Turkey in Africa: an all-round presence

What is the goal of Turkey in Africa ?

Analysis – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is making another visit to the African continent this week. Angola, Nigeria and Togo: three stages for what constitutes his fifteenth tour of Africa, as Prime Minister then Head of State? Africa, a priority stake for the Turkish authorities? Interview with Jean Marcou, professor at Sciences-Po Grenoble and associate researcher at the French Institute of Anatolian Studies.

PAYROLL TURKEY JOURNALIST : Not a year goes by without Recep Tayyip Erdogan touring Africa. He has already visited around thirty countries. In two months, moreover, his country will host the 3rd Turkey-Africa summit. The African continent seems to be a priority today in the Turkish influence strategy.

Jean Montagné: For twenty years now, Turkey’s foreign policy has turned towards Africa. This was already the case even before the AKP took power in 2002. But since this party has been in power, there have been tours every year, or at least high-level visits by Turkish leaders to the countries. African countries. This first materialized in a considerable growth in economic exchanges, then in ties forged with a very large number of countries where Turkey previously did not even have diplomatic representation. Turkey opened its 43rd African Embassy in April 2021 in Togo. Conversely, we have also observed the development of the establishment of diplomatic representations in Ankara of African countries. One of the concrete illustrations of this development of economic and diplomatic relations is notably the omnipresence of Turkish Airlines, which has become one of the largest companies in the world. What we have also observed is a development of cultural and religious relations, even humanitarian ones. Initially, via the Gülen movement, then subsequently, for six years now, with a takeover of these schools. We also observe the establishment of mosques, the development of charitable works, humanitarian organizations which are often religious organizations. This very dense African policy initially concerned rather the eastern part of the continent, the Horn of Africa, with Somalia, but also now West Africa, as we can see with this visit today to Angola. , Nigeria and Togo. This presence, finally, is also of a military nature. On the African continent, as it was able to do also in Syria obviously, but also in the Caucasus to support Azerbaijan, Turkey intervened in Libya. Turkey has deployed drones which are now a military production which interests many countries, I am thinking of Tunisia or Morocco. Finally, beyond the supply of military equipment, there are also bases. This is already the case in Somalia, but there is talk of a military establishment of Turkey in Chad, even in other countries. It is a policy that can be described as bottom-up.

PAYROLL TURKEY JOURNALIST : We understand that this is an all-out presence of Turkey on the African continent. But what is the goal?

Jean Montagné: I think that on the one hand, there is an economic dimension because Turkey needs to find new markets. The development of its influence in Africa at the beginning, was strongly guided by economic and commercial objectives. But beyond that, I think there is also a policy like the strategy of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that is to say a policy of new regional powers. These regional powers are now trying to have an influence that goes beyond even their immediate environment, ie Europe and the Middle East. They want to gain a foothold on other continents. Africa is the first among them but we have seen Turkey also very present in Latin America, or in Asian countries such as Malaysia, India, Indonesia or Pakistan. Turkey is a country that is trying to globalize its foreign policy.

PAYROLL TURKEY JOURNALIST : How does this Turkish strategy in Africa differ from the much talked about Chinese and Russian strategies?

Jean Montagné: I think that the African continent has become a field of expansion for all these powers which are in search of a renewal or a development of their power. It is obviously on the economic level. For years, China has become Africa’s first trading partner, competing with countries that were very established such as, for example, France. Russia is on the rise again, especially in North Africa, but now also in sub-Saharan Africa. But with Turkey, we can see, in a way, an export of Middle Eastern antagonisms to Africa since we have seen, especially in East Africa and in the Horn, Turkey, often financially supported by Qatar, challenge presences from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We have seen it in Syria, but we have also seen it in Sudan. We see it in Somalia, we see it in Ethiopia. So there is a kind of continuation of Middle Eastern geopolitics in Africa.

Turkey in Africa : The question of the Gülen schools

Founded by Fethullah Gülen, a preacher once close to Turkish power, the Gülen school network has grown in Africa. But in July 2016, the man was accused of being behind the attempted coup in Turkey. It is disgrace and Erdogan is working to close the Gülen schools one by one. “They have played a very important role with the development of English-speaking Turkish schools in the East of the African continent and French-speaking Turkish schools in the West,” recalls Jean Marcou. But since 2016, Turkey has sought to regain control of this presence via a religious foundation, the Maarif Foundation. Added to this is a fairly strong pressure, because despite everything, some Gülen schools have managed to survive “.

This question of the Gülen schools could have been a subject of tension between Turkey and Nigeria which is reluctant to close them. “It all depends on the influence, the strength of the country, underlines Jean Marcou. A country like Nigeria, which is one of the leading African economic powers, precisely has the means to negotiate on an equal footing with Turkey. This has not been the case in other countries where Gülen schools have not withstood the pressure from Ankara “.