Turkey's policy in Africa: Frontiers of a new imagination
Professor Dr. Bülent Aras
Courtesy of Turkish Red Crescent
Turkey has adopted a new course in foreign policy toward Africa under the impact of a new geographic imagination. The novel geographic imagination of Turkish policy-makers has been strongly influenced by Turkey’s recent domestic political transformation and, to a lesser extent, by changes in regional and international politics.
The old foreign policy thinking regarded Turkey’s neighborhood as a geography of chaos and a source of instability. This resulted in Turkey’s conscious alienation and limited involvement in the so-called far away territories, i.e. Asia and Africa.
Turkey’s domestic transformation, a favorable international environment and the advent of a new geographic imagination changed this old pattern in regional policy. The meaning of the nation’s geography has changed; territorial limitations to involvement in the region have been eliminated in the minds of the policy-makers; domestic security has been tied to regional security; social sectors have increased their role in policy-making; and de-securitization has changed the security-first approach to foreign policy-making. As a result, the altered geographic imagination has created a new framework for Turkish policy in neighboring regions and beyond.
In this process, various social groups increased their role in the making of foreign policy, i.e. TUSKON (Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey) in Africa. Business organizations, civil society, intellectuals, think tanks and other actors now provide input into the foreign policy-making process.
Embassies across Africa
Turkish politicians have also promised to contribute to the security, stability and prosperity in a wide range of territories beyond Turkey’s immediate neighborhood, such as South Asia and Africa. As argued by Ahmet Davutoğlu, the minister of foreign affairs and the intellectual architect of the foreign policy, “Turkey is a country with a close land basin, the epicenter of the Balkans, the Middle East and the Caucasus, the center of Eurasia in general and is in the middle of the Rimland belt cutting across the Mediterranean to the Pacific.”
As a landmark example of Turkey’s newly generated interest to Africa, Ankara initiated a large endeavor of opening up new embassies in the continent. Turkey opened 19 new embassies in Sub-Saharan Africa and increased the number of embassies in Africa to 31.
On the other hand, Turkey is also active for ensuring peace and stability in Africa and contributes to five of the six United Nations missions deployed in the continent. Turkey is currently providing personnel and contributing financially U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo-MONUSCO, African Union-U.N. Hybrid Operation in Darfur-UNAMID, U.N. Mission in the South Sudan-UNMISS, U.N. Operation in Cote d’Ivoire-UNOCI and U.N. Mission in Liberia – UNMIL. As a contribution to peace and stability, Turkey hosted the first Istanbul Somalia Conference in 2010.
These reciprocal endeavors have concrete repercussions also in the economic field. Trade volume with Sub-Saharan Africa in the year 2000 was only $742 million. This figure has reached almost $7.5 billion in 2011 ($17.1 billion with the continent) setting a new record. Turkish foreign policy towards Africa, beyond its political and economic dimensions, incorporates a comprehensive approach which includes development of Africa through technical and project assistance in the fields such as health, education and agriculture and regular flow of humanitarian aid, when needed as recently demonstrated in Somalia.
The Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TICA) is the key governmental agency carrying out humanitarian and development assistance. Its programs range from food support to technical development projects. TICA is active in more than 30 African countries with its projects in various fields.
These initiatives have been accompanied by the humanitarian aid component. As a striking field, health sector constitutes another important aspect of Turkey’s humanitarian assistance to African countries. Turkish doctors have taken part in numerous health screening campaigns organized by Turkish NGOs, i.e. Doctors’ Worldwide (Yeryüzü Doktorları), in cooperation with Turkish Ministry of Health and TICA.
Education and culture are other significant fields that one can appraise Turkey’s active engagement with the African countries, since the year 2000, Turkey have provided scholarships for almost 2,500 students from the African countries excluding the recent scholarships allocated for Somalia. On the other hand, Turkey have also provided opportunity for around 100 diplomats from the African countries to participate in the “International Training Program for the Young Diplomats” organized by the Diplomacy Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1992.
Turkish policy-makers have made it clear that their activism should not be interpreted as a narrow regional policy, but rather as part of a universal vision of foreign policy. The growing number of high-level mutual visits, the diverse activities designed for the region by both state and societal actors and, in particular, civil society activism, are all strong signs that Turkey’s positive contributions to the region will continue.
One may conclude that Turkey pursues multidimensional and proactive foreign policy in Africa and is determined to strengthen its cooperation with the African countries in all avenues possible on the basis of equality and common interests.