Turkey’s return to the Horn of Africa

Turkey’s return to the Horn of Africa

The name of the first Ottoman diplomat in the Horn of Africa is Ahmet Mazhar Bey, who was appointed as consul general to the Ethiopian city of Harar in 1910s. He was shot dead by colonialists in Djibouti.

The last governor was Burhan Bey, who stayed at this Ottoman province until the French arrived in the 1880s.

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) is now building a huge square at the center of the city with its boulevards; the square is to be named Istanbul Square. One of the boulevards leading to this square will be named after Burhan Bey.

There will also be a martyrs’ monument in the square where consul general Ahmet Mazhar Bey’s memory will be commemorated. 

From Burhan Bey to today, I wonder if it is worth the risks we take. What was the cause of our presence here a century ago and what is the cause of our return today?

I am among the group of journalists accompanying President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his Africa trip. TİKA has many projects in the region; some of them will be inaugurated by Erdoğan.

TİKA is renovating the consulate mansion of Ahmet Mazhar Bey at Harar.

Ethiopia is the first country of immigration for Muslims. Al-Najashi, the Ethiopian King of the time, his tomb is being restored by TİKA.

Ethiopia has never been a colony in its history. Even the Ottomans sent a consul general there, not a colonial governor.

It hosts both the African Union and the U.N. Regional headquarters in its capital Addis Ababa, which has more political weight, disproportionate to its economic power.

However, it does have an economic potential and future; do not underestimate it. Otherwise, why would China build government buildings and hand them over, why would they donate traffic signalization systems, why would it donate city buses?

Today their national income per capita is $1,300 and the country’s foreign trade volume is $4 billion. Its total economic volume could be around $130 billion. Its trade with Turkey is scarce, around $270 million.

However, I was here nine years ago and one can notice the difference. It is growing very fast, roughly 10 percent annually.

Is it a small market, one that has a population of 100 million people? A region of more than 110 hectares; seven federal regions, 600 districts and 28,000 villages; too huge to be underestimated…

Djibouti does not even have a population of 1 million. It does not have wide land, but it has a coast and it is a port city. Its income per capita is equal to Ethiopia’s.  

Small, but strategically important Djibouti stayed under Ottoman rule for 400 years.

The same goes for Somalia; it was partially an Ottoman sanjak, but it is the poorest of all the three with $600 per capita.

Turkey is building roads, bringing water and electricity, providing food and employment opportunities, building schools and hospitals through TİKA.

If we are to hold a substantial place in the economic and political future of Africa, then we will owe it to the development aids, machinery and equipment donations and contributions of TİKA today. This agency is making our flag wave here in the remotest corners. Head of TİKA Serdar Çam is traveling with Erdoğan, as well as heads of business organizations such as DEİK, MÜSİAD and ASKON.

Members of these organizations who have already settled in Ethiopia greeted us. One of them told us they had founded nine textile factories here. The other is a contractor who makes roads. The other is seeking energy projects.

The French, British and Italian, at the utmost, have a century of history in the Horn of Africa. We have centuries of a common past.

Now, a new future is being built on that foundation.

Is that not worth a return?