A timeline of the Turkish Africa policy

turkey-africaIt has been stressed many times during the last years that the Turkish foreign policy towards Africa started with the came into power of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) in 2002. In this article we try to better understand the time path of the relations between Turkey and the African continent in the last two decades. This timeline aims to give a general idea about the development of the Turkish foreign policy towards Africa. It does not pretend to be an exhaustive document.

As witnessed by Murat Bilhan who was Ambassador in Ethiopia from 1996 to 2000, when he started his duty in Addis Ababa in 1996 the activities of Turkish Embassies in sub-Saharan Africa were rather insignificant.1 The limited number of the Turkish diplomatic missions in sub-Saharan Africa constituted a too scarce presence to establish strong diplomatic, economic, but also cultural relations in the continent.2 This lack of knowledge about the African continent for Turkey is one of the factors that led the Turkish Government to think about a new way to deep its diplomatic activities in sub-Saharan Africa.

This occurred especially in a period – the 90s – when Turkey was resuming its geopolitical role after the end of the Cold War era; indeed the Turkish foreign policy was subjected to the bipolar system in the second half of the 20th Century. After the end of the two-block opposition, Ankara found consequently its new path to regain its foreign policy’s independence and thereby the improvement of the relations with its neighbors. This was the case for the Balkans3 and for the central Asian countries, born from the dissolution of the USSR. These last nations where particularly important due to their linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic, and historical links with Turkey.4

Therefore, alongside this attention to central Asia and the Balkans, at the end of the 90s, Turkey developed the will to expand its relations with the sub-Saharan countries. As a first step toward Africa, a program named “Africa Action Plan”, designed by the Turkish government, was adopted in 1998. The plan was aimed, among other things, to: increase the number of Embassies in Africa, improve official representing cadres of some sub-Saharan African Embassies, organizing high level invitations from African states (President, Prime Minister and Minister), increase political consultations and communications in International organizations (UN, OIC), promote humanitarian aid to Africa, signing official agreements to facilitate trade and economic relations, sending Turkish experts and organizing technical support programs, encouraging Turkish banks to open branches in selected African countries, providing credit from Eximbank5 for Turkish businessmen to encourage the export to Africa, realization of bilateral business people’s visits etc.6. This comprehensive “Africa Action Plan” drew Turkey’s road map for the improvement of the relationship with the African states. Unfortunately the Turkish government could not realize many elements of the Plan up until mid-2000s. The failure in the effective implementation plan can be explained by two main events that happened in Turkey at that time: the 1999 earthquake and the economic crises in 2000/2001.7

Consequently, the most concrete steps towards Africa have been done after the came into power of AKP in 2002. A first program adopted by the AKP government in 2003 was the “Strategy for enhancing the economic and commercial relations with Africa”. It is however in 2005 that the AKP’s “Open to Africa Policy” took shape in a more consistent way. Indeed, 2005 was declared the “Year of Africa” by the Turkish Government. The same year, Turkey was accorded observer status at the African Union8 and the Turkish Think Thank TASAM organized the first Turkish-African Summit in Istanbul. Moreover in the commercial and industrial field, TUSKON9 started to organize the Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge in 2006.

The first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit took place in Istanbul on 18-21 August 2008. In the same year Turkey was declared a “strategic partner” by the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa. In a meeting of the governors within the African Development Bank the Turkish application for the membership was accepted and Turkey became also member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Partners Forum (IGAD). It can therefore be said that the Turkish efforts towards Africa have been repaid from the African Countries in the 2008 elections of Turkey as non-permanent member at the UN Security Council for the period 2009-2010, when for the first time 50 out of 53 African states supported the Turkish membership10.

Subsequently, in 2010, a new strategy for the strengthening of these relations was adopted and the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation High Level Official Meeting took place in Istanbul in December. This meeting was followed by the adoption of the “Joint Implementation Plan of Africa-Turkey partnership for the period 2010-2014”.

While in 2002 the value of the projects undertaken by Turkish contractors in Africa was 9.6$ billion, this figure reached 46.4$ billion in 2012.

In 2013 TUSKON opened its first office in Africa in Addis Ababa. In the same year, Turkey participated for the first time at a meeting of the African Development Bank as an effective member and the 2nd Turkey-Africa Cooperation High Level Official Meeting was held in Addis Ababa.

The second Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit took place in Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) in November 2014. At the end of this meeting a Declaration and the “2015-2019 Joint Implementation Plan”11 were adopted, and besides the political consultations, many commercial meetings have been also organized by DEİK.

In conclusion about the Turkish-African Relations it must be underlined that during the decade of the AKP “Open to Africa Policy” the trade volume has increased significantly passing from 750 million USD in 2000 to 23.4 billion in 2013 with all Africa. As for the economic presence it can be said as a relevant factor that DEİK established 19 new Business-Councils with African Countries, achieving the quota of 24 Bilateral Business-Councils12. Moreover, the number of businessmen which attended TUSKON’s Turkey-Africa Trade Bridges reached the number of 1.300 people in 2011. In the humanitarian field, TIKA Agency currently operates 11 Program Coordination Offices in Africa and its projects consist in education, restoration, irrigation, agricultural development, health, transportation projects and constructing schools and hospitals. The presence of Turkish humanitarian and commercial NGOs increased substantially after the beginning of the AKP’s “Open to Africa Policy” as well as the number of Turkish International Schools linked to the faith-based Gülen movement. Along this economic, humanitarian, and cultural presence, the Turkish diplomatic missions reached the number of 39 embassies in Africa.13

However, despite all this achievements, Turkey’s Africa Policy is now facing major challenges in many aspects. First of all in the economic field, because in spite of the recent progress, figures remain far behind the targets of the Turkish government.14

In addition, although the number of diplomatic missions in Africa has significantly increased, their activities and staff are rather insufficient so the missions are not fully operational.15

As shown in the case of Ethiopian-Turkish relations, the political instability in Turkey that arose from the last general election held on 7th June, the break-up of the alliance with the Gülen movement16, as well as the regional instability in the MENA area, will most probably influence in some way the relations with the African countries. Moreover it seems that, at the closure of the first decade of the Open to Africa Policy, Turkey has not yet the resources needed for the sustainability of the promises it made in Africa. This aspect is due also to the presence of other major international actors – such as Brazil, China, India and Russia – which contribute to exacerbate the competition in the African continent.

  1. Murat Bilhan was Ambassador in Ethiopia in the period 1996-2000. Now he is Vice-Chairman of the Turkish Think Thank TASAM and Professor of International Relations at the Istanbul Kültür University. Interviewed at Istanbul Kültür Üniversitesi on 13.05.2015 and at TASAM on 02.06.2015. []
  2. The Turkish Embassies active in 1996 in sub-Saharan Africa were seven and were in Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. Source Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/ . []
  3. Zehra Eroglu, “Turkish foreign policy towards the Balkans in the post-cold war era”. Thesis submitted to the Graduate School of Social Sciences of Middle East Technical University. Ankara, April 2005. []
  4. As reported by Thomas Wheeler in “Turkey’s role and interests in Central Asia” (Saferworld, October 2013): “After the independence of several regional states in the early 1990s, Turkey focused significant diplomatic effort on its stated goal of assisting the ‘Turkic sister republics’ to become functioning, stable states that were integrated into the international system. Underpinning this engagement were the perceived linguistic, cultural, religious, ethnic, and historical links with the Turkic peoples of Central Asia. Following its rejection of membership by the European Union in 1989, Turkey hoped that by building ties with these new states it could build a Turkic community that would fall under its own leadership, a concept put forth by then Turkish President Turgut Ozal”. Namely these countries are: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. []
  5. Türk Eximbank was created in the framework of the Export Growth Strategy adopted by Turkey in the early 1980s. It supports Turkish exporters, contractors and investors through various credit, guarantee and insurance programs. The Bank does not compete, but works closely with commercial banks encouraging them to increase their support for the export sector. As well as providing direct lending, the Bank also provides insurance and guarantees to Turkish commercial banks to encourage them to finance export transactions backed by sales made on deferred payment terms. []
  6. Oğuzhan Tekin, Turkish Foreign Policy towards Africa: motivations and interests 2001-2010”. Thesis submitted to the Institute of Social Sciences in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in International Relations, Fatih University, June 2012. []
  7. Ufuk Tepebaş, “Turkey in Africa: achievements and challenges”. May 2015, Istanbul. []
  8. http://www.mfa.gov.tr/turkey-africa-relations.en.mfa . []
  9. TUSKON (the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkiye) is a non-governmental and non-profit umbrella organization representing seven business federations and 216 business associations with more than 50.000 businesspeople over 100.000 companies. It is the largest and most widespread NGO in Turkish business community. Its primary objective is to support both Turkish and international business people for coming together and forming a synergy between them. However its links with the faith-based Gülen Movement are now creating a major hurdle to their activities in Africa, attempting to undermine the successful result of the trade relations by them established. http://www.todayszaman.com/business_government-oppression-of-confederation-hurts-turkish-exports-to-africa_374850.html. []
  10. Ufuk Tepebaş, “Turkey in Africa: achievements and challenges”. May 2015, Istanbul. []
  11. The Joint Implementation Plan 2015-2019 adopted in Malabo aims to further strengthen the comprehensive cooperation for the benefit of both parties, especially on the fields of: institutional cooperation (e.g. through consultations on political matters, inter-parliamentary relations, cooperation within International Organizations, cooperation with Regional Economic Communities and Civil Society); trade and investment (e.g. the creation of a joint database at the level of Chambers of Commerce and business councils, the establishment of a friendly business environment for the creation of joint ventures, holding of joint trade fairs and exhibitions of products, the establishment of Africa-Turkey business councils and cooperation in establishing industrial zones); agriculture sector and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (e.g. cooperating on the preparation of Agriculture Master Plans in the African countries Sharing of experiences gained from the Rural Development Investments Support Program of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock of Turkey, training experts and cooperating on seed sowing and seedling cultivation, combat desertification, sand dune fixation works, the impact of climate changes on soil and water resources in African countries, water harvesting, drought, erosion and desertification); health; peace and security (e.g. establishing joint mechanisms to counter terrorism, to suppress the finance of terrorism, and transnational crimes and for capacity building through training programs in Counter-Terrorism Academy and similar institutions in Africa); conflict resolution and mediation (e.g. through the exchange of views on the issues related to conflict prevention and resolution, mediation and facilitation); migration (e.g. encouraging legal and lawful means of travel); infrastructure, energy, mining and transport (cooperating in the fields of infrastructure, transportation, information and communication technologies water and sanitation, enhancing energy infrastructure in Africa with a view to further develop the energy industry in Africa including the promotion of renewable energy and improved energy efficiency); culture, tourism and education (e.g. encouraging African and Turkish academic institutions to exchange languages instructors and/or students to promote indigenous African and Turkish languages cooperation between the academic institutions of both sides, especially on the training of the youth in diplomacy); media, information and communication technologies (e.g. encouraging the production and broadcasting of programs, including films and dramas produced by Turkish and African producers); environment (e.g. increasing the cooperation and consultations on adaptation to climate change issues within multilateral context; youth and sport (e.g. establishing joint research teams to be constituted by experts and researchers, joint projects in the fields of youth and sports including competitions and games between Turkish and African sports clubs, youth exchanges between African countries and Turkey). Source: http://afrika.mfa.gov.tr/data/turkey-africa-joint-implementation-plan-2015-2019.pdf []
  12. DEİK’s bilateral Business-Councils existent before 2000s: with Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, opened in 1990; with Egypt opened in 1992 and with South-Africa, opened in 1997. After 2000s: with Libya in 2007; Ethiopia and Sudan in 2008; with Kenya in 2010; with Angola, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mauritania, Rwanda and Uganda in 2011; with Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Mauritius in 2014; with Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Mozambique and Senegal in 2015. Source: http://www.deik.org.tr/.  []
  13. Turkish Embassies in Africa were 7 in 1996 and 12 in 2009. []
  14. Turkey’s goal was to reach a trade volume of about $50 billion for 2015. This figure was $23,4 billion in 2014 and it is unlikely that the goal will be attained during this year. []
  15. As stated by Ufuk Tepebaş (TASAM). []
  16. Namely the opposition of the government to release entrance visa to Turkish businessmen to attend the TUSKON Turkey-Africa Trade Bridge in 2015 caused a major drop in the participation at the event. http://www.todayszaman.com/business_government-oppression-of-confederation-hurts-turkish-exports-to-africa_374850.html []

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