07.06.2024 Author: Viktor Goncharov

Turkish expansion in Africa Part Two: Basic Directions and Instruments of Turkish Policy in Africa

The Turkish Policy in Africa

Turkish engagement with the continent, the African Institute for Policy Studies of the Federal Republic of Germany notes, is based on economic development, military co-operation, humanitarian aid, cultural and religious ties, and the training of African personnel.

Given the recent economic complications, Ankara’s main efforts in Africa are aimed at developing trade relations with the continent in order to gain access to new markets for its products, as well as to energy and mineral resources.

But the growth of Turkey’s trade turnover with African countries, especially French-speaking ones, is causing serious concern in Paris, according to the French publication Orient XXI, even if it is still small in absolute terms. Over the past 20 years, it has grown from $5 billion in 2003 to $40.7 billion in 2023, according to the Turkish Trade Minister. At the last Turkey-Africa Economic Forum in 2021, Erdoğan said that “our goal is to increase trade with Africa first to $50 billion and then to $75 billion”.

Turkey’s biggest trading partners in Africa are Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. In sub-Saharan Africa, the largest importers of Turkish goods are South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

One of the most important areas of Turkish business abroad has traditionally been construction. Although this sector has long been monopolised by China in Africa, Turkish companies have made inroads.

Suffice it to say that in Senegal alone in 2018, they won contracts worth a total of 700 million euros, including the construction of the Dakar International Conference Centre, the Sports Palace, the Radisson Hotel and other facilities, as well as the management of the capital’s airport for 25 years.

In Niger, the value of infrastructure projects carried out by Turkish companies is estimated at $250 million, including a $154 million contract to build a new airport in the capital, Niamey. Overall, Turkish companies currently account for 21 per cent of construction work in Africa.

In addition to construction, Turkey is actively involved in the development of energy supply systems through the supply of floating power plants. The first such contract was signed with Ghana in 2014. Deliveries to Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sudan, Gambia and Sierra Leone followed. Today, floating power plants account for 80 percent of all electricity generated in the last two countries.

And the demand for these sources of energy continues to grow. In January this year, Karpowership, a Turkish company in the business, announced that it had doubled its operations in 15 African countries, including Angola, Cameroon, Gabon, Kenya and Nigeria.

Military and security co-operation

In developing co-operation with countries in this region, Ankara pays special attention to security cooperation: training local military personnel and promoting its military products to the markets of these countries.

As of the end of 2023, military and security co-operation agreements have been concluded with more than 30 African countries. In recent years, they have been signed with Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gambia, Guinea, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda.

Although Turkish arms exports to Africa remain relatively small, they are nonetheless growing rapidly. From $83 million in 2020, it has increased to $288 million in 2021, representing only 0.5 per cent of total arms exports to all countries on the continent, according to the African Institute for Policy Studies of the FRG.

Turkey’s main military exports are UAVs, training aircraft, patrol vessels, armoured vehicles and small arms. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya. Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and South Africa.

As for Niger, Ankara’s ultimate goal in concluding an agreement with Niger is to establish a military base on its territory close to the Libyan border.

In pursuing its policy agenda in Africa, Ankara has engaged a number of non-governmental organisations with strong state support. The largest of these is the Turkish Muslim Humanitarian Aid Foundation, which supplies food, clothing, tents, medicine and other essentials to famine and war-torn areas. In Africa, it has been active at various times in humanitarian operations in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and other countries.

In providing humanitarian aid, its employees are not only involved in religiously treating their beneficiaries, inducing them to adopt the Turkish version of Islam, but also in supplying arms to local extremist organisations. In particular, the Nigerian authorities have uncovered facts of Turkish arms deliveries through Nigerian ports not only for local terrorists from “Boko Haram” (an organisation banned in the Russian Federation), but also for their further transfer to terrorist organisations in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and the Central African Republic. According to the American publication National Review, today Turkey and Qatar remain the main inspirers and financial sponsors of Islamic extremism in Africa.

As for the ideology of Turkish Islamism, the Maarif Foundation was established in 2016 by parliamentary decision to promote it in the world of Islam. Its activities are directly directed by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education. In fact, it is engaged in promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood (an organisation banned in Russia) in order to form a layer of local elite in African countries, which is closer in its views and spirit to the ruling political elite in Turkey today.

For the same purpose, as part of the policy of neo-Ottomanism, the Yunus Emre Institute was established in 2007 in Turkey, which oversees a network of Turkish cultural centres abroad, engaged in the dissemination of Turkish language, culture and art, as well as the processing of its students in the spirit of the Turkish version of Islam.

Erdoğan’s political weapon

As for President Erdoğan personally, according to experts of the German Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, he has always used and continues to use Islam as a political weapon. It is no coincidence that in 1998 he was sentenced to four months in prison for this. As mayor of Istanbul at the time, at one of his rallies he quoted a poem by Ziya Gökalp, one of the theorists of Turkish nationalism, which ran as follows: ‘The minarets will be our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the believers our soldiers’. This speech was regarded by the authorities as a call to incite religious hatred.

Ankara also relies heavily on Sadat, an Islamist private military company founded by former Turkish army general Adnan Tanriverdi, who was dismissed in 1996 for Islamist links but became Erdoğan’s top military adviser after the 2016 coup attempt. The core of this company is made up of former soldiers who were also dismissed from the army for their Islamist views.

The range of activities of this shadowy organisation serving the interests of the ruling regime in Turkey is wide. According to the company’s website, its mission is to establish security co-operation and develop the military-industrial complex of Islamic states in order to help the Islamic world, along with the superpowers, take its rightful place on the world stage by providing military consulting and a wide range of services for the armed forces and security structures.

The current head of the organisation, Ali Kamil Melih Tanriverdi, son of its founder, admitted that it works in close cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defence and the National Intelligence Service. It is noteworthy that Hulusi Akar, who until recently was Minister of Defence, was a ward of the head of this company, according to the German Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, and, according to the Indian-Canadian news site The Euro Asia Times, the former director of Turkish intelligence, now Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, is closely linked to this organisation.

According to experts at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, Sadat should be considered an unofficial structure of the ‘deep state’ that existed before Erdoğan came to power.

These government ties allow the company to offer its foreign clients a comprehensive solution to their problems while taking into account Turkey’s national interests. At the same time, its leaders make no secret of the fact that they provide training and full support to extremist organisations.

Thus, its founder Adnan Tanriverdi in April this year appealed to the Turkish authorities to start providing assistance to Islamist groups fighting against ‘state terrorism’ in such countries as Nigeria, Mali and CAR. Not surprisingly, Sadat is under investigation in Nigeria for supplying arms to Boko Haram terrorists.

According to the American news resource Small Wars Journal, some African leaders are using Turkey and its state-owned banks as a safe haven for transferring and laundering illegally obtained money. And this is done through the capabilities of the company Sadat.


Viktor GONCHAROV, african expert, candidate of sciences in economics, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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