David Shinn, Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

Whatever the outcome of Turkey’s political deadlock, business and cultural connections are too deeply embedded to allow interest in Turkey’s Africa strategy to cease, writes David Shinn.

The maiden commercial flight for Turkish Airlines into Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, 6 March 2012. Photo: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images.The maiden commercial flight for Turkish Airlines into Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, 6 March 2012. Photo: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images.

Summary

  • Turkey’s engagement in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years has been driven by the region’s growing economic importance to Ankara; its interest in diversifying away from the Middle East; and the apparent desire for influence among sub-Saharan Africa’s large Muslim population.
  • Turkey’s increasingly strained relations with traditional partners in the Middle East suggest that it will continue to expand its Africa strategy. The number of Turkish embassies in the region has risen, as have the number of high-level bilateral visits. The Second Turkey–Africa Partnership Summit was held in Equatorial Guinea in late 2014.
  • Somalia has been central to Turkey’s Africa strategy. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Mogadishu in 2011 was the first by a non-African head of government in almost 20 years, and Turkish business and humanitarian agencies and NGOs are increasingly present in the country.
  • Trade with sub-Saharan African countries represents only a fraction of Turkey’s global trade, but foreign direct investment is increasing, and a number of free trade agreements are being negotiated. Turkish businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, 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.
  • Turkish aid to sub-Saharan Africa has grown. The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) has expanded its presence, and there has been significant growth in the number of Turkish scholarships available to African students.
  • Turkish humanitarian organizations are prominent in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in those countries with significant Muslim populations. However, organizations linked to Fethullah Gülen have found their operations under increasing pressure from the AKP government following the rift between Erdoğan and his former ally – although some African governments have apparently resisted pressure from Ankara to close down Gülenist-run schools.