The Iran Project

Africa springboard for Erdogan’s foreign policy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Alwaght – Since the rise to power of Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey in 2002, Africa came into focus of the Turkish foreign policy makers. Since then, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey paid more than 30 visits to the African states, and in 2016 raised the Turkish embassies in Africa to 39.

Ankara under a variety of aid plans between 2012 and 2013 provided the African nations with $800 million. The African Union in 2008 announced Turkey as one of its strategic partners. The first high-level Turkish-African forum was held in the same year in Istanbul.

The Turkish president Erdogan earlier this week started a tour to Africa, visiting the three countries of Sudan, Chad, and Tunisia. He arrived in Sudan on Tuesday amid official reception ceremony held by the senior Sudanese officials. Before the visit, he hailed his country’s large number of diplomatic missions in Africa and said “In 2005, we only had 12 embassies in Africa. But we planned for increasing them. Now they are 39. We aim at opening embassies in all of the African states.”

In an interview with the country’s national television, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour hailed the Turkish president’s trip to Khartoum, saying that the visit will help boost the partnership of Sudan and Turkey. “President Erdogan’s visit will be greatly influential to the expansion of economic and political cooperation of the two sides.”

Turkey’s economic goals

Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, with 54 independent states. It is home to over 700 million people altogether who account for 15 percent of the world’s population.

According to the international estimates, 96 percent of the global diamond reserves, 65 percent of gold, 90 percent of chrome, 85 percent of platinum, 50 percent of cobalt, 55 percent of magnesium, 40 percent of bauxite, 13 percent of copper, 50 percent of phosphate, and 30 percent of thorium and uranium exist in Africa. The continent, additionally, has potentials for 25 to 30 percent of the world’s hydroelectric power, though it has managed to use a small portion of this source of power.

Turkey, a country that has been growing fast for over a decade, has worked on using Africa’s economic potentials. It takes advantage of such elements as the cultural commonalities like the common religion with many African countries. Ankara also has short and long-term investment plans in many African states. For Turkey, Africa is a major course of moving towards economic growth. Well aware of this potential, Erdogan seeks to transform Turkey into a bridge linking south to north.

To this end, Turkey, reports suggest, invested about $93 billion in Africa between 2011 and 2015. The country is working on designing a highly specific economic strategy in Africa. The first phase starts with Djibouti, the gate to the COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) free trade region which is a $ 1 trillion market.

As the time goes by, Ankara, relying on its trade relations with the regional states, moves towards an agenda of political, military, and even cultural (Muslim Brotherhood ideology) expansion in Africa. The focus, in this case, is on the Sahara and Central African countries in which Turkey has started getting a military and political toehold.

Sudan with over 2.5 million square kilometers of size is the largest country in Africa and the third largest in the Muslim world, and also the ninth in the world. It is one fourth as large as the European continent. In terms of the mineral and agricultural resources, the country is top among the other African states. Geopolitically, Sudan is a central African state, bordering a set of countries such as Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central Africa, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

Security and hegemonic goals

Under its “strategic depth” doctrine, Turkey wants to forge an orbit of allied countries including the African countries. Turkey’s position was impaired regionally and internationally as a result of losses of its past policy in such crisis-hit countries as Syria and Iraq, something pushed Erdogan to the resolution of attempting to burnish his country’s widely-tarnished image. For this Turkish aim, Africa becomes a currency because of its economic and geopolitical position. Turkey strives to stretch its foothold across Africa to build regional and international might and thus move out of the complicated situation produced by its past strategic mistakes.

Regional developments and Ankara alliance building

An influential West Asian country, Turkey is engaged in a tight race of influence with Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional heavyweights. But recently Tehran and Ankara have been getting along very closely, working in such cases as Syria and Iraq, and joining their diplomatic forces to push against the American President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of the Israeli regime and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the so-called new capital. The partnership with the Islamic Republic deepens Erdogan’s challenge with the Saudis and grows more decisive in shaping the Turkish leader’s regional policies. The clash of the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi reading of Islam and the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood-style reading of Islam has driven a wedge between the two regional actors. The conflict of ideological views also drew different reactions from Riyadh and Ankara when it came to dealing with the 2011 Arab world uprisings. But the most painful blow to the Turkish-Saudi ties was dealt when the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and the Saudi-led Arab alliance imposed a blockade on Qatar, an ally of Turkey.

Another sphere of Riyadh-Ankara fight for influence is the race for the Muslim world leadership. Turkey does so by a seriously-taken effort to revive the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire in the shape of novel Islamic civilization spearheaded by Ankara. The kingdom struggles towards this aim in its own style: Adopting a Wahhabi reading of Islam and accentuating the pan-Arabism in a bid to become the Muslim world’s Umm Al-Qura, an Arabic title denoting leadership and seniority both.

This competition with Saudi Arabia makes Turkey resolved to struggle for a role in the African countries, especially the Muslim ones, to get them to its side. This will help it with checking the Saudi ground gain in the black continent.

The Turkish president builds his efforts on the pro-Muslim Brotherhood tendency among the highest levels of the rule in Sudan in a bid to promote his own reading of Islam in Central Africa. Sudan shares borders with Egypt, where the pro-Muslim Brotherhood inclinations in large part of the society run high. Closer ties with Khartoum will help Erdogan press Egypt that is dealing with Muslim Brotherhood with an iron fist.

It should be noted that pro-Muslim Brotherhood tendencies are present in other African nations like Chad and Libya. With this policy arrangement, Ankara gets larger maneuvering potentials in the face of its regional rivals, on top of them Saudi Arabia.

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