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Erdogan seeks more influence in Africa

Jan Philipp Wilhelm
March 2, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been on tour in Africa again. It is no longer about economic cooperation only. Turkey could also be much involved in the issue of security in the future.

Erdogan's visit in Mozambique
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/K. Ozer

Africa can be said to be a favorite destination for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At least from the look of the foreign trips the Turkish President has made in the last years. In 2015 he visited Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, in 2016 it was Uganda and Kenya on the line. He stopped by six African countries in 2017.

Read more: Turkey to expand business ties with Africa

It is less surprising that Erdogan is once again in Africa since the beginning of the week. This time, the Turkish president is visiting Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal and Mali with a large business delegation and a diplomatic entourage. On Erdogan's trips it's mainly about one thing, political and economical influence.

This was seen in his quick stop in Algiers. There he praised the good relations between Algeria and Turkey, but put pressure on the topic of investment protection. Erdogan said that with the help of a bilateral agreement that secures investments in Algeria, trade between the two countries could increase to more than double in the coming years.

Erdogan as leader of the Muslim world?

The striking thing about this year's itinerary is that in all the four host countries, 90 percent of the population is Muslim. It's not a coincidence, according to Cagri Özdemir, an editor with DW's Turkish service. "It's easier to engage if a country that Turkey is dealing with has this kind of common ground."

Erdogan has been trying for a long time to position Turkey as a protecting power for Muslims in the whole world. A good example is Turkey's strong commitment to the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Erdogan had also called for an emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December to denounce the United State's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's Capital. According to Turkey's state-owned television TRT, Erdogan wants to use his current trip to thank African leaders, who voted against the US in the UN Jerusalem vote.

Turkey's role on security

Erdogan describes his current trip as "historical," referring to his visit in Mauritania and Mali. This is because no Turkish president has ever visited the two West African countries. According to media reports, Erdogan wants to talk about security among other things. Mauritania and Mali have both had to deal with attacks and abduction from Islamic terror groups for years.

Read more: Turkey targets Gulen schools in Africa

Observers are therefore rating his trip also as a sign of Turkey's stronger security policy agreement in Africa. This is because Ankara has long been trying to cement its influence in Africa, not only through development aid and economic cooperation.

Turkish President Erdogan's visit to Algeria
The meeting with Algeria's President Bouteflika was about economic cooperationImage: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images/Pool Presidential Press Service/K. Ozer

Cagri Özdemir refers to the example of Somalia. "Turkey started engaging with Somalia which is a war-torn country decades ago and started with economic cooperation, with small steps. And over time it started engaging in reconstruction efforts, like a new airport, and some hospitals. It came to a point over the past summer that Turkey opened a military base and deployed a couple of hundred soldiers to train Somali troops," Özdemir said.

Economy is still top on the list

According to Özdemir economic cooperation still takes the highest priority for Turkey. "Turkey, when it comes to raw materials, is a poor country," said the journalist. In Algeria it was mainly about stronger cooperation in the oil and liquid gas sector.

Since 2005, Turkey has been aiming for closer ties with African countries. Currently, Ankara has diplomatic representation in 41 countries on the continent, increasing from 12 missions in 2009. Turkey's foreign trade volume with African countries has increased sixfold in the past fifteen years – to more than 14 billion euros in 2017.