Turkey seeks to regain foothold in Africa


A century after the last Ottoman soldier left Libya, Turkey is seeking to make a comeback in Africa, eager to consolidate its status as a regional power and to open new markets.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul’s official visits to Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo last month underscored increased efforts by the Islamist-rooted government for closer contacts with the continent, where many share the country’s predominantly Muslim faith.

In 2008, Turkey held a first summit of cooperation with African leaders, hoping to organise similar events every five years, and won the status of a “strategic partner” from the African Union.

The number of Turkish embassies on the continent has risen from 12 to 17 in the past two years and preparations are under way to inaugurate 10 more.
“Africa is a region on which we will focus a lot in the coming years and decades,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, who is responsible for the economy, told AFP.
“Turkish business people are really interested in Africa… They go there without encountering any prejudice. They receive a warm welcome.”

Turkish exports to Africa have grown by more than seven times in a decade to reach 10.2 billion dollars in 2009, making approximately 10 % of its total exports, according to official figures.

Imports from African countries have doubled in the same period, reaching 5.5 billion dollars.

Faced with tough competition from Chinese and European traders, Turkish companies rely primarily on textiles as they push for a place on the African market.

Some Turkish brands, such as food and beverages giant Ulker, have already established themselves on the continent.

In Africa, “we have begun to distinguish Turkish goods from Chinese products due to their quality. Turkish goods mean European quality on a cheaper price,” said Abdou Diallo, a Senegalese businessman based in Istanbul.

It was almost by chance that Turkey grasped the potential for revived ties with Africa, where the Ottoman Empire once held vast territories from Algeria to Sudan before losing them to European colonial powers, with the last one — Libya — occupied by Italy in 1912.
“Turkey discovered Africa when it launched its campaign to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council,” conceded a Turkish diplomat, who requested anonymity.

Eager for a stronger say on the global diplomatic scene, Turkey led an active campaign to win the two-year seat on the Security Council, reaching its goal in October 2008 with the solid support of African votes.
“Out of the 53 African countries, 51 voted for Turkey,” Babacan recalled.

Since then, efforts at rapprochement with Africa have been stepped up as part of a broader drive to balance Turkish foreign policy, which had focused exclusively on the West since the 1950s, securing the country a membership in NATO and a candidacy status for European Union accession.
“The government has a firm intention to be everywhere and make Turkey a mid-scale power that counts,” said Cengiz Aktar, an international relations expert at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University.

However, the scholar raised doubts on how much influence Turkey could ultimately achieve on the continent.
“To speak of a Turkish Africa policy is a little too much… Such a policy lacks an institutional and academic basis as Turks know very little about Africa,” he said.

Pic:Flag of Turkey

Source: www.africasia.com