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Turkish-American Cultural Center
3 March 2016
David H. Shinn
Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
This topic is timely as President Erdogan is completing a visit to Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana,
Nigeria, and Guinea. In recent years, Turkey has significantly increased its outreach to Africa;
the visit to West Africa by the Turkish president is a manifestation of that effort.
Turkey has much longer and more significant relations with the five North African
countries than with the 49 countries in Sub-Sahara Africa. This is not surprising as much of
North Africa was once part of the Ottoman Empire, is easily accessible by ship across the
Mediterranean, and is geographically closer to Turkey. In addition, both Turkey and North
Africa are overwhelmingly Muslim. My remarks today, however, will emphasize Turkey’s
relations with sub-Saharan Africa or all of those countries just south of the five North African
countries that border the Mediterranean.
Turkey’s Opening to Africa
Turkey’s primary interest in Africa is access to markets and raw materials and expanding
its export market. Turkey announced its Opening Up to Africa Policy in 1998, but a subsequent
devastating earthquake in Turkey and a financial crisis postponed its outreach to Africa. Turkey
finally made a major push into the continent in 2005, which it declared as the “Year of Africa.”
In 2005, then Prime Minister Erdogan became Turkey’s second head of government to
visit sub-Saharan Africa with trips to Ethiopia and South Africa. (Prime Minister Erbakan was
the first Turkish head of government to visit sub-Saharan Africa, going to Nigeria in 1996). In
2008, former President Gul hosted the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit in Istanbul and in
subsequent years visited a number of sub-Saharan African countries. Visits to Africa by highlevel Turkish officials became a staple of the Turkey-Africa relationship.
The second Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit took place in Equatorial Guinea in 2014.
Until Erdogan’s February/March 2016 visit to West Africa, the last high level visit to sub1
Saharan Africa took place in January 2015 when Erdogan visited Ethiopia, Djibouti, and
Somalia. Turkish press reports in 2015 suggested he would make a couple more visits to Africa
in 2015; that did not happen. Elections in Turkey and the crisis in neighboring Syria may have
caused the government to reassess the amount of high-level time it could devote to Africa in
Prior to 2009, Turkey only had embassies in the five North African countries and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Sudan.
By the end of 2015, Turkey had embassies in the five North African countries, 34 countries in
sub-Saharan Africa, and a consulate general in self-declared independent Somaliland. This
constituted a massive expansion of Turkish diplomatic missions in the past six years; Turkey has
more embassies in Africa than many larger and wealthier countries. On the other hand, some of
these embassies are tiny and Turkey has encountered difficulties adequately staffing some of
them. While it is Turkey’s stated goal to have an embassy in every African country, it is
questionable whether this is the best use of scarce diplomatic resources.
African diplomatic representation in Ankara has also expanded impressively. As recently
as 1997, the five North African countries and South Africa were the only African countries to
have an embassy in Turkey. By the end of 2015, there were 32 African embassies in Ankara, an
unusually large number for a country with an economy the size of Turkey’s.
Turkey has significantly expanded its trade with Africa, but at under $20 billion in 2014 it
still remains less than 5 percent of Turkey’s global trade. Turkey’s trade with all of Africa is just
slightly greater than its total trade with the United States. In 2014, according to the International
Monetary Fund’s Direction of Trade Statistics Yearbook, Turkey’s trade with the five North
African countries totaled just over $13 billion or about 3.3 percent of its global trade. Its trade
with the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa totaled about $6.5 billion or 1.6 percent of its global
In terms of trade balance, Turkey exports almost three times as much by dollar value to
North Africa as it imports from those countries. While the trade balance is somewhat more equal
in the case of sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey still exports much more to the region than it imports
from those countries. In addition to the countries of North Africa, Turkey’s most important
trading partners are South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire.
One of the major promoters of Turkey-Africa trade is the Turkish Confederation of
Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), which is affiliated with Hizmet or the Gülen
movement. Turkey has a long way to go before Africa becomes a truly significant part of its
global trade. Looking at it another way, however, Turkey’s trade with Africa in 2014 was almost
$8 billion more than Russia’s trade with Africa.
Foreign Direct Investment and Business Relations
Good statistics for foreign direct investment (FDI) going to Africa are difficult to obtain
and Turkey is no exception. In 2000, Turkish FDI in Africa totaled about $750 million.
According to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry website, cumulative Turkish FDI in Africa by 2015
reached $5 billion. On the other hand, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official stated at a conference
in Istanbul in September 2015 that Turkish FDI in Africa reached $8.4 billion. Take your pick.
Ethiopia received $3.2 billion of Turkey’s total FDI to Africa while other significant
recipients have been Sudan, South Africa, and Nigeria. The leading sectors for Turkish
investment are construction, textiles, manufacturing, and agricultural vehicles. It is primarily
small and medium-sized Turkish companies that are attracted to the African countries. A number
of small Turkish firms are developing a strong niche market in sectors such as construction and
information and technology. Larger firms may have concluded that the market is too small to be
worth their effort.
Turkey has signed agreements on avoiding double taxation and on investment protection
with Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Africa. The Union of
Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey and the Union of African Chambers of
Commerce, Industry, Agriculture and Commodity Exchanges have established the TurkishAfrican Chamber, the aim of which is to increase economic dialogue and cooperation. Although
it has agreed upon a work plan, it does not seem to have accomplished much so far.
Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEiK) has also encouraged the
establishment of bilateral business councils with African partners. More than 20 have been
created. The Hizmet movement has its own business associations in most African cities that
have a significant Turkish business presence.
Turkish contractors initiated projects in Africa between 1972 and 2013 worth $39 billion
or about 19 percent of Turkey’s global international contractor business. Turkey’s Export Import
Bank is financing at least four projects in sub-Saharan Africa and has a pipeline for funding $1
billion worth of projects throughout Africa. The purpose of the Export Import Bank is to support
socially useful projects.
Turkish Airlines has expanded its African service and is now arguably the largest carrier
that goes to/from the continent. In 2008, the only cities it served in sub-Saharan Africa were
Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Lagos, and Johannesburg. By the end of 2015, it provided service to
44 destinations in Africa.
The Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) operates 15
program coordination offices in Africa. Turkey’s official development assistance (ODA) to
Africa totaled only $52 million in 2008. In 2013, it reached $783 million or almost one third of
its global ODA. But $592 million of the ODA to Africa went to North Africa, primarily Egypt
and Tunisia. Less than $200 million went to sub-Saharan Africa. Somalia received much of it;
Niger was another large recipient. Major projects have included training hospitals in Sudan and
Scholarships to Turkey are an important part of the aid program. Between 1991 and
2013, Turkey provided almost 3,300 scholarships for Africans. During the 2014-2015 academic
year, it offered another 1,100 scholarships for students from Africa. As of 2015, about 5,500
African students and 116 professors/research assistants were studying in Turkey.
Turkey’s Diyanet or directorate of religious affairs has begun hosting meetings for
African Islamic leaders and providing training for African imams. It is also engaged in building
mosques around the world, including one in Somalia.
Turkey has become more active in trying to mediate conflict in Africa. It co-chaired with
Egypt an international donor’s conference for the reconstruction of Darfur in Sudan. It hosted
two conferences on Somalia in an unsuccessful effort to reconcile Somalia and Somaliland.
Turkey has made an extraordinary political and developmental effort in Somalia that has elevated
the country to rock star status in the eyes of many Somalis.
Turkey’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa are still modest; in 2015
it assigned only about 60 personnel to six of the operations. On the other hand, it has stepped up
military training for Africans. As of the end of 2014, Turkey had provided military training in
Turkey for about 2,200 personnel from Africa. For the period 2015-2016, Turkey plans to
receive about 1,250 African military personnel for training.
The Turkish navy has also been active, conducting 28 visits to African ports just during
the first half of 2014. Since 2009, Turkey has contributed frigates to the US-led, multinational
Combined Task Force 151 anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden.
Turkey’s civil society organizations have been especially active in Africa and made major
humanitarian contributions that are seen as part of Turkey’s foreign policy. The Turkish
government supported the global expansion of Turkish business and charity organizations and
even considered them a component of Turkey’s humanitarian policy.
The most important of these is the Gülen-affiliated Hizmet movement, which operates
more than 110 schools in Africa, a number of dialogue centers, business associations, and the
humanitarian relief organization known as Kimse Yok Mu. Hizmet worked cooperatively with
the government of Turkey until a political falling out in 2013. Since then, the government has
tried, so far without success, to close down Hizmet schools in Africa. Other important Turkish
civil society organizations operating in Africa are the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Doctors
Worldwide, and Turkish Red Crescent.
Turkey’s weaknesses in Africa as seen from the African side are an inadequate
understanding of Africa, its relatively modest FDI, trade balances that generally favor Turkey,
and some confusion about Turkey’s policy on Islam.
Turkey’s strengths in Africa are a willingness to take risks such as its heavy involvement
in Somalia, its humanitarian diplomacy much of which is implemented by non-governmental
organizations, a strong private sector, the role of Turkish Airlines, and a reputation for
Turkey has made enormous progress over the past ten years in its relations with Africa.
The big question is whether domestic economic and political challenges and the crisis in Syria
will permit Turkey to consolidate its gains and expand its activities in Africa.