Turkey’s Africa ambitions creating hotbed for Islamic extremism - analyst

Turkey launched its strategy in Africa with investment and aid, but now seeks to promote itself and more-extreme Islamist interpretations at the expense of the West and the post–World War Two liberal order, Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote in the National Review magazine.

Turkey adopted its African Expansion Plan in 1998. The country’s trade volume with the continent rose from $5.4 billion in 2003 to $16.7 billion in 2016, and to nearly $20 billion at the end of 2017. Between 2008 and 2018, Turkey almost quadrupled the number of its embassies and consulates on the continent while opening military bases in Sudan and Somalia.

Ankara peddles the idea that Africa can trust only Turkey, Rubin wrote, quoting the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper as suggesting that the United Nations stole $55 billion meant for Somalia as one example of Turkey’s narrative.

Rubin quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as saying that Turkey had no dark colonial chapters in Africa, a claim, the analyst said “Ottoman-colonised peoples of North Africa and those seized by Ottoman slave traders from the Great Lakes region of Africa might dispute”.

Turkey has promoted Islamist causes in countries ranging from the majority-Christian Central African Republic, to Sudan and Chad, Rubin said. He said the country’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) was a major front for al Qaeda and had become a major Turkish partner in Africa.

In addition to training and indoctrinating students through a network of schools run by the state-funded Maarif Foundation, Turkey seeks to create a new generation of military officers on the continent, Rubin said.

The Somali capital of Mogadishu has become Ankara’s major military centre in Africa, hosting a permanent contingent of 200 troops, training 500 Somali and other African troops at any given time, with the aim to train over 10,000, he wrote.

Turkey is set to have a cadre of Islamist paramilitary soldiers on whom it can call as it supports various movements on the African continent, according to Rubin. Ankara is trying to radicalise a generation of Africans, he said, through “a combination of aid, anti-Western propaganda, religious indoctrination, and military training”.

What Saudi Arabia was to Islamic extremism across the Arab world in the late 20th century, Rubin wrote, is what Turkey could be to Africa in the current century.