Turkey’s decade-long economic boom has been accompanied by a renewed interest in Africa; trade with Africa has increased from $3bn in 2003 to $20bn – most of it in Turkey’s favour. Editor-at-Large Baffour Ankomah in Istanbul reports on a conference on efforts to further bolster trade links.
Turkey’s love affair with Africa since 2005, when its then Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered an intensified rapprochement with the continent, has blossomed beyond even Erdogan’s wildest dreams, if attendance figures at the first-ever Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum, held in Istanbul on 2-3 November 2016, are any guide. Over 3,000 people attended, more than 2,000 of them Africans who were prepared to leave their businesses in 45 African countries to fly to Istanbul to interact with their Turkish counterparts and strike business deals.
The Forum – jointly organised by the Turkish Ministry of Economy, the African Union Commission, Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK), and the Turkish Exporters Assembly – was meant to provide a platform for businesses in Turkey and Africa to network and create long-lasting relationships for their mutual interest.
The format was ideal. Over two days, business-to-government, and business-to-business meetings were organised. The duration was short and sharp, leaving no room for feet dragging. As a result, a high number of trade agreements were signed between African and Turkish businesses.
Taking into consideration that Turkey (with a population of 80 million) has made remarkable economic progress over the last decade, to the point of becoming a major economic power in the region, it has committed itself to sharing its development experience with Africa in order to strengthen cooperation between them.
Tellingly, trade relations are more to Turkey’s immense advantage than Africa’s. For example, from a mere $3.6bn in 2003 before the start of Turkey’s “Africa Partnership Policy”, trade with Africa has shot up to $20bn today. In 2003, Africa’s exports to Turkey made up only 3% of Turkey’s overall global trade. By 2014 the amount had increased marginally to 5%, not much to write home about. It is one of the reasons why the Business Forum was organised, to encourage more African trade to Turkey and enhance the bilateral relations and make it less one way.
But whatever happens, Turkey’s impressive economic advancement means that its trade figures with Africa will always be lopsided against Africa. The country that geographically is a bridge between Europe and Asia is on a roll, economically.
In 10 short years, the Turkish economy has boomed in such a way that the faces of the country’s two most important cities – Ankara, the political capital, and Istanbul, the commercial capital – have changed dramatically. Years of economic growth have seen investments in infrastructure nationwide, such as new roads, airports, and a highspeed train network.
Turkey is building the largest airport in the world outside Istanbul. Called the Istanbul New Airport, it will have 6 runways, an annual passenger capacity of 200 million, and the world’s biggest duty-free shop, when all four phases of the construction work are completed in 2028. Phase one, to be completed in December 2018, will be the largest terminal under one roof in the world, able to serve 90 million passengers a year.
When Erdogan became prime minister in 2002 (he morphed into president after the country’s first election that directly elected a president in August 2014), Turkey was “a basket case”, owing $35bn to the IMF, according to Mehmet Akarca, director general of press and information in the Turkish prime minister’s office. But the great economic strides the country has made under Erdogan’s government have seen the $35bn repaid and Turkey even becoming a net lender to the IMF, to the tune of $500m.
Sitting on the ruins of great empires of yore (Byzantine and Ottoman), and now the 17th largest economy in the world, Turkey wants to move up the ladder to become the 10th largest economy by 2023 and a major global power by 2071, which is the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Manzikert, when the Seljuq Turks (the ancestors of modern Turks) decisively defeated the Byzantine army on 26 August 1071, a defeat that led to a gradual Turkification of the Anatolia peninsula, where Turkey is currently located.
Turkey’s development assistance to Africa has touched lives across the continent. The monetary value exceeded £3.6bn in 2014.
About 250 miles across the Mediterranean Sea to the south of Turkey lie the northern edges of the African continent – the Maghreb – which used to be Turkey’s traditional haunt in Africa, where it conducted much of its African policy, until Erdogan decided to change matters.
That “policy” has since given birth to an exponential increase in Turkey’s diplomatic representation in Africa, from 10 embassies in 2008 to 39 today (Erdogan says Turkey will have embassies in all 54 African states in the next few years), an increase in Turkish Airlines flights from 10 destinations in Africa in 2008 to 48 today (taking the passenger volume from 150,000 in 2003 to two million in 2014), an increase in African embassies in Turkey from three in 2008 to 32 today, an increase in Turkish direct investment in Africa from a “statistically negligible” position in 2003 (according to the Turkish foreign ministry) to $6bn today, and since 1992 Turkey has given over 6,000 scholarships to Africans to study in Turkish universities.
How Turkey’s diplomatic presence evolved in Africa: from 12 to 39 missions. pic.twitter.com/HwgGyp0owS— Turkish Mission OIC (@TurkeyOIC) December 12, 2016
There has also been a sharp increase in the Turkish development assistance to Africa, administered by its Cooperation and Coordinating Agency (TIKA). In 2008, TIKA had only three offices in Africa, today it has 21. TIKA is now active in 54 African countries, quietly helping in all sectors of African life, and most prominently in Somalia, a country where only the brave tread.
According to Dr Serder Cam, president of TIKA, Turkey has become the world’s leader in terms of giving development assistance, while being third in Africa. Turkey gives 0.54% of its GDP to official development assistance, a feat that gives Dr Cam enormous satisfaction: “Although Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world, we give more in ODA per capita than the richest countries. Our giving comes from our culture. We give without expecting anything back. Unlike the other rich countries, we don’t give a spoonful and expect to reap a bucketful. We provide aid not to destroy the pride of our recipients.”
TIKA’s work in Somalia has been massive and exemplary. A nation that many rich countries would not touch even with a long barge pole, Somalia somehow touched the heartstrings of President Erdogan who, according to Dr Cam, ordered TIKA in early 2011 to go and help Somalia. Later, Erdogan himself followed by paying a state visit to Somalia on 19 August 2011.
Since then, the Turkish Relief Operation in Somalia (run by TIKA) has seen $350m given to Somalia in development assistance, the construction of 34km of new roads in Mogadishu and the rehabilitation of existing ones (all provided with solar streetlights), and the building of a 200-bed hospital in Mogadishu, fully equipped and with Turkish doctors to boot. The Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, joyfully acknowledges that: “TIKA is not the agency that puts the most money in Somalia, according to statistics. But in terms of impact on the ground, on the life of ordinary Somalis, I can say that there is no other agency we can compare it with.”
Sudan welcomes Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan to Khartoum on a state visit a 150-bed training and research hospital in Darfur, Sudan, which is now the most advanced and bestequipped hospital in Darfur.
Operating on the principle of “African solutions for African problems”, TIKA’s assistance to Africa has touched lives all across the continent. The monetary value exceeded $3.6bn in 2014, in contrast to $73m in 2002. One of the highlights of the assistance is a 150-bed training and research hospital in Darfur, Sudan, which is now the most advanced and best equipped hospital in Darfur.
No wonder, with such a pedigree in Africa, President Erdogan felt he was speaking to real friends when opening the Business Forum in Istanbul. “We share a common fate,” he told the Africans. “We consider the priority of the African continent as our priority. There is a nice African proverb that says that one day’s rain cannot get deep into the soil. We would like to remain friends forever.”
“The culture of our African brothers is not taken into consideration. Globalisation is a new form of colonialism, of modern slavery.”
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Said by his critics to be “an autocratic leader intolerant of dissent who harshly silences anyone who opposes him”, Erdogan feels betrayed by his European neighbours and American friends in the wake of the abortive but bloody coup d’état against his government on 15 July 2016, allegedly staged by followers of the US-based Turkish Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan.
As many as 246 people were killed and 2,194 others injured during the abortive coup, but America has refused to extradite Gulen to stand trial in Turkey. Thousands and thousands of suspects, including journalists, have been arrested or sacked from their jobs in the wake of the coup.
Thus, Erdogan was in an uncompromising mood as he spoke at the Business Forum, reminding the Africans present that they needed all-weather friends like Turkey for bad and good days. He said the West was still furthering its colonial agenda by using globalisation as a control mechanism.
“In the name of globalisation,” he said, “one growth model has been dictated to different countries. If you want to grow your economy, you need to find the IMF, the World Bank or an interest rate hike. You cannot go beyond the limits they set for you in the infrastructure projects and defence industry. You must obey the definition of democracy.
“In order to be part of the global system, you have to obey the current system unconditionally. The culture of our African brothers is not taken into consideration. The contemporary globalisation is a new form of colonialism, of modern slaver y.”
Urging Africa and Turkey not to depend on others, Erdogan said: “Turkey and Africa’s modern history has been rewritten but only through resistance. We have declared that we will not be cursed of the earth.
“Africans have won their freedoms with their teeth and fingernails, not with grace. Our friends in Africa have reached where they are today with brave and visionary leaders like Nkrumah, Lumumba, Kenyatta and Mandela … So we cannot accept the system where certain countries are in the producers’ position and others are just to consume. We should never compromise on our achievements.”
Erdogan assured Africa that Turkish investors would continue to show keen interest in the continent, and together with their African counterparts, work to ensure that the relationship becomes win-win for all. He illustrated his point by paraphrasing an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, we will go together, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, and side by side.”
Nothing could better his illustration.