Connect with us


Turkish eyes on Africa



AHRAM ONLINE — Late last year, the Turkish authorities opened their largest military base abroad in the Somali capital Mogadishu as a step towards consolidating ties with Somalia and establishing a presence in East Africa. Since then they have been seeking a military base in Sudan as the second Turkish base in Africa.

Turkey signed an agreement with Sudan at a joint press conference in Khartoum this week at the end of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s three-day visit to Sudan. The agreement allows Turkey a military presence on the Red Sea in Sudanese territorial waters.

Sudan is also leasing the Red Sea Suakin Island to Turkey, according to the new deal.

Urgency has been added to Turkey’s push into Africa as the UAE, one of Ankara’s regional foes, is increasing its own military presence on the continent.

The Turkish military base in Somalia is supposed to contain three military schools and other buildings, and Turkish officers are supposed to train more than 10,000 Somali troops at the base.

Mohamed Abdel-Kader Khalil, editor of the Turkish Affairs magazine, said that “the Turkish choice of Somalia was not random but was based on several reasons. Somalia has an important coastline and is a main entrance to the Red Sea. It is free of any other military bases, giving the Turks a relatively free hand in Mogadishu.”

African specialist Hani Raslan said that “the opening of the base is the culmination of a long process and plans set in action many years ago. Turkey started its push into Africa in 2002 from an economic perspective and then moved to a political and a security role.”

“This has made Turkey one of the most important actors in the Horn of Africa and East Africa region. The Turkish moves are also not limited to Somalia, but include Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. The Turks have also tried to build relations with Eritrea, but they have not been welcomed in Asmara,” he said.

Sub-Saharan Africa is seeing an impressive surge in growth and urbanisation, and it has abundant natural and human resources. The continent recorded an annual average growth rate of five per cent over the last decade and is expected to continue this trend in the coming years. Six out of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world are now in Africa.

Turkey’s Trade and Economic Enhancement Strategy towards Africa lies behind the growth in Turkey’s bilateral relations with the African countries since 2003, when an economic boom in Turkey was accompanied by a renewed interested in Africa and a desire to grow trade volumes between Africa and Turkey.

Trade tripled in value to $16.7 billion in 2016 from $5.4 billion in 2003. The strategy was updated during the Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in Equatorial Guinea in 2014, and its objectives have been modified to increase Turkish investment in Africa.

Relations between Turkey and the African continent constitute one of the prime orientations of Turkish foreign policy. In 2013, Turkey gave a further boost to its policies in Africa, turning them into a reinforced political-economic partnership. “If we were to think of any one country that should be present in Africa, that country would be Turkey,” commented Ahmed Kavas, a former Turkish ambassador to Chad.

According to a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a US think tank, the role of Turkish soft power was emphasised when Erdogan’s AKP Party government began its push into Africa in 2005 and particularly Eastern and Southern Africa.

Educational institutions associated with controversial and now exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen were used to spearhead the Turkish push, only backfiring when Gulen fell out with Erdogan and the AKP.

However, the Gulen Movement is now firmly entrenched in countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. Ankara has had to resort to a mixture of coaxing and threats to get African governments to shutter Gulen-funded or Gulen-run schools on the continent.

It has been looking to counter these by increasing the number of Turkish government-approved institutions in Africa, both aid-related and educational, and an initiative has been launched to encourage Turkish student volunteers to engage in aid and development projects in 18 African countries.

Turkish universities are also providing scholarships to African students. The hope is that these will benefit Turkey in the future when the students rise to positions of influence in their countries.

In 2009, there were only 12 Turkish embassies in Africa, five of them in North Africa. There are now 39. There is also a growing number of African embassies in Ankara, now standing at 32 and up from 10 some years ago. Guinea Bissau, Cameroon, Tanzania and Mozambique are all planning to open embassies in Ankara.

Of Turkish development assistance to Africa, Khalil said that “Turkey’s approach is based on a combination of humanitarian and development assistance. Turkey has been providing substantial numbers of scholarships to African students. Between 1991 and 2014, the total numbers of scholarships was 4,380, but this has been substantially increased, and in 2015-16 Turkey provided 1,239 scholarships for students from Africa.”

“In addition to technical training programmes undertaken by different ministries and institutions, around 200 junior diplomats have attended the International Young Diplomats Programme” organised by Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1992. “The Programme also organises exclusive training programmes for individual African countries like Somalia, Madagascar, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria and Namibia,” Khalil said.

“In the development context, Ankara has taken an active role in settling the conflict in Somalia. It hosted the Istanbul Conference under the auspices of the United Nations in May 2010, which resulted in the Istanbul Declaration as a road map for settling the conflict,” he added.

According to Raslan, “Turkey has chosen to become involved in reconstruction and relief work in Africa. In Somalia, it started with the reconstruction of the Mogadishu port and parliament and built about 10,000 housing units and a large hospital equipped with the latest equipment.”

The Turkish construction industry has been one of the major drivers of Turkish economic growth in recent years, and it was dealt severe blows after losing lucrative markets in North Africa, the Middle East and Russia as a result of various crises.

In line with its increased diplomatic presence in Africa, Turkey has opened commercial consulates in 26 African capitals. The Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Council has established business councils in 19 Sub-Saharan African countries. Turkey has signed trade and economic cooperation agreements with 38 African countries, in line with efforts to establish a sound contractual basis for mutual economic relations.

Turkey attaches importance to peace and stability in Africa and contributes to United Nations missions deployed on the continent. It is currently providing personnel and contributing financially to seven of the existing nine UN peace-keeping missions in Africa.

Turkey has been providing training to military personnel from African countries, and these have increased significantly in recent years, with 570 trainees received in Turkey in 2015.

Khalil commented that “the beginning of the Turkish interest in Somalia was through the idea of training the Somalis. Then it developed into a military base on a 400 hectare site in parallel to security agreements with Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. The opening of the Turkish military base in Somalia comes in the same framework that aims to promote Turkish influence in Africa.”

“The establishment of the base indicates Turkish objectives in an area that has extreme political, military, security and economic importance. Turkey is imposing itself as a powerful force in the strategic balance of the security of the Red Sea and the Straits of Bab Al-Mandab and in the Gulf of Aden, which is especially important for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan.”

“Turkey also aims to find markets for its military industries on the African continent, aiming to increase its economic and trade exchanges and to expand its influence in this region at the expense of the Arab states,” Raslan said.

Turkish Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, has played an important role in helping Turkey’s expansion into Africa. The airline flies to 51 destinations on the continent, more than any other international airline.

But there has been a dark side to this vast African network, as the EU has reportedly quietly been using Turkish Airlines flights to forcibly return African migrants to their countries of origin. The forced returns are being made under the re-admission agreement signed between Brussels and Ankara in 2013, which allows the EU to send migrants back to Turkey for deportation.

According to Raslan, the Turkish push into Africa should “draw our attention to the importance of allocating our own national security resources through long-term plans. Otherwise, we will miss out on developments elsewhere and will remain the prisoners of inward-looking movements and speeches that do not produce anything.”


Turkey’s foray into Somalia is a huge success, but there are risks



Brendon J. Cannon is an Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities & Social Science at Khalifa University of Science & Technology (Abu Dhabi, UAE).

THE CONVERSATION –Turkey’s presence in Somalia certainly embodies one of the most interesting regional geopolitical developments in the past decade. It also represents one of the most misunderstood and confusing. Why did Turkey choose Somalia? And, after its initial humanitarian intervention in 2011, what internal and external forces have shaped and expanded that involvement? Furthermore, what explains Turkey’s reported triumphs?

Some have pointed to a shared history and a common Sunni Muslim heritage. This is questionable, at best, and alone cannot explain Turkey’s engagement with Somalia – let alone the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Others have noted Turkey’s economic clout and its status as a mid-sized country interested in trade rather than extracting resources.

Genuine humanitarian concerns have also, at least initially, driven Turkey’s engagement as well as the prospect of economic gain. Scholar Federico Donelli notes its approach to Somalia

“has made Turkey a regional actor different from the traditional western powers, as well as from the emerging non-western ones.”

Turkey’s approach in Somalia has been largely welcomed inside and outside the African nation. However, a cautionary note is required. Allegations of corruption and bribery have surfaced. Turkey’s recent opening of a military training base in Mogadishu to train the Somali National Army has also raised eyebrows across the wider Horn of Africa region.

Keys to success
Ankara has an understandable and deep seated desire for international recognition as an emerging power and G20 member state. Its status in Somalia is part humanitarian and part financial, but is at its heart about influence and prestige.

Turkish money and aid – delivered directly to key stakeholders in the Somali Federal Government – ingratiated Turkey with local power brokers and provided Ankara with access and power in Mogadishu. What soon followed is Turkish control and management of Somalia’s most lucrative assets, the airport and seaport.

Parallel to these were unilateral rebuilding efforts, offers of scholarships, renovations of hospitals, and the hosting of international conferences about Somalia. These have largely contributed positively to Somalia’s development and yielded the international acclaim and diplomatic clout craved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his coterie.

For some parties inside and outside Somalia, Turkey is now viewed as indispensable to Somalia. The keys to Turkey’s reported success in Somalia – where so many other established powers have failed before – may revolve around four critical factors.

The first is approach. Most interventions in Somalia have been multilateral affairs by international and regional actors, such as the UN. Turkey’s approach, in contrast, has been largely unilateral and highly coordinated by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency. In this way, the efforts of business, government and humanitarian staff either do not overlap or do so effectively.

Second is novelty. Turkey’s Ottoman past and Muslim identity have been raised as major variables driving Turkey’s engagement with Somalia. But these assertions ignore or minimise one of its key strengths as a rising power: its distinct lack of a colonial past that devastated so much of the continent.

This approach is not only novel; it also represents Turkey’s first meaningful engagement with the continent. This contrasts sharply with that of the US, France, Russia and China, among others, which have a colonial or Cold War baggage.

The third factor is risk. Somalia has been the scene of thousands of capacity building and self-help experiments funded by a plethora of international organisations and states. Yet it is precisely where these efforts have failed that Turkey has found its niche.

This required a big appetite for risk. Naturally, as the risks rise the potential for significant rewards does too. The economic rationale for risk among Turkish businesses is particularly high, given experiences in difficult environments such as Iraq and Libya. This has contributed to sensible, if risky actions in Somalia.

Fourth is soft power. Turkey has deployed an array of soft power approaches. These include diplomatic support for Somalia and direct flights on the Turkish national airline from Mogadishu to Istanbul. These pragmatic approaches have also led Turkish businesses to reap major financial rewards and lucrative contracts.

Turkey’s interest has shifted from being primarily humanitarian to one that also takes into account the political and security aspects of the country. Doing so, as stated in the Becoming Global Actor: The Turkish Agenda for the Global South has made the country

“a hybrid non-traditional actor because it combines the traditional political-stability perspective of western powers with the economic-trade perspective of emerging ones.”

It also has broken with the traditional development model for Somalia that has characterised the past three decades.

Hybrid approach
Turkey’s hybrid approach may yet lead to mission creep and draw the country into Somalia’s infamous clan politics. Its increasing role could also put it on a collision course with other states, regionally and internationally.

However, its actions have arguably improved the situation in Somalia over the past six years. This is because Ankara has actually attempted to assuage rather than solve Somalia’s long-standing problems outright. Investment is largely driven by profits and assistance is targeted, coordinated and based on needs.

These interventions rarely come with the types of strings attached that characterise other efforts seeking to restructure Somalia. This has been welcomed by many Somalis for whom requirements for political reform or the creation of accountability mechanisms ring hollow.

Brendon J. Cannon, Assistant Professor of International Security, Department of Humanities and Social Science, Khalifa University

Continue Reading


Somalia: Turkish foundation’s school hosts 500 students



Turkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDV) on Tuesday said the Sheikh Sufi Imam Hatip High School in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, which it restored six years ago, currently hosts 500 students.

According to Turkey’s religious services consultant in Somalia Ahmet Akturk, numerous students were orphans. TDV said 270 of these students are boarders.

”All of the students’ costs are covered by TDV and the foundation will make sure the students continue their university studies,” he added.

Turkey began to set up various projects in Somalia in 2011 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched an initiative to help the East African country, which was undergoing a famine due to drought.

The initiative later grew to other humanitarian activities and educational projects, according to the statement.

Sheikh Sufi Imam Hatip High School, which has existed in Mogadishu since 1960, stopped functioning in 1991 due to civil war.

According to TDV , a new protocol signed with the Ministry of Education of Somalia in 2012 led to the resumption of educational activities.

Approximately 2,000 students apply to the school every year but only a hundred are accepted due to quota restrictions.

Eleventh grade student Muhammad Hasan said the school was a “great opportunity” for all students there.

“We get a combination of scientific and religious knowledge, we learn in the best way,” Hasan added.

According to Leyla Sherif, another student, the school provides not only education but safety and health services too.

“Our school is one of the best schools in Somalia. We learn both religion and science and my favorite course is Turkish,” Leyla added.

Since 2011, TDV has built centers for the disabled, hospitals, and orphanages in Mogadishu.

Continue Reading


Trump warns Erdogan to avoid clash between U.S., Turkish forces



WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump urged Turkey on Wednesday to curtail its military operation in Syria and warned it not to bring U.S. and Turkish forces into conflict, but a Turkish source said a White House readout did not accurately reflect the conversation.

Turkey’s air and ground operation in Syria’s Afrin region, now in its fifth day, targets U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG fighters, which Ankara sees as allies of Kurdish insurgents who have fought in southeastern Turkey for decades.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would extend the operation to Manbij, a separate Kurdish-held enclave some 100 km (60 miles) east of Afrin, possibly putting U.S. forces there at risk and threatening U.S. plans to stabilize a swath of Syria.

Speaking with Erdogan by telephone, Trump became the latest U.S. official to try to rein in the offensive and to pointedly flag the risk of the two allies’ forces coming into conflict.

“He urged Turkey to deescalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties,” a White House statement said. “He urged Turkey to exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces.”

The United States has around 2,000 troops in Syria.

However, a Turkish source said the White House statement did not accurately reflect the content of their phone call.

“President Trump did not share any ‘concerns about escalating violence’ with regard to the ongoing military operation in Afrin,” the source said, referring to one comment in the White House summary of their conversation.

“The two leaders’ discussion of Operation Olive Branch was limited to an exchange of views,” the source said.

Trump said in response to Erdogan’s call on the United States to end the delivery of weapons to the YPG that the United States no longer supplied the group with weapons and pledged not to resume the weapons delivery in the future, the source said.

The offensive has opened a new front in Syria’s multi-sided, seven-year-old civil war and complicated U.S. efforts in Syria.

The United States hopes to use the YPG’s control of the area to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war and eventually lead to the ouster of President Bashar Assad.

The United States and Turkey, while themselves allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, have diverging interests in Syria, with Washington focused on defeating the Islamic State militant group and Ankara keen to prevent Syria’s Kurds from gaining autonomy and fueling Kurdish insurgents on its soil.

In the short-term, analysts say, the United States has little pressure it can apply on Turkey given the U.S. military’s heavy dependence on a Turkish base to carry out air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.

Its sway is further limited by the United States not having reliable military partners in Syria other than the Kurds, said Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at Washington’s Middle East Institute think tank.

“The U.S. needs Turkey not to spoil things … until now, Washington has walked a very fine line between working with the Kurdish militia and also preventing a complete breakdown in relations with Ankara,” Tol said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump values his relationship with Erdogan, but conceded that the United States has limited leverage and that the Trump administration was unlikely to commit more troops or covert operators to Syria, even if Turkey made a move from Afrin to Manbij.

“The U.S. has effectively said you can do this operation against Afrin because it is outside my area, but please keep it limited,” said Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Washington-based think tank CSIS. “So it has not felt the need to go beyond the rhetorical means that it has employed.”

Erdogan has looked to bolster ties with Russia and Iran in recent years, in part because of frustration with Washington’s support for the YPG in the fight against Islamic State.

Ankara sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) insurgent group, which is deemed a terrorist organization by the United States, the EU and Turkey.

In a clear sign of rapprochement, Ankara is buying an S-400 missile defense system from Russia – unnerving NATO officials, who are already wary of Moscow’s military presence in the Middle East. The S-400 is incompatible with NATO’s systems.

However, analysts say those moves are largely tactical and ultimately Turkey will be open to listening to U.S. concerns about its military operation, given that Ankara needs the European Union for trade and NATO partners for its security.

“I think behind closed doors, he really would not want a complete break in Turkey’s relations with the West,” Tol said.

Max Hoffman, with the Center for American Progress, said the United States still had considerable leverage and could look at imposing sanctions on Turkey in the future, should Turkish forces disregard warnings on Manbij.

Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Alistair Bell and Paul Tait

Continue Reading