Turkey seeks to become an African power again

President Erdogan is stepping up travel and investment in Africa.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received with honors in Dakar in late January. (ERCIN TOP / ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)


Turkey strengthens its positions in Africa

Turkish power is reaping the fruits of a proactive African policy. But, by sending his troops to Libya, President Erdogan may see his credit with Africans eroded

January 31, 2020 (Le Temps) – We don’t count Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trips to Africa anymore. The Turkish president made a new tour of the continent this week. In Algeria, he was the first foreign head of state received by the new Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune. He then flew for the first time to The Gambia before reaching Senegal, his fourth visit to the West African country.

In Dakar, Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Tuesday that Turkish investments in Senegal would reach $ 1 billion in 2020, three times the level of 2018. Turkish companies will participate in several major projects: such as the construction of a new city near Dakar or the construction of a railway line. After taking over the site from the Saudi manufacturer Bin Laden, a Turkish group obtained management of the Dakar international airport, inaugurated in 2017.

The battle for education

Economy first, but also cultural and religious cooperation. Turkey is already funding mosques in Senegal, a Muslim country too. A new agreement has been signed in the field of education. This is to regain the lost ground after Turkey imposed the closure in Senegal of schools funded by the powerful movement of Fethullah Gülen, accused of the failed coup against the Turkish president in 2016. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has elsewhere thanked his host for the “help” in his fight to the death against Gülen.

The movement had a hundred schools across the continent. When Turkey won, these establishments had to close during the school year. “The Gülen movement was the spearhead of Turkey in Africa,” said Jean-François Bayart, professor at the Institute for Advanced International Studies and Development (IHEID). The break between the two men “cracked the Turkish window”, continues the professor. In Senegal, these schools formed the elite of the country and their closure provoked protest movements.

Turkey’s interest in Africa is not new. When the door to the European Union closed in the 2000s, the Turkish economy, today the thirteenth in the world, sought new outlets.

Turkey is today reaping the fruits of a coherent and proactive policy of “opening up to Africa”, as it proclaimed in 2005. Since the Islamist party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power three years earlier, the number of embassies in Africa has quadrupled, so that Turkey is now present in almost all countries of the continent. For comparison, Switzerland has 18 embassies in Africa. As for the airline Turkish Airlines, it currently serves nearly 60 African destinations, a competitive alternative to travel to the continent.

“Turkey benefits from its position as an outsider,” analyzes Jean-François Bayart. Clearly, Africans are fed up with head to head with the former French colonial power and Turkey is seen as less aggressive than China, another outsider of the West in Africa. But Turkish investments remain far from the level of France and China, $ 100 billion in investments between them in 2017, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Returning to Africa on tiptoe – the Ottoman Empire extended at its peak from Algeria to Eritrea -, Turkey knew how to take risks to win hearts and then consolidate its positions. Somalia, a country imploded and neglected by the international community, is an emblematic case. In 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first non-African head of state to visit Mogadishu, torn apart by insecurity and famine. Then Prime Minister, he dragged the Turkish humanitarian aid agency in his wake, to the point where Somalia quickly became the country most helped by Turkey.

A military base in Mogadishu

“This image of the leader of the world’s Muslims pleases Erdogan’s electoral base. This makes it possible to strengthen its power on the national scene, that is the first spring of the African policy of Turkey”, explained recently a Turkish academic to the think tank International Crisis Group. The ICG was concerned about the power struggles in Africa between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the one hand, and Qatar and Turkey on the other.

Turkey now has a military base in Mogadishu, where it trains the Somali army. It has also recovered in Sudan. From the port of Suakin, which Khartoum has granted it for 99 years, Turkey can almost contemplate Mecca and Medina, on the other side of the Red Sea. To the chagrin of the great Saudi rival, who considers himself the sole guardian of the holy places.

In Africa, Turkish diplomats and aid workers have therefore paved the way for entrepreneurs and soldiers. But Turkey’s military intervention in Libya, alongside the Tripoli government, contrasts with this cautious strategy. “Not only does Turkey get directly involved in the Libyan conflict, but it transfers its Syrian auxiliaries, fighters close to Al-Qaida, there. African leaders view this intervention with a negative eye, “said Jean-François Bayart. Because it adds fuel to the Libyan fire and African countries are not insensitive to it. The Sahel is already teetering under the attack of jihadist groups. Africans see it as a consequence of the fall of Colonel Gaddafi and the dispersal of Libyan arsenals. Will the Turkish intervention in Libya damage the image of Erdogan the African?

By Simon Petite

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What are the driving forces behind Turkish regional expansionism?

January 27, 2020 (Le Figaro) – Military adventurism in Syria and Libya, an ambiguous mixture of competition and collusion with Moscow, a double game against Westerners: what is President Erdogan really looking for?

Military interventions in Syria and Libya, exaltation of the neo-Ottoman dream, energetic ambitions: by turning more and more the back to the West, Recep Tayyip Erdogan extends his influence in the Middle East. In a few years, the Turkish president has established himself, with Russia, as one of the new masters of the game in the region. Is Turkey in the process of switching from “soft power” to “hard power”?

We remember the formula: “zero problems with neighbors”, so dear to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs (then ex-Prime Minister) Ahmet Davutoglu. In the early 2000s, the AKP, the Islamic-conservative party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had promised to offer a new regional dynamic: improving diplomatic relations with Iran and the Arab countries, including Syria, strengthening of commercial ties. After long years of isolation, Ankara had even assumed the role of mediator in some of the most sensitive conflicts in the region, negotiating the resumption of talks between Syria and Israel, or between Fatah and Hamas. Then, she embarked on a proactive policy of soft power: Turkish television series translated into Arabic in surrounding countries, development of a humanitarian aid network via new organizations such as Afad or IHH. Today, the situation has changed. “Turkish policy in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East represents a reversal of a long tradition. It is now a muscular policy aimed at upsetting several pre-existing balances. Basically, there is of course a strong motivation for domestic policy,” observes Marc Pierini, former European ambassador to Turkey and Syria, and researcher with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

A regional adventurism motivated by national ambitions?

The political context of Turkey has influenced its regional involvement. By allying himself with the ultra-nationalist party MHP to cure its crisis of popularity, Erdogan took up, in the space of a few years, a posture of go-to-war with three military offensives in the north of Syria: Euphrates Shield “in Jaraboulous against the last Daesh lock on its border, in 2016, then” Olive branch “in Afrine in 2018 and” Source of peace “in 2019 aimed at killing the independence project of the Kurds of Syria – and, by extension, to eliminate the Kurdish rebels from the PKK. But Turkey is also a victim of its geography. “Ankara’s regional policy has been largely affected by the Syrian crisis,” said former Turkish foreign minister Yasar Yakis. A policy which has itself evolved in the wake of the neighboring war: “After blindly betting on the rapid fall of Bashar al-Assad, during the Arab Spring of 2011, Erdogan went from an anti-Damascus obsession to an obsession anti-PKK, by deploying its efforts against the YPG Kurdish militias in northern Syria. This new approach is also underpinned by the growing desire to return part of the approximately 4 million refugees present in southern Turkey to the so-called “security” zone in northern Syria, under increased pressure from the Turkish population. by deploying its efforts against the YPG Kurdish militias in northern Syria. This new approach is also underpinned by the growing desire to return part of the approximately 4 million refugees present in southern Turkey to the so-called “security” zone in northern Syria, under increased pressure from the Turkish population. by deploying its efforts against the YPG Kurdish militias in northern Syria. This new approach is also underpinned by the growing desire to return part of the approximately 4 million refugees present in southern Turkey to the so-called “security” zone in northern Syria, under increased pressure from the Turkish population.

Does the recent Turkish intervention in Libya signal a new course?

Each action has its mode of action. By announcing the sending of troops to Libya against Marshal Haftar’s offensive, the Turkish president went from a protectionist position to an expansionist one. In his speeches, tinged with Ottoman and martial rhetoric, he summons the past to legitimize his regional ambitions. “For Erdogan, the military offensives of recent years in the north of Syria are considered as nationalist defense operations at the border. In Libya, where he uses history to justify his action, the operation is part of the neo-Ottoman policy conducted in North Africa “, observes Olivier Bouquet, professor of Ottoman history at the University of Paris -Diderot.

Turkish ambitions are also economic. A controversial agreement, signed last November with the Government of Libyan National Union, allows Ankara to claim the exploitation of certain gas and oil deposits in the Mediterranean, thanks to a new delimitation of its maritime borders. By risking to send some 2,000 Syrian auxiliaries to fight on Libyan soil against the forces of Marshal Haftar (themselves supported by the Russian mercenaries of the Wagner company), Ankara is also yielding to a new regional syndrome, that of “ militarization “, which consists in waging war by proxy (a method already dear to Russia, or even to Iran). “We are entering into a logic of military theater which replaces diplomatic logic”.

Does the Turkish-Russian duo illustrate a redistribution of cards in the region?

Alternating military pressure (Ankara and Moscow activating their pawns in opposite clans, in Syria as in Libya) and diplomatic negotiations, Erdogan and Putin have established themselves as the new masters of the regional game. “The Middle East was traditionally regarded as the European sphere of influence and preserve. After the Astana process on Syria (launched in 2017 by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, editor’s note), the recent talks initiated on Libya make Turkey and Russia key players in the region, at the expense of Westerners. They confirm the breakthrough of a diplomacy parallel to the classic Western diplomacy, “notes political scientist Jana Jabbour, author of La Turquie. The invention of an emerging diplomacy (CNRS Publishing, 2017).

Is Turkey definitely turning its back on Europe?

Long gone are the days when Erdogan, then Prime Minister, redoubled his efforts to join the European Union: abolition of the death penalty, pacification of relations with Greece and Armenia, talks with the PKK. Formerly regarded as the champion of a model capable of reconciling Islam and democracy – also cited as an example at the start of the “Arab Spring” – the Turkish head of state is now seen through the prism of his attacks on freedom of expression and its regional adventurism. If its slippage is beyond doubt, the “divorce” is also, according to experts, to be attributed to Europe. “The blockage, despite the many reforms initiated by Ankara, ended up discouraging Erdogan. In the end, he became again what he was: an oriental man, whose inclinations lead him to authoritarianism, “says researcher Bayram Balci, who heads the French Institute of Anatolian Studies. Sentiment shared by Jana Jabbour, who notes that “the Middle East offers a field of compensation for Turkey for its primary objective which was accession to Europe”. Added to this is the American disengagement which “pushed Turkey into the arms of Russia”, estimates Yasar Yakis: “Faced with Washington’s refusal to lower the prices of its Patriot missiles and to transfer technology to Ankara, Turkey ended up turning, by default, to Moscow.” to lower the prices of its Patriot missiles and to transfer the technology to Ankara, Turkey ended up turning, by default, to Moscow. “to lower the prices of its Patriot missiles and to transfer the technology to Ankara, Turkey ended up turning, by default, to Moscow.”

However, the Turks have little intention of slamming the door of Europe. “Current Euroscepticism is just a way to wash away their wounded honor. As soon as the Turks see a window of opportunity in Europe, they will once again make efforts to regain their membership. Turkey’s strategic objective is to become an internationally recognized power, and therefore to be recognized by Europe, “concludes Jana Jabbour.

By Delphine Minoui

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