“Wait, What?! Africa Obsesses over Turkey’s Election with Intense Eagerness and Emotional Spikes!”
On Thursday, May 25, 2023, Marina Daras penned an article about Turkey’s ever-expanding influence in Africa. The article begins by stating that the relationship between Turkey and Africa has been growing exponentially over the past two decades, and whoever wins the presidential run-off on Sunday will have to consider where to take the relationship next.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has taken an increasing interest in Africa since he first took office 20 years ago. He saw economic, military, and diplomatic opportunities in the continent. If he is re-elected, it is likely that the bond between Ankara and the continent will only get stronger.
However, Erdogan’s rival, Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is less likely to make Africa a priority. Kilicdaroglu has his eyes set on Europe and the West. He stressed the need for recalibrating relations with the West and said he will try to revive the accession process to the European Union. In an interview, he even said that a 180-degree turn is to be expected when it comes to foreign policy. However, he fell short of detailing how these changes will impact relations with key countries in the world.
The article then discusses when Turkey-Africa relations took off. The seeds for the enhanced cooperation between Africa and Turkey were planted during Erdogan’s stint as prime minister, which began in 2003. Erdogan saw a potential economic boon in the diverse market with more than 50 countries and more than 1.2 billion people.
Turkey’s annual trade with the continent increased from $5.4bn (£4.4bn) to $34.5bn between 2003 and 2021, according to figures from the Turkish foreign ministry, led by chemicals, steel and cereals.
The article then shifts its focus to the military interests that Turkey has in Africa. Arms deals are a clear money-maker for Ankara. After proving its worth in Libya, Armenia, and Ukraine, the Bayraktar TB-2 drone is now being presented as the perfect weapon to target the mobile and nimble jihadist groups hiding in West Africa’s Sahel region. Turkey has sold drones to Burkina Faso, Togo, and Niger – the four Sahelian nations are desperate to combat the rise of Islamist militants in the region. Turkey has also engaged in talks with Benin, which until recently was untouched by the Islamist insurgency but is now witnessing a rise in attacks and intrusions on its territory.
The article then discusses how diplomacy has shifted. Outside of the military and trade deals, Erdogan has been very active cementing the Turkey-Africa relationship. In 2005, Turkey became an observer member of the African Union before being elevated to the role of strategic partner three years later. Turkey says there have been 50 official visits to about 30 African countries since 2014. Turkey-Africa summits have always been well-attended by continental heads of state.
The article also touches upon the cultural impact that Turkey has on Africa. Turkish soap operas have become huge hits in several African countries – from Ethiopia to Senegal. Turkey is also involved in charitable work in different countries, spearheaded by Tika, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, which funds schools, religious institutions, and medical facilities.
Lastly, the article talks about the less-well known aspect of the relationship between Turkey and Africa – energy. Off the back of presidential visits, Turkish company Karpowership has signed deals for its ship-mounted power plants to supply electricity to several West African countries, and last week, South Africa. These are moored off the coast and directly plugged into the national grid, supplying between 30 MW and 470 MW per vessel.
The article concludes by stating that if Erdogan wins, he is expected to build on this relationship. However, a victory for Kilicdaroglu might push Africa down the priority list, but he is unlikely to do anything to jeopardize such deep and lucrative ties.