TURKEY'S AFRICA POLICY: NEW DYNAMICS AND NEW PERCEPTIONS



Turkey has deepened its foreign and security relations towards Africa since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002. Turkey has implemented its foreign policy towards Africa with three strategies. The first strategy is that Turkey has strengthened its diplomatic ties with African countries and organizations. While Turkey only had 12 embassies in Africa in 2002, it has 35 embassies today. In 2008, Turkey hosted its first Turkey-Africa summit in Istanbul. High-level representatives from 44 African countries participated in the summit. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first non-African leader visited Somalia after the Second World War. Turkey has also increased its relations with African regional and sub-regional organizations. Turkey got an observer status from the African Union (AU) in 2005 and became a non-regional member of the African Development Bank in 2008. In addition, Turkey got accredited to the East African Community (EAC) in 2010, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Partners (IGAD) in 2012, Common Market for Eastern Southern Africa (COMESA) in 2012, and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in 2013. Turkey's relations with African organizations has played a significant role in developing its economic and political relations with Afircan countries.

The second one is that Turkey has boosted its economic relations with African countries. Turkey has signed free trade agreements with African countries. Its total trade with Africa has increased significantly over the last decade. While it was 2 billion dollars, it reached to 23 billion dollars in 2013. The third is that Turkey has especially consolidated Turkish NGOs and provided support to their humanitiran acitivities in Africa. Turkish NGOs play a significant role in deepening Turkey's relations with Africa. For instance, The Humanitarian Relief Foundation  (IHH) operates in 42 African countries and has a wide range of humanitarian relief programs. The IHH launched a water well project in 2002 to provide clean water in Africa. People in many African countries still lack access to clean water; therefore they use unhealthy drinking water. Due to shortage of water and fatal droughts in Africa, thousands of people die every year. In particular, droughts have been seen at the highest level in Africa in the world. 

The IHH has so far opened more than 1000 water wells in different African countries such as 1146 in Somalia, 27 in Cameroon, 24 in Kenya, 5 in Ethiopia. It can be said that opening water wells in Africa have been one of the most significant humanitarian assistance programs of the foundation in Africa. The foundation is also planning to open 475 more water wells in Africa. The number of water wells in Africa is increasing every day opened by the IHH. The IHH not only carries out short-term projects but also implements long-term projects in Africa. For instance, it has opened agricultural schools so as to develop agriculture, alleviate poverty and hunger and mitigate the effects of drought in Africa. The IHH established an agricultural school in Somalia in 2013 in cooperation with Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency (TIKA) and in Gambia in 2012 to train African people in the field of agriculture.

The foundation has conducted important health projects since it was established. One of the most important health care projects of the foundation is Africa Cataract Project. The aim of the project is to offer free eye care and to prevent blindness in Africa. 1.2 percent of African population of one billion has cataract diseases. In other words, there are ten million people who are cataract patients cross the continent. This number increases every year as a result of malnourishment, poverty and drought. Thousands of people lose their life every year due to the lack of proper health care in Africa. The IHH aims to provide 100.000 free cataract surgery operations in ten African countries, including Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Togo, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, and Benin. Especially, cataract diseases are very common in the mentioned countries.

Turkey's increasing role in Africa can be explained with two important factors. The first is the geographical condition of Turkey; the second one is changes of perceptions of Turkish Foreign Policy.

1. Geographical position of Turkey: The geographical position of Turkey directly affects its foreign and security relations in world politics. Turkey is neither a Western country nor an Asian country. Turkey is defined as an "Afro-Eurasian country." Geographical conditions can create both opportunites and threats for countries. While some countries can use their geographical features positively, some use it negatively. Japan is considered as an important country in this respect. After the Second World War, it became the second largest economic power in the world by using its geographical position positively.  During the Cold War era, Turkey developed a Western-oriented foreign policy. Turkey's geographical conditions especially necessitates  itself to develop a multilateral and active foregin and security policy. Turkey cannot be a strategic actor in the world politics without deepening its relations with the African continent. It can be said that Turkey has added a geographical depth to its foreign policy with the ruling party.

2. Change of perception of Turkish foreign policy: Turkey's changing relations with Africa can be explained by change of perception in TFP. TFP was based on intangible threat perceptions during the Cold War era. The impact of the Cold War on TFP era contined until 2000 and the threat perception of the Cold War on TFP undermined economic and political relaitons between Turkey and Africa. TFP based on threat perceptions was  used actively by the policy-makers in Turkey until 2000. A new change in perception in TFP can be explained by a constructivist approach. Historical relations, religious ties and new and positive perceptions have been important in changing traditional foreign policy of Turkey. 

Turkey should continue to deepen its relations with Africa.  Turkey should play a more active role in maintaining peace and security in Africa in particular in the areas of conflict on the continent. Its relations with Africa creates new alternatives to Turkey, decreases its dependency on the Western world, and strengthen its political and economic power in world politcs. Africa also benefits from Turkey's policy in Africa. More than 4000 African students have studied in Turkey with the government and private scholarships. Turkey also builds schools, airports and hospitals in many African countries. While increasing relations between Turkey and Africa decreases the role of former colonial powers in Africa, it diversifies foreign policies of African countries. Attacks on Turkey in Somalia in 2012 and 2013 can be interpreted in this context. The traditional actors in African politics have felt threatened by the new emerging actor's increasing relations with African countries.



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