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Is Erdogan acting the Arab’s camel in Africa?

More than 70 years ago at school, we read a story in an Oxford English Readers for Africa book about a camel which tricked its owner in their desert tent home. Due to bad — romantically called inclement — weather, the camel played on its owner’s sympathy tender nerves to secure its body in the tent little by little until the owner was kicked out. That was one of moral stories.

Seven decades down the lane, my memory clicks it live. This was after I read in the news about a Turkish-trained security forces’ crackdown on protestors in the trouble-ridden Horn of Africa Somali capital and port, Mogadishu. It is in this area that Turkey has also established its biggest overseas military base in the name of TURKSOM.

Reading further I learn that the exercise is claimed to be a direct attempt to get rid of the opposition. It is taking place within circumstances of pending elections and when the UN Somalia Mission has called for “full respect of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”

Anybody conversant with the Afro-Turk relations history should ask oneself: “What has gone wrong?” Africa has had good relations with Turkey since the days of the Ottoman Empire. In Zanzibar, the sister country in the United Republic of Tanzania with the Mainland, there is Msikiti Mablue  which shares the name with the Blue Mosque in Turkey, for example.

In 1998, Turkey drafted what is recorded in history as Africa Action Plan, which we can say remained in hibernation for five years until the Justice and Development (AKP) Party came into power and two years later (2005) declared the “Year of Africa”.

During a tour of the DRC in 2010, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s predecessor, Abdullah Gul, said: “The world owes humanity to Africa.”   At this particular time Turkey was seeking Africa’s support for getting a seat at the Un Security Council in respect of which he promised to be Africa’s spokesman.

Come the year 2016, President Erdogan, during a tour of Kenya, Uganda and Somalia, boasted “over the years, Turkey’s development-centred humanitarian aid model and Turkish NGOs working with communities to solve pressing problems…”

How does this tally with what is taking place today?  Using the Somalia case as a take-off point, where is the humanity component in it? Doesn’t it read like what is taking place back home –the story of eliminating enemies?

Two-and-a-quarter years ago, through this very Politurco platform, I asked: “What is Turkey doing in Africa?” by then facts comprising the news were unfolding, sometimes beating reason, shocking and equally puzzling. Revisiting them could help illustrate why Turkish activities are what they are today in Africa.

It all began with indisputable  news about Turkey supplying arms to Boko Haram   terrorist organization operating in Nigeria “for killing Christians” while “Muslims must be spared…?” Transfer was done aboard a national carrier.

 Dimensions of arming Boko Haram  meant support to ISAWA or ISWAP — the Islamic States of West Africa  Province. Boko Haram is also active n Chad, Niger and northern Cameroun.

For four days running – 18-22 October in 2019—the Third African Muslim Religious Leaders Summit was held in Istanbul and graced by President Erdogan’s personal attendance. Hosted by the Presidency of Religious Affairs, it was “to strengthen the communication between Turkey and African countries in the religious sphere’’ … coordinate and evaluate “opportunities for cooperation and carrying out joint projects.”

The first such summit was held in 2006 attracting 19 African countries, the second in 2011 attended by 42 countries and the 2019 one 51 countries. Reading between the lines, one has to take note of the fact that this was practically the entire African Union (AU) membership, which stands at 55. This was an excellent Africa penetration occasion.

Three sideline conferences were organized on “institutionalization of religious organizations; sharing of experiences and revitalization of Wakf culture; and opportunities for cooperation with religious institutions and organizations in Africa.

Presenters touched on services provided abroad by the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey and services provided in Africa by the Turkiye  Diyanet Foundation. Discussions were held in seven sessions dwelling on subjects like “religious services and education policies in Africa; services provided in Africa by Turkey-based international aid organizations, threats to Islam and Muslims in Africa.”

The Summit rose with a 21-point communiqué hitting at past colonialism and calling on Muslims “to find ways to resolve their issues … without allowing external interventions.” It also cautioned the world against “associating with terror … because it (Islam) is the religion of mercy”… rejecting “violence and any kind of persecution.” It condemned terror organizations.

Point 14 noted: “It is self-evident that relations of evil interests and insidious global powers are behind Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, DAESH and similar terrorist organizations … in the Islamic world to carry out acts of terror and violence by exploiting the sacred concepts of Islam.

“In this contest, the Islamic concept of truth, mercy and compassion as well as the knowledge, wisdom, morality and law of our civilization must be precisely explained and taught to young generations.”

With Turkey on the driver’s seat or behind all this fundamental issues pertaining to a peaceful world, why has the country grown from humanitarian aid to warmongering? What is driving current Turkey’s regime policies in Africa?

Taking the Somali experience as a talking point, three years after becoming a “strategic partner” of the African Union, Turkey sent a delegation on humanitarian aid and economic partnership to the country because of the war and economic collapse. This was on the wings of Turkish Red Crescent (aid) and TIKA, the government agency responsible for business and investment co-operation and coordination.  

Turkey’s ruling AKP policy cannot be ruled out and this is mainly drawn along the lines of domestic problems being exported to the continent. Africa has been a victim of AKP’s regime perceived enemies – Gulen and the Hizmet Movement in particular.

Since the orchestrated July 15, 2016 failed coup which Erdogan blames on Gulen, private investment and humanitarian aid has plummeted. In Africa we say “when elephants fight, it is the grass which that bears the blunt”. So, today, Africa’s fight against ignorance and disease has been negatively impacted by the closure and transfer of Gulen-related schools and other establishments following the pressure on African governments from Ankara.  

To mention but a  few, countries that fell victim include  Burundi, Chad, the Comoros, DRC, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Sudan. In my country, Tanzania, authorities did not buy the Erdogan story. The schools, running under FEZA (meaning Universal) network, have performed well academically and have no political or religious biases. They have retained their Instead, Tanzania opened gates for the Maarif Foundation to establish its own schools.  

In a nutshell we can see Turkey having had a humanitarian and business agenda initially but which has succumbed to Erdogan’s acquired taste for extending global influence – the thing we see very clearly taking place in North Africa. What is Turkey doing in Libya, where it is already at loggerheads with Egypt and United Arab Emirates over the same issue?

And finally, could prevent Turkey from stepping into any conflict further south in the sub-Sahara, particularly in areas where French interests are involved because of the two countries’ already strained relations in the EU?

Turkey came to Africa on the humanitarian and business card and but the story is now of aspects like a military base, recruitment of mercenaries, supporting terror groups. It is a typical story of the Arab and the camel. It came asking for an inch and is already taking a mile back instead. The story of morals.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.

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