Erdogan’s policies in Africa appear to simply be extension of those that he pursues at home, while he transitions from humanitarian to international arms trader.
During the Ottoman era, the Turks used to have considerable relations with Africa as the Sultans ruled a big part of north Africa including today’s Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia, even Niger and Chad.
The Republic of Turkey, which was created following the overthrow of the Ottoman sultans by the new Republican Parliament in 1922, had almost no dealings with Africa from 1923 to 1998.
Turkey drafted its Africa Action plan in 1998 but Ankara’s Africa approach remained passive for a number of years afterwards.
In 2003 the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power.
Ever since 2005 when Erdogan’s AKP government declared it to be the “Year of Africa”, the country has been pursuing a very active economic, cultural, political and military policy with the continent.
In February 2005, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited four African countries.
Former President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish President who officially visited Sub-Saharan Africa with his trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 2009.
Political observers said at the time that the Turkish leaders’ visit to the African countries was merely to ensure their support for Turkey’s candidacy for the non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Turkey was elected the Security Council non-permanent member for 2009 and 2010 with the support of African States.
Gul said in his Tanzania trip on 24 February 2009 that all but two African countries had supported Turkey’s candidacy in 2008 for a two year, non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
“The Turkish Republic will be the spokesman for Africa at the UN. It will support Africa on all of its issues”, Turkey’s now-defunct English daily, Today’s Zaman, quoted him as saying at the time.
Abdullah Gul hosted the first ever Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit in 2008 with the representatives from 50 African countries. Turkey increased its embassies on the continent from 12 to 42 within 15 years and Ankara’s bilateral trade with Africa reached $24 billion.
Former President Gul told media during his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2010 that “The World owes humanity to Africa” and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, in an opinion piece published by Al Jazeera in June 2016, that “over the years Turkey’s development-centred humanitarian aid model helped millions of people”.
Erdogan, who penned his PR article shortly before his visit to Uganda, Kenya and Somalia, stated that not only Turkish officials but also non-governmental organisations had been working with local communities in Africa to address pressing problems.
However, this is not the reality. In fact Erdogan’s policies in Africa are an extension of those that he pursues at home to eliminate his enemies. There is no humanity in them.
Since 2011 the rule of Erdogan has become much more autocratic.
It was the 2013 corruption scandal in Turkey that had a major bearing on the Erdogan regime’s future actions in Africa.
Numerous high-ranking members of the government were implicated by prosecutors in the “gas for gold scheme” that violated international sanctions against Iran, including Erdogan’s sons Bilal and Burak.
Instead of allowing the investigation to proceed and for the matter to be brought to the courts, Erdogan targeted the detectives, prosecutor and judges who carried out what was the country’s biggest corruption investigation.
Erdogan blamed the Gulen Movement, led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, for the investigation and launched what is effectively a lynching campaign against the group in the country and abroad.
Africa has not been excluded in his bid to bring down the Gulen movement.
His government has been doing its utmost to stop the many Turkish civil society groups, not allied with the AKP, from continuing their humanitarian and educational operations in many parts of the continent as they have done for the past 30 years, long before the Turkish government began showing an interest in Africa.
Turkey’s Maarif (Education) Foundation openly declared that their main aim is to prevent Gulen Movement’s global education activities, including those in Africa.
The Maarif Foundation signed a protocol with 25 countries in Africa and has managed to take over or close down schools (established by Gulen Movement) in Guinea, Somalia, Niger, Sudan, Republic of Congo, Gambia, Gabon, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burundi, and Comoros.
On the other hand, Maarif couldn’t seize or shut down schools in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and many other countries.
The result of Erdoğan’s state-sanctioned seizure operation through the Maarif Foundation, has left thousands of African students without access to education as the state sponsored Maarif couldn’t run all the schools.
Erdogan’s witch hunt has been sped up since the July 2016 and Turkish private investments and humanitarian aid to Africa largely stopped as Erdogan targeted all the critics of his regime.
The ruling AKP closed down the Istanbul-based aid foundation Kimse Yok Mu. It used to run many large projects in the continent such as hospitals in Sudan, many orphanages in sub-Saharan Africa, schools, and massive meat and food distributions.
The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (Tuskon) organized many Turkey-Africa Business Summits in Turkey and in Africa.
Erdogan government also closed down TUSKON as the organization was affiliated with the Gulen movement.
Erdogan government not only prevented massive Turkish non-governmental aid and education activities in the continent, but also took advantage of internal conflicts in many African countries.
Many leaked tapes following the 2013 corruption scandal exposed that Turkish Airlines had carried guns to Boko Haram.
Daily Maverick recently reveled that six Turkish military aircraft which landed in Cape Town under the pretext of carrying medical aid, left the country with military ammunition.
Turkey’s ambassador did not clarify that these guns will not be used in Libya and Syria.
The UN warned that Turkey is violating the arms embargo on Libya.
South African President Ramaphosa urged Erdogan not to send arms and soldiers to Libya in the beginning of tis year but Turkey’s National Security Council said Tuesday that it will continue to provide “military advice” to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
According to many reports, Turkey transferred more than 5 thousand jihadist from Syria to Libya and Erdogan’s son-in-law Selcuk Bayraktar is earning billons of dollars in war-torn Libya.
Iron man Erdogan’s Africa adventure has evolved from development centered humanitarian aid to a barely concealed warmongering policy as he seemingly becomes an international arms trader.
The article first appeared at The Citizen.