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Turkey delights in Africa

Turkey delights in Africa
  • PublishedJanuary 1, 2016

Turkey – one of the so-called MINT economies – has steadily increased its economic and political footprint in Africa for the past ten years since it declared 2005 the Year of Africa. Farid Farid looks at some of the inroads  Africa’s latest emerging partner is making.

Turkey’s strained relations with some of its traditional partners in North Africa after the so-called Arab Spring have helped shift the country’s business focus to other opportunities, especially those found in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, Turkish exports to the continent account for nearly 10% of the total. 

And while economic heavyweights such as China and the United States have invested billions in Africa, they have not created many jobs and that is the gap Turkey is filling. According to the Africa Investment Report 2015 released last September, Turkish companies have created nearly 17,000 jobs in the past 5 years alone. Turkey is a member of the emerging  MINT block, an acronym referring to the economies of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey.

David Shinn, a former American ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, tells New African:  “Increasingly, African countries are asking how they can benefit from trade with Turkey”. Shinn, a professor of African affairs at George Washington University, authored a recent report entitled Turkey’s Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa noting, “Turkish businesses…are carving out a niche in construction and in information and communications technology, and Turkish Airlines is becoming prominent as a carrier to the region”.

Even though he was sceptical of the claims about job creation, Shinn argued that there is no doubt about the increased investment opportunities. Turkish companies have so far invested about $1.2 billion in the textile industry in Ethiopia alone, which is more than total Chinese investment in the same industry.  In 2011, the total volume of trade was around $20 billion between Turkey and Africa.


Deep in Somalia

And the Turkish government is also leveraging some political weight in other ways. For example, Somalia crystallises how Turkey has played the role of a political mediator between warring factions and has been a vital economic partner in rebuilding the country, which in the past two years has shown some stability after its protracted civil conflict.

Abdirashid Hashi, who heads up the Heritage Institute in Mogadishu, sees the expansive partnership between Ankara and Mogadishu as “sort of a match made in heaven”.

“Ankara’s Somalia involvement should be seen as part and parcel of Turkey’s wider Africa strategy. The then Somali president and government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who were seeking a big brother and or a developed country that could help Somalia stand on its feet worked hard and cultivated the relationship,” he explained to New African.

Hashi, a political insider who was an adviser to the current Somali prime minister Omar Sharmarke, told New African that even though president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed visited Turkey many times in 2009 and 2010, Turkey’s aggressive economic engagement was sparked by the 2011 famine in Somalia. His government mobilised Turkish society to help and his efforts paid off, with Mogadishu awarding  million dollar large-scale contracts given to Turkish companies.

“Turkey’s approach in Somalia was and is comprehensive as its assistance reached many sectors of society. It gave the federal government millions of dollars [in] direct budget support, in contrast to the traditional donors who were telling the Somali government, we do not want you to manage the revenue you gather from ports and airports so we need to create joint public finance management,” Hashi added.

A Turkish consortium of various construction companies also took over the management of the Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu in June 2013.

To ensure more transparency the Turkish government amended the deal with Favori LLC after it was dogged by accusations of corruption and lack of competition in the awarding of contracts. The consortium proudly boasts on its website that it is the “first and sole Turkish handling company in Africa”. Turkish Airlines is the only major international carrier currently flying in and out of the Somali capital.

In January 2015, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was the first non-African head of state in 20 years to visit Mogadishu in 2011, unveiled the newly refurbished airport. On the same visit he also opened the biggest hospital in Mogadishu, with over 200 beds, cementing Turkey’s reputation as a smart partner that can harness humanitarian needs into economic opportunities.

“Here comes Turkey with direct support. Which do you think the [Somali] government would be grateful for – the donors who tell them, you are not trustworthy, or Turkey, which provides resources it could [use to] pay its employees!” Hashi pondered.

Somalis, Hashi noted, “are very positive about Turkey and its investments in Somalia” but that hasn’t stopped several attacks by the terrorist Al-Shabaab group on Turkish officials, something that has in turn only bolstered the security cooperation between the two countries, with the support of other nations such as South Africa. Aselsan, a Turkish defence firm specialising in electro-optical systems, with a turnover of $1 billion, is one company that recently expanded its South African branch into Somalia.

In the field of education, over 5,000 students from sub-Saharan countries were awarded scholarships to study in Turkey – 1,000 alone in Somalia according to Hashi.

However, Turkish engagement with Africa is not just promoted by Erdogan’s government. The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, an important business association with economic clout, is also promoting a fierce economic push into Africa. It is affiliated with Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish preacher based in Pennsylvania, who has a huge following in Turkey and its diaspora for his conservative but tolerant brand of Islam. He has been a nemesis of Erdogan’s and locked in a political tussle lasting for years.

The Gulen movement is at the forefront of humanitarian and educational projects with nearly 100 schools in sub-Saharan Africa and a university in Abuja to boot, called the Nigerian Turkish Nile University. NA

Written By
New African

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