Since Turkey was established in 1923, Africa has become the most ignored area in Turkish Foreign Policy (TFP). During the Cold War era, Turkey did not have strong political or economic relations with Africa, as its Western oriented foreign policy in this period paralysed the development of a multidimensional foreign policy towards the southern continent. The first and most important attempt to increase economic and political relations between Turkey and Africa started in 1998, with the acceptance of the “Africa Opening Action Plan”; however, it could not be implemented successfully because of the political instabilities in Turkey. However, following the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) in 2002, Turkish foreign policy has changed significantly and new principles have started to play an important role as Turkey has aimed to reinforce its multidimensional and active foreign policy with different continents. Furthermore, it has committed to further contributing to international peace and security by taking more international responsibilities. In this regard, Turkey announced 2005 as a “year of Africa” and began to reinforce its institutional ties with African regional and sub-regional organisations, including the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Development Bank, and the East African Community (EAC).
In 2005, the Turkish Prime Minister’s first visit to Africa was an historic moment for shifting traditional relations between Turkey and Africa, as the AU accepted Turkey as a strategic partner. In recent years, Turkey’s increasing relations with African organisations, in particular with the AU, have strengthened its soft power on the continent in particular, and in world politics in general. Meanwhile, Turkey opened 15 new embassies in Africa in 2008, making a total of 22 across the continent and 10 more expected to be opened by the end of 2012. Why is a strategic partnership with Africa becoming so important for Turkey? One reason is that the world has changed as a multi-polar international system replaced a bipolar one with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The concept of security has dramatically transformed from military to non-military threats, such as climate change, international terrorism and illegal immigration, which have increasingly come to threaten all states’ economic and political interests. No state can resolve today’s global issues on its own. And as a changing nature of foreign policy, Turkey wants to play a more active role in global issues, Africa included. A dynamic continent, with a wide range of opportunities for Turkey.
More importantly, Turkey hosted the first ever Turkey-Africa summit in Istanbul in 2008, an important step for developing comprehensive relations between the two, with 49 African states participating. The summit played a significant role in reinforcing mutual trust and restoring relations between the two different actors, and political stability has had a positive impact on the growing of relations. Creating a strategic partnership between two different actors has provided opportunities for both and given them strength to fight against the new common threats and challenges. During the summit, the “Istanbul Declaration on Turkey-Africa Partnership: Cooperation and Solidarity for a Common Future” and “Cooperation Framework for Turkey-Africa Partnership” were adopted. Turkey has also sustained international peace, security and stability by giving support to the UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, currently numbering eight.
The global actors’ foreign and security policies towards Africa have changed dramatically with the terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001. The international actors, such as the EU, the UN, the USA, and Japan paid more attention to Africa and highlighted that collapsed states, conflicts and wars, and international terrorism not only threaten economic and political interests of African states but also damage interests of economic and political interests of the global actors. The new global threats and challenges necessitated the global actors creating a strategic partnership with Africa. In this regard, Turkey started to develop a strategic partnership with different continents and countries in order to resolve global problems more effectively. In addition, these initiatives have brought political and economic opportunities for Turkey. For instance, it received significant political support from most African states when selected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the UN between 2008 and 2009. At the same time, its trade volume in Africa rose from $16 billion in 2008 to $30 billion in 2011.
The main concern for TFP towards Africa is that the question of whether Turkey is ready to develop a consistent foreign and security policy towards Africa remains critical. Importantly, Turkey’s foreign policy with Africa should aim to develop a long-term strategy. In this regard, continuity is necessary for strengthening relations between Turkey and Africa. At the same time, Turkey needs to construct its theoretical framework for its foreign and security policy for Africa. Furthermore, Turkey’s foreign and security policy should aim to create a genuine strategic partnership rather than a dominant partnership model and increase Africa’s economic and political interests.
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Lecturer at International University of Sarajevo
PhD Candidate at Leiden University