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Africa Center for Strategic Studies
31 October 2016
David H. Shinn
Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
In recent years, Turkey has significantly increased its outreach to Africa and senior
officials continue to visit the continent regularly. Turkey has much longer and more significant
relations with the five North African countries than with the 49 countries in Sub-Saharan 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. Because of Turkey’s support for the
Muslim Brotherhood, one North African country that recently has experienced a sharp
deterioration in relations with Ankara is Egypt.
Turkey’s Opening to Africa
Turkey’s primary interest in Africa is access to markets and raw materials and expanding
its exports to the billion plus people in Africa. Turkey announced its Opening Up to Africa
Policy in 1998, but a subsequent devastating earthquake in Turkey and a financial crisis
postponed its initial outreach. Turkey made its major push into the continent in 2005, which it
declared as the “Year of Africa.” In 2005, then Prime Minister Erdogan was only the second
head of government to visit sub-Saharan Africa with trips to Ethiopia and South Africa.
In 2008, former President Gul hosted the first Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit in
Istanbul and in subsequent years visited a number of African countries. Visits to Africa by highlevel Turkish officials became a staple of the Turkey-Africa relationship. The second TurkeyAfrica Cooperation Summit took place in Equatorial Guinea in 2014. President Erdogan visited
Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia in January 2015. Speculation that he would make additional
visits to Africa in 2015 did not happen, probably because of elections in Turkey and the crisis in
neighboring Syria. Erdogan resumed his trips to Africa in 2016 with separate visits to West
Africa and to Kenya and Uganda.
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.
Turkey now has embassies in 39 African countries: five in North Africa, 34 in sub-Saharan
Africa, and a consulate general in self-declared independent Somaliland. 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.
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 Ankara. There are now 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, although it dropped from $20
billion in 2014 to $17.5 billion in 2015 and constitutes less than 5 percent of Turkey’s global
trade. Significantly, only $6 billion of its trade with Africa in 2015 was with the 49 countries of
sub-Saharan Africa and $11.5 billion was with North Africa.
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. Turkey has free
trade agreements with four African countries and has signed trade and economic cooperation
agreements with 39.
One of the major promoters of Turkey-Africa trade was the Turkish Confederation of
Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), which was affiliated with Hizmet or the Gülen
movement. Turkey has blamed the Gülen movement for the 2016 coup attempt and shut down
TUSKON. Turkey has a long way to go before Africa becomes a 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
In 2000, Turkish foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa totaled about $750 million.
According to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry website, cumulative Turkish FDI in Africa is estimated
today at $6.2 billion. On the other hand, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official stated at a
conference I attended in Istanbul in 2015 that Turkish FDI in Africa had 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. Turkey has signed
agreements on avoiding double taxation and on investment protection with 11 African countries.
It has reciprocal protection of investment agreements with 22 countries.
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
Turkish-African 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 Gülen
movement has its own business associations in most African cities that have a significant Turkish
Turkish contractors initiated projects in Africa between the early 1970s and 2015 worth
$55 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.
In 2008, the only cities Turkish Airlines served in sub-Saharan Africa were Addis Ababa,
Khartoum, Lagos, and Johannesburg. It has expanded its African service and now has the most
flights that go to/from the continent, providing service to 48 destinations in 31 African countries.
The Turkish International Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) has program
coordination offices in 15 African countries. Turkey’s official development assistance to Africa
totaled only $52 million in 2008. In 2014, it reached $383 million, a sharp drop from 2013, and
most of it went to North Africa. Major recipients in sub-Saharan Africa have been Somalia,
Niger, and Sudan, all Muslim countries.
Scholarships to Turkey are an important part of the aid program. Between 1991 and
2014, Turkey provided almost 4,400 scholarships for Africans. During the 2015-2016 academic
year, it offered another 1,200 scholarships for students from Africa. Turkey’s Diyanet or
directorate of religious affairs hosts meetings for African Islamic leaders and provides training
for African imams. It is also engaged in building mosques around the world, including one in
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 key component of Turkey’s humanitarian policy.
The most important of these was the Gülen-affiliated Hizmet movement, which operates
about 110 schools in Africa, a number of dialogue centers, business associations, and until 2015
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 to shut down Hizmet activities in Africa. This effort picked up steam after the Gülen
movement was accused of leading the failed coup in 2016. The Erdogan government has
succeeded in shutting down the Hizmet schools in Gambia, Somalia, and Sudan and dismantled
all Gülen movement operations based in Turkey.
Other important Turkish civil society organizations operating in Africa are the
Humanitarian Relief Foundation, Doctors Worldwide, and Turkish Red Crescent. The Yunus
Emre Association has established a Turkish cultural center in Khartoum and has plans to open
one in Pretoria, Djibouti, Gambia, and Niger.
Turkey has become more active in trying to mediate conflict in Africa. It co-chaired with
the previous Egyptian government 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 engaged at an extraordinary level in Somalia that has
elevated it to rock star status in the eyes of the Somali government and many Somalis. Of all the
countries in Africa, Turkey has made its greatest effort in Somalia, including military training
and support. In spite of its problems at home, this focus continues. Turkey has also attracted the
attention of the Somali extremist organization, al Shabaab, which has targeted the Turkish
presence on several occasions.
Turkey and South Africa have a defense industry pact that calls for greater cooperation
and involves close relations at the private sector level. Nigeria signed a defense pact with
Turkey that includes training, the procurement of naval ships, and joint exercises. Ethiopia has a
military cooperation pact with Turkey that emphasizes training for Ethiopian troops. Turkey has
signed a military cooperation memorandum of understanding with Sudan.
The Turkish defense industry sees Africa as a new market, especially for armored
vehicles and electronic equipment. Turkish state-owned arms companies, Aselsan and Turkish
Aerospace Industries, have increased sales to Africa in recent years.
Turkey’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa are exceedingly modest:
65 police assigned to seven of the nine UN operations in Africa. Turkey has provided military
training in Turkey for more than 2,200 personnel from Africa. In 2015, Turkey received 570
African military personnel for training.
The Turkish navy is a more frequent visitor to African ports, although they have
decreased in the past year. Since 2009, Turkey has contributed frigates to the US-led,
multinational Combined Task Force 151 anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden. It also
participates in Operation Ocean Field, NATO’s counter-piracy mission.
African countries seem to view favorably Turkey’s security-related interventions.
Everything considered, Turkey’s contribution to African security needs has been limited and is
not likely to increase in the foreseeable future because of the purge in 2016 of the military and
police in Turkey and the security threat posed by neighboring Syria.
Turkey’s weaknesses in Africa as seen from the African side are an inadequate
understanding of Africa, its relatively modest foreign direct investment, 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.