What is Turkey doing in Africa?

What is Turkey doing in Africa?

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Russia's Vladimir Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

Erdogan's Africa travel obsession is part of a broader policy. Since first coming to power as prime minister way back in 2003, Erdogan has massively increased his country's presence in Africa. The number of Turkish embassies there has soared from barely a dozen in 2009 to more than 40 today. Turkish Airlines jets crisscross African skies, flying more than 50 routes that link the continent's cities to Europe and the Middle East.

Across Africa, Turkish companies have built splashy and popular infrastructure projects: massive sports complexes in Senegal and Rwanda, the new national mosque in Ghana, a gleaming international airport in Niger, and critical rail lines in Ethiopia. And on the softer power front, Turkish schools dot the continent, while the country's soap operas are a pop-culture hit, particularly in East Africa. Turkey now even refers to itself as an "Afro-Eurasian" country.

At the same time, Turkey has waded into the continent's geopolitics, building its largest overseas military base in Somalia, taking sides in the Libyan civil war, and stepping into the Sahel by training local troops and inking a defense pact with Niger. Turkish arms sales to the continent are growing as well.

Why is Turkey so interested in Africa? For one thing, there's an economic rationale. Erdogan is keen to unlock opportunities for Turkey's powerful infrastructure, mining, and consumer companies. Finding new foreign markets is part of Erdogan's vision of Turkey as an export powerhouse, says Emre Peker, Eurasia Group Turkey analyst.

But there's something bigger going on as well. Ever since coming to power, Peker says, Erdogan has seen Turkey as a kind of geopolitical heir to the old Ottoman empire — a powerful player in the Middle East and beyond, willing to act independently of its Cold War-era partners in Europe and the US. While much of that has meant being more assertive in the Middle East, expanding Ankara's influence into Africa is a part of that broader vision.

Why are African governments interested in Turkey? For the same reason they are interested in partnering with other outside players: they want to secure quality direct investment and new infrastructure.

But while Ankara hasn't anywhere near the resources that, say, China can bring to the table, one big thing that Turkey has going for it is what it's not. "Turkey has a lot of advantages," says Tochi Eni-Kalu, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, "but number one is that it's not France or the UK or Belgium or any of the other post-colonial powers." At the same time, Erdogan presents Turkey as a smaller and more sympathetic alternative to great powers like the US and China.

Who's not so happy about this? While there hasn't been much backlash against Turkey among African populations, Eni-Kalu says, Ankara's inroads have raised hackles in other world capitals. France is extremely unhappy about Turkey's presence in West Africa, with President Macron openly accusing Turkey of inflaming anti-French sentiment there.

Meanwhile, Turkey's bitter regional rivalry with the UAE is also playing out in Africa. The two powers back opposing sides in Libya's civil war, and are locked in a contest for greater influence in East Africa as well. Ankara reportedly viewed the April 2019 coup against longtime Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, a partner of Ankara's, as a Gulf-backed swipe at Turkish influence in the region.

Still, let's put this all in perspective. As much as Turkey's ties with Africa have grown, the continent remains far less important economically for the Turks than Europe or the Middle East. Consider that while in recent years Turkish trade with Africa has quintupled to about $25 billion annually, that's still ten times less than its trade with Europe, and three times less than with Asia. China's trade and investment in the continent, which runs to the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, dwarfs anything that Turkey can reasonably achieve.

Upshot: While Turkey will never compete directly with the military resources of the US and France, nor the economic resources of China, Ankara has found ways to pick its spots in Africa in ways that interest local governments, but which also stoke Turkey's other regional and global rivalries.
A blue graphic using 1's and 0's to form an image of roads leading into a city

Governments, civil society and industry are beginning to understand the value of data to society in much the same way they considered the importance of thoroughfares 200 years ago. Just as these roads ushered in a new era of physical infrastructure that helped society thrive then, today we are beginning to understand the need to invest in modern approaches to our data infrastructure that will enhance economic growth and innovation, support individual empowerment and protect us from harm. Just as our physical infrastructure of roads and highways needs to be used appropriately, maintained and protected, so does our data infrastructure.

To maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of our data use, we need privacy regulations to serve as our global rules of the road that preserve our ability to use and share data across borders, supported by innovative tools and solutions that protect privacy and empower individuals. As we reframe our focus to support data use, let’s examine the regulatory approaches that have been working, and develop new approaches where needed to enable the responsible use and sharing of data. To read more about Microsoft’s approach to protecting data infrastructure, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

Are the United States and China now locked in a new form of Cold War? Their governments behave as if they are.

But Bremmer isn’t buying it. He’s not predicting that Washington and Beijing will become more cooperative with one another, but that both will be too preoccupied with historic challenges at home in coming years to wage a full-time international struggle.

In Washington, the main worry will be for America’s broken political system. US politics is becoming even more tribalized as TV and online media target politically like-minded consumers with hyperpartisan news coverage. Widening wealth inequality fuels the fire by separating white and non-white, urban and rural, and the more educated from the less educated. Deepening public mistrust of political institutions will fuel future fights over the legitimacy of US elections.

Beijing’s burden centers on how to extend decades of economic gains while moving away from a growth model that no longer works, as higher wages in China and more automation in factories elsewhere cut deeply into China’s manufacturing advantages. China is still a middle-income country. To reach the prosperity level of wealthy nations, it needs 6-7 percent growth for another 20 years.

But China must spend less in coming years to keep giant, deeply indebted companies afloat and more to care for the largest population of elderly people in history. And its leaders must accomplish this at a time when China’s people expect ever-rising levels of prosperity from their government.

The domestic distraction of US and Chinese leaders will create new opportunities for European, Japanese, Canadian, Indian and other political and business leaders to contribute toward international problem-solving. But other governments aren’t the only new players stepping into this power vacuum.

Technology companies are fast becoming important geopolitical actors. We’re entering a world in which economic winners and losers, election outcomes, and national security will depend on choices made by both governments and by the world’s big tech firms.

Bremmer calls this a “techno-polar moment.”

The idea is simple but transformative: Just as governments make the laws that determine what can happen in the physical world, tech companies have final authority in a digital world that’s becoming both more expansive and more immersive.

The biggest tech companies will establish sovereignty by defining the digital space and its boundaries, the algorithms that determine what happens within that space, and the “terms and conditions” that decide who gets to operate in this world.

For skeptics, Bremmer poses this question: Who will do more to influence the outcome of next year’s US midterm congressional elections: The president of the United States or the CEO of Meta? According to Bremmer, since the vote will be influenced by both real-world rules changes and the online flow of information, the answer isn’t obvious.

How will tech companies try to expand their power? Some will behave as “globalists” by trying to reach consumers and influence politics everywhere.

Others will act as “national champions” by aligning with individual governments and their goals.

Still, others will behave as “techno-utopians,” companies that expect historical forces and tech innovations to help them replace governments in important ways.

The relative success of these models over the next decade will decide how government and tech companies share power over the longer-term and whether democracy or autocracy will have the upper hand.

What’s to be done? “Think adaptation, not surrender,” says Bremmer. Steps can be taken to limit the sometimes negative influence of tech companies in the political lives of democracies. But just as climate change can be limited but not avoided, so we must understand and adapt to a world in which governments and tech companies compete for influence over our lives.

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For Ian Bremmer, one important reason is that there's a big difference between Jack Ma questioning Chinese regulators and Elon Musk doing the same to the SEC.

"In the United States you've got fanboys if you do that; in China, they cut you down," Bremmer told CNN anchor Julia Chatterley in an interview following his annual State of the World Speech.

Still, he says China knows it cannot kill its private sector because it needs to keep growing and competing with American tech firms.

So, who's winning the global battle for tech primacy?

Right now, Bremmer believes the US and China are at tech parity — thanks to their tech giants.

"When we're talking about tech supremacy, we can't just talk about governments anymore."

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