Written by Piero Messina
Erdogan aims to conquer Africa with his soft power. For this reason, the appointment will be held in Istanbul on December 17, 18, when the international summit dedicated to the Black Continent will be celebrated. It is the last stage of Turkey’s strategy to conquer Africa, which began more than 20 years ago.
Turkish attention to Africa dates back to 1998 with the strategic document “Opening up to Africa policy”. In power since 2002, Erdogan simply pushed this approach forward. The Turkish presence in Africa is a long-term plan, but don’t call it colonialism. “Our relations with African countries are not based on colonialism and we want to be successful together with our brothers and sisters from all over the continent”, is the slogan of the Turkish president when he speaks of Africa. Stubbornly looking for an “Ankara Consensus”.
Now comes the international summit. An appointment prepared for a long time, with method and patience. Erdogan is the non-African political leader to have met the largest number of heads of state on that wonderful continent. In the last fifteen years, the Sultan of Istanbul has made 15 state voyages, visiting more than 30 of the 54 African nations.
His visits were accompanied by public and private investments and donations. With a profile also calibrated on the concept of brotherhood between Turkey and the African peoples. A brotherhood to almost always decline towards the concept of Muslim brotherhood.
In mid-October Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to the heart of Africa (visiting Africa, Nigeria, Angola and Togo) to finalize the final details for the December summit and strengthen political and commercial relations on the continent.
Erdogan has been investing time and resources in Africa since 2005. The Turkish president has already achieved concrete results: the volume of Turkish-African trade has increased from 5.4 billion dollars in 2003 to 25.3 billion dollars in the year 2020. Turkish Airlines today flies to 39 African states. The Turkish Cooperation Agency has more than 30 coordination centers. The diplomatic network is also growing. In 2009 Turkey had 12 embassies in Africa, today it has 43. Turkish companies that have already built a mosque in Ghana, an indoor stadium in Rwanda, an Olympic swimming pool in Senegal and are working on an airport in Sudan are also very active. Turkey also gains benefits: Algeria, for example, has become one of Turkey’s main suppliers of liquefied petroleum gas, offering Ankara the chance to reduce its energy dependence on Russia and Iran.
Erdogan is also particularly attentive to solidarity initiatives. The Turkish NGO Maarif now has more than 17,000 students in 25 African countries. They are forming the ruling class of the future, and it will be a pro-Turkish ruling class.
But the Turkish face in Africa is not just that of support and solidarity. Relations with the African continent open new avenues and new business opportunities for the Turkish military industry. When he visits African countries, Erdogan almost always travels in the company of the managers of Savunma Sanayii Baskanligi, the agency that represents the defense industry. We have already seen this in Libya. African governments also want to evolve with new hi-tech weapons, and Libyan drones are coveted not only by Libya but also by Ethiopia, Morocco and Tunisia (even if in the land of jasmine Kais Saied’s anti-Turkish turn seems to have cooled relations) .
Europe seems not to have noticed Erdogan’s strategy to conquer Africa. Until now, the hand – and sometimes the troops – of the Sultan had been perceived in Libya and East Africa. In Somalia, for example, the Turks have their main military base outside the national borders, while in Ethiopia they have become the second largest trading partner, after the Chinese.
On the geopolitical level, Africa represents the south-western point of arrival of the Turkish geopolitical projection. By planting the flag on the African continent, Erdogan crosses the Mediterranean and creates the conditions to create a wide and protected range of influence. A thorn in the side for anyone who wants to tackle the Mediterranean dossier. Thus, the Somali base guarantees the Turkish assets along the Horn of Africa, the southern gateway to the basin, thus the presence in Libya guarantees control over the Strait of Sicily (now more crucial Mediterranean access than Gibraltar, disputed for the passage of submarine cables and why always controlled by the very important NATO infrastructures in Sicily). Erdogan also has full control of the Bosphorus, the eastern gateway to the Mediterranean but also Russia’s key to Africa.
Erdogan’s long-term plan: a mix of diplomatic activities (with the presence of missions in 90 percent of the continent’s countries), military (the TurkSom camp and other “unofficial”), cultural and humanitarian and commercial activities.
But, please, don’t call it colonialism.