Mar 04 2018

Turkey’s African expansion

As Turkish relations with the West fray, Ankara is seeking to strengthen ties with African countries, Thomas Seibert writes in The Arab Weekly.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s trip to Africa last week, which took him to Algeria and three West African countries, is just the latest in a string of African forays. In December last year he visited Chad, Tunisia and Sudan, signing a deal in Khartoum to renovate an abandoned port on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. Together they give a clear signal that, “the Turkish president intends to pursue opportunities for partnerships in Africa that will strengthen the country as a regional and international actor.” says analyst Einat Elazari

Turkey has stressed economic dimensions as it extends its ambitions along the Red Sea Coast and into the Sahel, emphasizing the benefits to Africa. “Turkish entrepreneurs generated 78,000 jobs in Africa and the value of projects undertaken by Turkish construction firms topped $55 billion.” Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu News Agency reported.

But the military dimension to Turkey’s expansion alarms some countries. “The Turkish presence in the ports of the Red Sea is bad news not only for Egypt but also for Saudi Arabia,” says Elazari.

He also suggests that Turkey’s activity in the Red Sea “represent a potential foundation for a new Turkey-Sudan-Qatar alliance,” especially considering “their mutual support for the Muslim Brotherhood and relations with Iran.”

Whether similar concerns will be sparked by Turkey’s attempt to expand its influence further west, into the Sahel, remains to be seen, thought according to media reports, Erdogan was keen to talk about security when he visited Mauritania and Mali last week.

Seibert’s article also draws attention to more general implications of Turkey’s African turn. As relations deteriorate with the West, many had expected Turkey to turn East. But this does not appear to be happening. “Instead of turning East, Turkey is going it alone,”  it quotes Nicholas Danforth, a political analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Centre, as saying “The West is in real danger of losing Turkey but this has not resulted from, or been accompanied by, improved relations between Turkey and any of its Eastern neighbours.”