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International Conference at Sao Paulo University
Sao Paulo, Brazil
19 May 2016
Hizmet in Africa
David H. Shinn
George Washington University
There has been very little research that documents what Hizmet is doing in Africa and the
significance it is having there. Hizmet activity in the 54 counties of Africa only began in the
mid-1990s and most of it has occurred in the past ten years. It is not surprising, therefore, that so
little is known about Hizmet in Africa.
At the suggestion of the Rumi Forum in Washington, I agreed to research Hizmet’s
programs in Africa, drawing on journalistic accounts, a few academic works, and mainly by
meeting with Hizmet representatives in Turkey and visits to seven countries in Africa in 2012
and 2013 where Hizmet has extensive activities. The result of this effort was publication in 2015
of the first book on Hizmet’s engagement in Africa under the title Hizmet in Africa: The
Activities and Significance of the Gülen Movement.
The presentation today is a summary of my findings with updates since publication of the
book last year. The campaign by the government of Turkey against Hizmet was well underway
before publication of my book, but has subsequently taken on even greater intensity. Because
this audience is familiar with the teachings and writings of Fethullah Gülen, let me turn directly
to the activities of Hizmet in Africa.
TUSKON and the Business Connection
I will begin with Hizmet’s business connection and especially the Confederation of
Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey, better known as TUSKON, which has a close
relationship with Hizmet. A non-governmental and non-profit umbrella organization with
headquarters in Istanbul, TUSKON represents Turkish business federations, business
associations, Turkish entrepreneurs, and companies. TUSKON was the most important Turkish
organization engaged in trade and investment promotion with Africa. It organized numerous
trade bridges and business exchanges between companies in Turkey and those in individual
After the falling out in 2013 between the government of Turkey and Hizmet, pressure by
the government on TUSKON forced it to cut back dramatically on its efforts to promote business
relations in Africa and elsewhere. Turkish police raided the offices of TUSKON in November
2015 as part of a wide-scale investigation into the Gülen Movement. This campaign has
effectively shut down TUSKON’s trade and business promotion efforts in Africa.
Hizmet-supporting business persons also operate a number of independent and informal
business associations in separate African countries. Examples include the South African Turkish
Business Association, the Association of Businessmen and Investors of Nigeria and Turkey, and
the Ethio-Turkish Entrepreneur Association. Their primary task is to organize African business
delegations to visit Turkey and to host visiting Turkish business delegations.
These organizations continue to exist in the aftermath of the government’s campaign
against Hizmet. In some cases, their activities have been curtailed and their web sites are no
longer functioning. In other cases, however, they are gaining members as Hizmet supporters in
Turkey are fleeing and some of them are going to Africa. The efforts by the government to
disrupt TUSKON and end financial contributions by individual business persons in Turkey who
supported Hizmet have had a negative impact on the Hizmet-affiliated business organizations in
The Hizmet-affiliated Bank Asya in Turkey purchased in 2009 a stake in an Islamic
banking group in West Africa. This investment was starting to thrive until the government
effectively took control of Bank Asya, forcing the sale of the West African Islamic banking
investment in 2015.
Hizmet’s business model in Africa relies primarily on financial backing from supporters
in the Turkish business community. As the government put increasing pressure on these
supporters and Turkish-based Hizmet-affiliated organizations, it has also become increasingly
difficult to function outside Turkey, including in Africa.
Hizmet-affiliated Schools in Africa
Hizmet’s most significant engagement in Africa has been the establishment of primary,
middle, and secondary schools. The first school in Africa opened in Tangier in 1994. The first
one in sub-Saharan Africa appeared in Senegal in 1997 followed by schools a year later in
Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria. Today, there are more than 110 Hizmet-affiliated schools in 35
African countries and one university in Nigeria.
About half of these schools opened in the past 10 years although the pressure brought by
the government of Turkey against financial supporters of Hizmet has reduced significantly the
opening of new schools. Most of the schools are found in African countries that are
predominantly Muslim or have a Muslim minority of at least 10 percent. Exceptions to this are
South Africa and Angola, which have very small Muslim minorities but still have Hizmet
Except for Morocco, Arab North Africa has not been especially receptive to Hizmet
schools. There are no schools in Algeria and Tunisia and the first Hizmet school in Libya opened
in 2012. Usually known by Africans as Turkish schools, they are seldom linked to Hizmet or the
Gülen Movement by Africans.
The schools go by a variety of names such as Star International in South Africa, Light
Academy in Kenya, Groupe Scolaire Safak in Côte d’Ivoire, Nejashi Ethio-Turkish International
Schools in Ethiopia, and Galaxy International School in Ghana. The name Gülen and word
Hizmet never appear in the name of the school.
In a number of African countries, the Hizmet schools preceded the establishment of a
Turkish embassy. In fact, the schools sometimes helped the government to open a new embassy.
Even today after Turkey has established 39 embassies in Africa, there are a few countries that
have a Hizmet-affiliated school but not a Turkish embassy.
The Turkish business community sympathetic to Hizmet has traditionally provided the
seed money for establishing the schools. The schools then operate on a fee paying basis and are
expected to cover operational costs. Some schools turn a profit, which is used to expand the
number of schools, upgrade existing facilities, and provide scholarships to qualified students who
cannot afford to pay the fees.
The schools follow the national curriculum in each country and do not offer Islamic
education except for one separate system in South Africa and as an extracurricular subject in a
few schools. South Africa has both a secular system and Islamic system; the later resulted after a
non-Hizmet Islamic system failed financially and supporters of Hizmet in South Africa agreed to
keep it operating as an Islamic system.
The main language of instruction is the principal official language of the African country
such as English, French, Portuguese, or Arabic. Turkish is offered as one of the foreign language
options. The schools are highly praised by a wide range of African officials and African business
persons, whose sons and daughters tend to provide most of the students. The Turkish business
persons who support the schools benefit from the contacts they are able to establish with the
parents of the students in the schools. The schools make a special effort to engage parents in the
activities of the schools. It is a symbiotic relationship between the businessmen and the parents
of children who attend the schools.
The principal criticism I encountered of the schools is that some of the Turkish teachers
do not have a sufficient command of the language used in the school such as English or French.
A few of the schools operate in or near African conflict zones. For the most part, the schools
have not been impacted by nearby conflict or terrorism. An exception to this occurred in March
2016 in Mogadishu, Somalia, when gunmen, presumably from the al-Shabaab and al-Qaedalinked terrorist organization, opened fire on a van transporting employees and students of a
Hizmet-affiliated school. The attack resulted in the death of three Somali staff, a Turkish
teacher, another from Azerbaijan, and injuries to several students.
The increasingly hostile relationship between the government of Turkey and Hizmet has
had an impact on the schools. From the president on down, Turkey has pressed African
governments to shut the Hizmet schools. So far, this effort has had little success. Turkey did
convince the government of Gambia in West Africa to close the Hizmet-affiliated school, but it
appears to have reopened under another name.
The Hizmet schools have been able to survive efforts by the government of Turkey to
close them down because, once they are operational, they provide high quality education and are
funded by the payment of fees that cannot be stopped by the government of Turkey. Funding for
opening new schools, however, is problematic.
Hizmet operates a number of small dialogue centers in key African cities. These
organizations overtly propagate the ideas of Fethullah Gülen but again his name never appears in
the title of the organizations. They go by different names such as Turquoise Harmony Institute in
South Africa, Kilimanjaro Dialogue Center in Tanzania, Respect Foundation in Kenya, Ufuk
Dialogue Foundation in Nigeria, Atlantique Turquie-Senegal Association pour le Dialogue
Culturel entre les Civilisations in Senegal, Nilufer in Morocco, and the Egyptian-Turkish
Friendship and Culture Association.
They have been active in interfaith dialogue and have especially close relations with
Catholic and Anglican churches in Africa. They worked closely with the Gülen-affiliated and
Istanbul-based Journalists and Writers Foundation, an organization whose website shows no
activities since mid-2015. Most African countries never had a Hizmet dialogue center and
centers in countries that did have one are almost certainly experiencing severe funding issues
today because of the pressure being put by the government on financial supporters.
Hizmet Humanitarian Activities
Hizmet has its own global humanitarian arm known as Kimse Yok Mu, which was
especially active in Africa because the need is so great. In 2013, Kimse Yok Mu distributed
about $17.5 million of assistance to 43 countries in Africa. Its largest programs were in Sudan,
Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Most of the aid went to small development projects in
the fields of health, education, water wells, and support for orphans. The programs are
concentrated in Muslim areas of Africa but some non-Muslims are also recipients of the
assistance. Based in Istanbul, Kimse Yok Mu has been under pressure from the government and
is experiencing fewer donations. As a result, its programs in Africa have declined significantly.
There are several smaller Hizmet-affiliated humanitarian programs that operate with
support from the Turkish diaspora in Europe. They continue to provide assistance in Africa. All
of these humanitarian programs have relied entirely on private donations and volunteer
contributions. There has never been any support from the government of Turkey for any of the
Hizmet and Media Outreach to Africa
The Gülen Movement was, until it ran afoul of the government of Turkey, a master of the
use of media in its outreach programs, including those aimed at Africa. It had a variety of print
and TV outlets based in Turkey and outside the country that conveyed its message. In the past
year, the government has taken control of Hizmet’s media assets inside Turkey, although media
activities outside Turkey continue to function, albeit with reduced effectiveness.
The dialogue centers in Africa cited earlier distribute the print media and are trying to
expand Hizmet’s television operation on the continent. The English-language magazine, The
Fountain, is published in New Jersey and distributed globally. The Arabic-language Hira is
published primarily in Egypt and appears in North Africa. The French-language Ebru Magazine
has content similar to The Fountain and is distributed in French-speaking African countries. All
of these publications emphasize the philosophy of Gülen.
The Gülen-affiliated daily papers, Turkish-language Zaman and English-language Zaman
Today, were once among the most influential papers in Turkey although they had little relevance
for Africa. In any event, they have been taken over by the government and lost most of their
impact. Independent, Hizmet-affiliated versions of Zaman and Zaman Today continue to be
published in Europe but with limited funding and no impact in Africa. Hizmet had its own Cihan
News Agency with some staff in Africa, but it has been seized by the government.
Hizmet has operated Ebru TV out of New Jersey since 2006 and made a serious effort to
penetrate the African market beginning in 2012 when it opened a program office in Nairobi,
Kenya. Ebru Africa TV now broadcasts 24/7 from Kenya as a family network in English. The
Arabic-language Hira TV began in 2014 as an Internet only broadcast.
Nearly all Hizmet-affiliated media activity inside Turkey has been shut down or taken
over by the government of Turkey. Hizmet’s media efforts outside Turkey are not flourishing,
but they are surviving.
The Impact of Hizmet in Africa
While the impact of Hizmet in Africa has been modest, it has been disproportionately
significant compared to the limited human and financial resources that its supporters have
invested there. It is impossible at this early stage to measure the degree to which Fethullah
Gülen’s values are impacting African society.
Gradates of Hizmet-affiliated schools who subsequently completed their university
education are only beginning to advance in the African work force. Because so many of them
come from prominent political and business families, however, it is reasonable to expect they
will one day occupy key positions in African governments, business sector, and higher education.
Hizmet’s Future in Africa
My assessment is that African leaders want, on the one hand, to avoid offending the
government of Turkey, an important country, by not cooperating too closely with Hizmet
programs. On the other hand, they do not want to be told what they can and cannot do by any
foreign government, including the government of Turkey.
Turkey has important trade ties and investments in North Africa, where Hizmet is not
well represented, but has limited leverage in sub-Saharan Africa, where Hizmet is strongest.
Turkey’s imports from sub-Saharan Africa, for example, account for only about 1 percent of
global Turkish imports. This does not provide any meaningful leverage. While Turkish
investment in Sub-Saharan Africa is more significant, it comes from the Turkish private sector
and not the government. The most important Turkish organization that has reached out to Africa
on trade and investment is TUSKON and it is a Hizmet-affiliated organization.
So far, African governments seem to be allowing Hizmet programs to continue
undisturbed. The greatest threat to Hizmet from the Turkish government is that it is drying up
much of the financial support for Hizmet activities by continuing to threaten and harass financial
supporters in Turkey.
As for Hizmet after Gülen, members of the Movement stress that decision-making in
Hizmet is not concentrated at the top or held by a small number of individuals. They insist that
Hizmet is not about an individual and say the Movement will continue after Gülen. While this
may be true, when Fethullah Gülen’s writings come to an end, it is fair to ask if enthusiasm for
the Movement will continue. There is no obvious successor. Nevertheless, Hizmet has surprised
many already and may well prove to be a unique social Movement that continues to surprise.