Nigerian Prime Minister Ali Lamin Zine's visit to Turkey earlier this February in response to an invitation from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan highlighted Turkey's role in Africa and its pursuit of expansion and influence through economic and military cooperation.
For two decades, Turkey has been working to expand its presence in the African continent, which is considered a suitable environment for investment because, according to economic estimates, it has about 65% of global resources that are untapped. .
Following the wave of coups in the Sahel that began in Mali in 2020 and the decline of French influence in West Africa, Ankara has stepped up its efforts to become a present partner in that region, through channels of arms and economic cooperation. Global influence and competition among forces of influence.
Turkish diplomacy began to implement a strategy of rapprochement with the African continent by expanding relations and increasing diplomatic presence. The number of Turkish embassies in Africa increased from 12 embassies in 2002 to 44 embassies and consulates in 2022. African embassies and diplomatic representations are also accredited in Turkey, increasing from 10 embassies in 2008 to 37 embassies in 2021.
Turkey ranks fourth among the most represented countries on the African continent, after the United States, China and France.
According to statements by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, relations with African countries are among the main goals of Turkey's foreign policy.
Interest in developing these relations dates back to 2005, when Ankara became an observer member of the African Union, and in the same year it announced a new map called “Openness to Africa”.
Partnership with Africa
In the context of strengthening these relations, Turkey became a strategic partner of the African Union in 2008 and in the same year it held the first Turkish-African Partnership Summit in Istanbul. The most important slogans of the conference were “shared future,” “cooperation” and “solidarity” among the participating parties.
Ankara has become a non-regional member of the African Development Bank, participating in development financing and loans.
In 2014, the African-Turkish Partnership Summit was held in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, during which a number of common issues were signed, and a strategy for joint action between the years 2015–2019 was developed.
In the period between 2008 and 2023, the Turkish President visited 30 African countries and directed investments in the region.
investment and trade
Since the beginning of the third millennium, Turkey has served to direct commercial companies towards Africa, which has a huge consumer market and is home to more than 1.3 billion people.
In terms of economic partnership, the trade exchange volume between Turkey and Africa increased from $3 billion in 2003 to $26 billion in 2021.
Ankara imports 90% of its oil and gas needs, worth $42 billion annually, and has recently sought to obtain gas at preferential prices from the African region, which has 10% of the world's oil reserves.
Nigerian laurel accounts for 90% of the country's exports to Turkey, and Algeria is considered the fourth exporter of liquefied laurel to Ankara. In Ethiopia, 200 Turkish companies operate in various important sectors and employ 30,000 Ethiopian citizens.
Turkey is classified as the second largest investor in Ethiopia after China, as trade exchange with it reached $650 million in 2022.
The volume of projects undertaken by Turkish contracting companies across Africa increased to $71.1 billion in 2021, and Sub-Saharan African countries accounted for about $19.5 billion of these contracts and works.
As Turkey strengthened its commercial and investment presence in the region, it sought to increase its military influence within Africa and conduct joint exercises with the region's armies.
This resulted in security agreements being signed with Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania to train security forces in these countries to combat armed groups and acts of piracy. Turkey also worked to open new markets for Turkish military industries.
Ankara has 37 military offices on the African continent, and in 2021 it increased its military exports to Africa, as its arms sales increased from $41 million to $328 million.
The Turkish Armed Forces contributed to the training of the Somali army, building a training center for it and providing it with equipment and armored vehicles, in addition to other grants, including vehicles and ambulances.
In the year 2021, the Turkish President had announced at that time that his country would stand with the Ethiopian government and support it in every way.
During his visit to Mauritania in 2018, the Turkish President confirmed that his country was providing approximately $5 million in aid to the Sahel group to stand up against armed groups.
position on the coup
With the decline of French influence in West Africa due to military coups whose leaders showed hostility towards the former colonizer, Turkey increased its political and military support for those countries.
Ankara stood against sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Bamako following a military coup in 2020, and its foreign minister made an official visit to Mali in the same year.
Last January, the head of the Transitional Military Council in Mali, Colonel Assimi Goita, appeared at the handover ceremony of the Turkish-made Bayraktar drone.
Following the handover ceremony, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of African affairs Ahmed Yıldız visited Bamako, which he said he came to value and provide more support to the trilateral alliance between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger Were.
On January 17, 2024, the Joint Ministerial Committee meeting between Burkina Faso and Turkey was chaired by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and his Burkinabé counterpart Karamçu Jean Traoré.
The committee signed several agreements which were described as important for the future of the region.
“European countries prevented us from buying weapons, but Turkey and Russia opened all the doors for us,” Captain Ibrahim Traoré, leader of the ruling military junta in Burkina Faso, said in an interview with local press.
With the beginning of the crisis that arose in Niger due to the coup of July 26, 2023, Turkey stood against the military intervention announced by the ECOWAS group.
The volume of trade exchange between Turkey and Niger has also increased in recent years, from $72 million in 2019 to $203 million in 2022.
Within the framework of the “Coalition of Sahel countries” for the purchase of Turkish drones, the Prime Minister of Niger visited Ankara, during which he was briefed about several defense industry companies.
Al-Amin al-Zein visited Aselsan Defense and Electronic Industries Company, which he said will contribute to supporting the region's security through defense cooperation.
Turkey had earlier signed a military agreement with Niamey following the visit of then Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in 2021.
According to local press in Niger, Ankara wants to establish a Turkish military base in the Agadez region in northern Niger, which has a strategic geographical position, as it is in contact with Chad, Libya and Algeria.
Agadez province is also considered a center of uranium mines, which Niamey authorities want to control from attacks by rebels and armed movements.
Challenges and obstacles
Turkey's policy towards Africa faces some obstacles and challenges, which are summarized – according to a study published by the Arab Democratic Center – as the proliferation of religious and ethnic conflicts, and the scale of armed conflicts and border conflicts. The rise in GDP, which affected the ruling political systems of countries in Africa and led to political, social and economic instability in many countries.
The emergence of armed movements and the growing African role in the war on “terrorism”, which has occupied a special place in US strategic thought, will cast a shadow over any Turkish role in the region.
The African continent is witnessing many international challenges and conflicts, and international powers (the United States, Russia, China, Israel, and European countries) are trying to increase their influence within the continent and create conditions for military, economic, and geopolitical competition. are doing. , which affects the roles of other countries in the region.
In general, the main indicator of Turkey's policy in Africa is moving towards further development in accordance with the joint implementation plans announced by the parties during the periodic partnership summits between the two sides.
Turkish–African relations remain an important aspect of Turkish foreign policy, especially in light of the successes achieved by Ankara within the African continent.