membership of the UN security council of 2009-2010 with the support of African member states and the aggressive increase of trade volume between Turkiye and Africa overall (From 2003 to 2021, the trade volume jumped from mere 5.4 billion USD to 34.5 billion USD dollars).  During the second summit of Turkish-African cooperation in Malabo in 2014, Turkiye signed a declaration of “2015-2019 joint implementation plan furthering its progress from the first summit. Turkiye is also aiming to become the second biggest country in terms of the number of embassies in Africa after France. In 2013, The number of Turkish embassies in Africa was around 35. In 2022, however, the figure jumped to 44 embassies.  Not only limited to politics and economy, Turkiye cultivated fruitful cooperation with Africa in fields of education, humanitarian, business and transportation: 15’000 african students studied in Turkiye for higher education from 1992 to present, 45 chambers of commerce were established in the continent and frequent flights from Turkish Airlines reached 60 destinations in 39 countries across Africa. So, What compelled Turkiye to proactively direct its attention to Africa? According to the IMF, the population size of Africa would reach 2.5 billion inhabitants in 2050. The number of the population indicates the potential of this new emerging market. Secondly, Africa has leverage over abundance of natural resources. The UN Environment Programme stated that Africa possesses 30% of the world’s mineral resources, 8% of natural gas, 12% of oils, 40% of the world’s gold reserves, 90% of chromium and platinum. Thus, Turkiye is pouring resources and efforts to establish prospective preferable conditions to deepen economic ties with Africa. Thirdly, Turkiye needs allies to vigorously support its diplomatic initiatives and ambitions. By having diplomatic support in international organizations like the UN and its bodies, Turkiye could elevate its position and improve its image just as it previously did in 2009 Security council elections.  But, Turkiye faces several challenges both from internal and external situations. In terms of internal situation, Turkiye faces severe economic recession as its economy hits inflation harder. Turkiye also hosts millions of refugees in its own territories from Syria. For external factors, the Russo-Ukrainian war, Gaza conflict and Syrian conflict could delay its initiatives towards Africa.  Aside from the conflicts , Turkiye would face fierce competition with countries such as France and China. To summarize, Turkiye managed to consolidate impressive influence in Africa since the establishment of the Republic. However, Turkiye’s external and internal factors could decide whether Turkiye could succeed its goals in Africa. If Turkiye could overcome the ongoing challenges in a plausible and smooth way, it would benefit President Erdogan’s “Turkish Century”vision significantly.