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What drives Turkey’s growing influence in Africa?

27 23 4

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey lost its interest in Africa where it ruled the north of the continent for years. But since Turkey was granted observer status in the African Union (AU) in 2005, as “the year of Africa” in its foreign policy, it has broken cover with its traditionally cautious and inward-looking approach, and has since tripled its trade links to Africa. Turkey’s shift from its focus on its Western partners and its deployment of subtle, but also soft power, approach to Africa has been instrumental in winning local support for its involvement in trade and other critical investment projects in the continent.

Turkey’s overarching motivation for more grounded relations with African nations can be attributed to mainly economic purposes. Africa has untapped natural resources that countries like Turkey would want to utilise for its manufacturing industries, and African governments with their higher rates of youth unemployment are interested in Turkey’s investment opportunities, infrastructure and job creation.

“Turkey’s increasing interest in Africa stems from the fact that there is a huge potential to develop all the aspects of relations between Turkey and the African continent as a whole, especially on the economic level,” researcher and political analyst Ali Bakeer told me. “For example, Ankara’s trade volume with Africa increased from around $5.4 billion in 2003 to around $26 billion in 2019, with $16 billion exports to Africa,” he explains.

Turkey’s recent entry into Africa started as humanitarian assistance to Somalia, which later turned into a comprehensive endeavour to rebuild Somalia. This, by extension, had drawn Turkey to explore other countries in Africa. It is Turkey’s humanitarian assistance to countries like Somalia that has helped bolster Ankara’s image in African countries. Its model of combining diplomatic, development and humanitarian support has seen a real impact on the ground.

As one local senior development practitioner told me, in Somalia, the Turkish stayed and delivered. This Turkish model of development was welcomed in 2013 by the then Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud who described it as “the Turkish way of doing things.” It was the Turkish president’s visit in 2011 that is considered to have........

© Middle East Monitor