BARÇIN YİNANÇ > Turkey is no salvation army, say Africans

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As a regional power with an aspiration to become a world player, Turkey aims at being active on all issues of global importance. The crisis in Syria has shown however the limits of activism on many fronts. Turkey’s energy are being sucked up by the Syrian fire so much so that, Syria is practically the only issue on the foreign policy agenda.

I, however, as a journalist of a regional power with global aspirations(!) will not neglect my duties and will talk about Turkey’s presence in Africa. For that I should thank a think tank of a global player, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung foundation for organizing an annual conference on peace and security in the Horn of Africa in Istanbul, which provided me with some clues on how Africans perceive the Turkish presence in their continent.

Turkey’s increased presence and activism especially in Sub-Saharan Africa are a source of curiosity for Turkey watchers. “Why is Turkey in Africa?” is a question you hear very often. “Turkey is there probably for whatever reasons the Americans, Brits, French or Germans are in Africa,” is my rather rude answer. This reply obviously does not reflect the whole truth, and it stems from a personal frustration toward global players who think they are entitled to go anywhere in the world and don’t like the idea of seeing a “new kid” in the neighborhood.

Listening to the views from the region, one can observe several facts that make Turkey’s standing in the region different from the other players’. The first is the lack of a colonial legacy. While relations date back to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey enjoys a positive image. Another one is the way Turkey uses its soft power. It was extremely interesting to hear from Africans themselves the tremendous impact made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 2011 visit to Somalia, where he spend the night with his family. “The message was, I care so much about you that I will spend the night and will do that with my wife. This is not just soft power; this is humanity itself,” said one of the participants.

Turkey’s soft power approach seems to have so far won the hearts and minds of the Africans.

However, Turkey needs to be very careful with the rhetoric it uses. “Whatever we are doing in Africa, we are not expecting anything in return,” type of rhetoric that we keep hearing from the Turks is harmful because this type of rhetoric backfires as it assumes that Africans are naïve enough to believe such nonsense. Turkey’s presence in Africa is motivated by economic interest and by aspirations to be a global actor; and as such there is no problem with that; therefore there is no need to try to conceal real motivations which are perfectly legitimate.

“Turkey is no salvation army,” said an African participant. There is no need to pretend to be one.

Finally, Turkey’s “Islamic orientation is being watched carefully,” as another participant put it. “Turkey is welcomed by the Muslims; it is also welcomed by non-Muslims but with caution,” he said, adding that Turkey’s democracy was a safety valve against extremism. It seems that Turkey’s secular democracy is an important asset in this part of the world too, it should therefore be careful to avoid anything that could erode this asset.


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MR Somalia

11/23/2012 10:20:15 AM

Erdogan and his supporters are in Somalia to help us stand on our feet again and we appreciate them for that however I'm not sure why the other Turks are there. We only want Muslim Turks in Muslim Somalia the rest are unwanted...they can go somewhere else in Africa it's a big continent.

Robert Ellis

11/18/2012 2:56:24 PM

To avoid a misunderstanding I would add the Gülen movement has more than 60 schools in 30 African countries.

Robert Ellis

11/17/2012 1:11:44 PM

Like 19th century missionaries the Gülen movement's schools in Africa - there are now 30 - pave the way for Turkish business organizations such as the 'Gülen inspired' Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industralists (TUSKON).

Chris Green

11/15/2012 1:32:30 AM

There is of course a very good reason why Turkey is 'no Salvation Army' and that is because the latter is a Christian Organisation formed in the East End of London in 1867 by William Booth and it still fulfils a valuable social humanitarian role today. Turkey are unlikely to be taking an altruistic role in Africa any more than China are and indeed the latter could be described as performing the ultimate 'Chinese take-away' given the mineral resources they are hoovering from Southern Africa now.

Sid Mark

11/13/2012 7:34:43 PM

Mara.Your comment deserves a deep discussion.Let me know when you are free.

mara mcglothin

11/13/2012 3:53:38 PM

Turkey needs to remember that "no good deed goes unpunished!" If Africa could be helped don't you think the millions of dollars that have been spent would have made a dent in all their troubles? Not likely! Turkey once again thinks that they can do a better job. More power to them, but there are a lot of haters out there and you can't please all the people all of the time. Turkey is not really that used to criticism and it won't be long before the boorish PM will be shaking his finger!
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