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Courting Africa

August 19, 2011

Turkey's prime minister has made a historic visit to famine-stricken Somalia, positioning Ankara at the forefront of the push for food relief. Turkey is striving to reshape its diplomatic ties with Africa.

A man holding his dead child, wrapped in a cloth
Turkey wants to stop more children dyingImage: dapd

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made a historic visit to Mogadishu on Friday aimed at drawing attention to the famine sweeping the Horn of Africa nation.

Speaking in Istanbul earlier in the week, visiting Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed explained how much the gesture meant.

"They have shown they can share the hardship and the feelings that the Somalian people have - and this sends a signal to the rest of the world, " Ahmed said. He was in Istanbul to attend an emergency meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference called by Turkey to address the growing crisis.

Erdogan, left, and his wife Emine Erdogan hold refugee children from southern Somalia
These children may be among those to benefit from Turkey's aid campaignImage: dapd

Prime Minister Erdogan also used the meeting to attack the West.

"If you ride a luxury car, you should be generous to people who are struggling with hunger. We hope the Western world, which likes to boast about its per capita income, shows its support for Somalia," he said.

Erdogan says that his country will achieve its goal of raising $200 million (139 million euros) for Somalia in a public appeal by the end of the holy month of Ramadan at the end of August. Turkish aid has been airlifted to Somalia and ships carrying supplies are en route.

Diplomatic priorities

This unprecedented support for Somalia comes amid a broader shift in Turkey's diplomatic priorities. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal noted Turkey has established more than a dozen embassies across Africa.

Children receiving a food handout
The UN estimates aid is only reaching 20 percent of those who need itImage: dapd

"Most of them have been opened in the last two years. And we are about to open a couple more on the same continent, of course this is a growing interest towards that continent," Unal said.

Courting Africa has already paid dividends for Ankara. In its successful bid to secure a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security council in 2008, all but two African countries voted for Turkey.

Turkey's interest in Africa is directly related to its business interests and Ankara's wish to expand its global influence, says Mehmet Aydar, a professor of international relations.

"The smallish Turkish investors have been active in Africa. In fact in several African countries among the most important investing groups, in Ethiopia for instance. And this coincides with Turkey wanting to become a major power, if not globally, at least regionally."

These aspirations coincide with Ankara's diminishing prospects for joining the European Union. Some Turkish commentators have said Turkey's ambitions are now just too big for the EU.

Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul

Editor: Susan Houlton

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