Turkey's sudden pledge to Africa hits $800 million

Turkey's sudden pledge to Africa hits $800 million

Like the rest of the world, Turkey is going through extraordinary days due to the continued spread of the fatal coronavirus, killing 21 out of 947 confirmed cases as of March 22.

The outbreak has almost paralyzed social life, economic activities and political processes everywhere in the world, causing a temporary suspension of key foreign political issues. There are, however, exceptions to that.

At a time when the entire Turkey was heavily focused on the fight against the pandemic, the Turkish Parliament passed a law late March 19, stipulating an increase in Turkey’s pledge to the African Development Bank.

With a legal amendment approved by the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Turkey has increased its capital subscription to the ADB to around $800 million with an authorization given to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to increase it up to five times, to $4 billion.

Turkey had joined the ADB in 2013 by pledging $88 million in line with Ankara’s boosted comprehensive and multilayered Africa policy. Over the years, Turkey gradually increased its capital contribution to the bank to $358 million and with Thursday’s vote to $800 million. It comes after the ADB’s decision to increase its capital from $90 billion to $200 billion in late 2019.

The opposition parties have slammed the government for doubling Turkey’s pledge to Africa at a moment when Turkey is struggling with severe economic problems, unemployment and related social difficulties which could be worsened due to the impacts of the coronavirus in the coming period.

The amendment was first brought to the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on March 11 on a moment’s notice. The reasons for this increase were explained to the panel by Deputy Foreign Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran, who stressed that Turkey had to pledge around $440 million to the bank so that it could preserve its 38 per thousand voting power. According to Kıran, it was important for Turkey to continue its support to the ADB and its future activities and engagement with the continent.

Although they expressed their principled support for enhancing Turkey’s relationship with Africa, the representatives from the opposition parties have challenged this particular capital increase to the bank.

The deputy leader of the main Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ünal Çeviköz recalled that the ADB’s capital increase from $90 billion to $125 billion was not a result of unanimous voting and there were many members who did not endorse the move.

Çeviköz suggested that Turkey had to increase its support in a bid to compensate the shares of other countries which voted against the ADB’s decision to augment its capital. He also questioned why the law has been brought so hastily to the parliament’s agenda when Turkey was very busy with the pandemic and other economic and social problems.

After the committee, the law was brought to the General Assembly on March 19 where it was adopted after a short discussion in the absence of a government representative.

CHP deputy for Eskişehir province Utku Çakırözer, who defended the main opposition’s stance at the General Assembly, underlined the importance of Turkey’s approach to Africa by extending its assistance to the world’s poorest continent.

“It’s important to be a donor of a bank. But Turkey’s increase is an extraordinary one. The ADB has decided to increase its capital by 125 percent. As we see from the draft law, we multiply our special drawing right (SDR) from 67,790,000 to 577,950,000 [units] through an increase equal to 725 percent. This is not a high rise, not an extraordinary rise; it’s an astronomical rise. This is equal to $800 million over today’s currency rates,” he said.

Aydın Sezgin, a lawmaker from the opposition İYİ (Good) Party, also opposed the law. “One out of four youngsters is unemployed. Depression stemming from the economic crisis and unemployment is deepening within the society. Considering the impacts of the coronavirus measures on our economy, it is quite obvious that we are not in a place to be so generous to the African Development Bank,” he suggested.

I don’t see what sort of diplomatic or economic wisdom is behind this move, Sezgin said, “But I am sure of this: This move will benefit neither our interests in Africa nor the welfare of our citizens. And, this raises the question of who wants to take advantage of the capital increase.”

Although this capital increase is very much consistent with Turkey’s more than a decade-old active Africa policy, the timing and the scope of the move are unprecedented. It was also interesting to observe that no senior government representatives were in parliament to defend the law.

Clarifying questions over the capital increase does surely require a substantial explanation from the government, especially when the taxpayers of this country are suffering from economic dire straits.