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.
Colorful graphic with a woman wearing a red top in the foreground and blue background with two individuals looking on

As the private sector innovates aid and financing, seeking holistic solutions to neighborhood challenges is the cornerstone of the approach.

Businesses, which rely on healthy communities for their own prosperity, must play a big part in driving solutions.

See why.

Australian Open - First Round - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 21, 2020 China's Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino

The Women’s Tennis Association this week decided to suspend all tournaments in China, over doubts that the country’s star player Peng Shuai is safe and sound. Peng recently disappeared for three weeks after accusing a former Vice Premier of sexual assault. Although she has since resurfaced, telling the International Olympic Committee that she’s fine and just wants a little privacy, there are still concerns that Peng has been subjected to intimidation by the Chinese state.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Europe:

How is Europe dealing with new omicron version of the pandemic?

Well, I mean the big issue isn't really that one, the big issue if you see the havoc that is created in several European countries at the moment is the delta. The delta is making impressive strides, particularly in countries that have a slightly lower vaccination rates. So that's the number one fight at the moment. And then we must of course prepare for the omicron as well.

More Show less
Caravan of Taliban soldiers with guns held upright

Listen: With the US gone and the Taliban back in control, Afghanistan faces a long winter. Mounting food insecurity and a crumbling economy have left many Afghans feeling abandoned. The international community could help solve this humanitarian crisis, but can they trust the Taliban?

Ian Bremmer sat down with journalist and author Ahmed Rashid to learn more about the Taliban today. Few people know more about the Taliban than Rashid, who wrote the book on the group — literally. In the months after 9/11, his critically acclaimed 2000 study Taliban became a go-to reference as the US geared up to invade Afghanistan and knock the militant group from power. Twenty years later, how much has the group changed since the days of soccer-stadium executions, television bans, and blowing up world heritage sites?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

What are the DSA and the DMA?

Well, the twin legislative initiatives of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act are the European Union's answer to the challenges of content moderation online and that of the significant role of major market players, also known as gatekeepers in the digital markets. And the intention is to foster both more competition and responsible behavior by tech companies. So the new rules would apply broadly to search engines, social media platforms, but also retail platforms and app stores.

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What is happening to Roe v. Wade?

Well, this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case called Dobbs v. Jackson, which challenges a Mississippi law that would outlaw abortions after 15 weeks in the state. That law itself is a direct challenge to the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago, which is one of the most politically important Supreme Court decisions in American history. It has driven deep polarization between the right and the left in the US and become a critical litmus test. There are very few, if any, pro-life Democrats at the national level and virtually no pro-choice Republicans at any level of government. Overturning Roe has been an animating force on the political right in the US for a generation. And in turn, Democrats have responded by making protecting Roe one of their key political missions.

More Show less
What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

More Show less
World leaders at the G20 Summit in Rome, October 2021

This week, the World Health Organization’s governing body agreed to begin multinational negotiations on an agreement that would boost global preparedness to deal with future pandemics. The WHO hopes that its 194 member countries will sign a treaty that helps ensure that the global response to the next pandemic is better coordinated and fairer.

The specifics remain to be negotiated over the coming months – and maybe longer – but the stated goal of those who back this plan is a treaty that will commit member countries to share information, virus samples, and new technologies, and to ensure that poorer countries have much better access than they do now to vaccines and related technologies.

Crucially, backers of the treaty insist it must be “legally binding.”

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

A GZERO pandemic

Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal