In view of President Erdogan’s visit to Ghana this week, this paper seeks to highlight five reasons why Turkey could well be one of the best partners Africa could count on to support the continent in its efforts to provide sustainable peace to its populace.
The world is currently reeling from the wake of global terrorist attacks and regional conflicts. From Asia to Europe, the Middle East to the Americas, countries and regional blocs are under enormous pressure to find sustainable ways to deal with the menace of terrorism and regional conflicts which have left citizens all over the world in a state of agitation as their security and by extension economic conditions continue to worsen.
The result of such security fears has had massive impact on the political thinking and choices of people the world over. The 2015 Nigerian presidential election for instance, found many Nigerians who once backed former President Goodluck Jonathan, widely reject him as a result of what was considered a ‘weak’ approach to dealing with the Boko Haram threat, among other things. The current President, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari was largely favoured to deal with the threat more decisively as a result of his military background and ‘no-nonsense’ approach. Only time will tell how well he lives up to this billing.
Even in the USA, GOP Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s very radical approach to tackling the threat of terrorism from ISIS is gaining widespread support from the rank and file of the American society.
To deal with this threat of terrorism and resolve conflicts, African countries have historically relied on old colonial powers and other imperial powers for support. However, changing global dynamics and the perennial failure to find lasting solutions has necessitated a rethink of our entire peace-building approach. In doing so it is also important to reconsider the possibility of engaging new partners with demonstrated interest, ability and influence to support Africa’s quest in finding lasting solutions to its security and conflict challenges. Here are five reasons why an African-Turkish alliance should be considered.
1. Turkey’s neutral political interest on the African continent
Neutrality in a mediator’s role is pivotal because it pre-empts a guarantee of fairness. In conflict resolution, concessions, sometimes very difficult ones, need to be made to achieve the required peace. For the parties to wholeheartedly agree to such concessions, they have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the key parties involved in brokering the peace have no other ulterior motives as this will undermine the process ab initio.
Unfortunately, this challenge has often plagued our peace-building efforts on the continent. As earlier indicated the key peace brokers have usually been former colonial powers and other imperial powers, many of whom have shown or at least are perceived to have vested interest, beyond the peace they seek to broker. A classic example is the peace-building efforts in Francophone African countries, where France, often perceived as the ‘instigator-in-chief’ of conflicts as a result of its continuous political meddling, also doubles as the primary peacemaker. It is little wonder then that such peace-building activities are usually fleeting at best.
Turkey’s ‘neutral’ political interest on the continent, built on a culture of ‘moral’ diplomacy coupled with the country’s locational proximity to continental Africa places it in a very good position to host peace talks between feuding parties as well as offer crucial diplomatic support to conflict-ridden countries across the continent.
2. Turkey’s historical and cultural connections to the African continent
Many people particularly on the African continent are oblivious to the strong historical ties that existed between several African countries and the once powerful Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). In fact, the Ottoman Empire is credited by some historians to have provided military support to a number of African countries thereby delaying colonization for significant periods as imperial powers shied away from countries with such arrangements. Turkey’s more recent political and economic struggles which include military coups and stints with the IMF is very akin to what still prevails in many African countries today..
Furthermore, Turkey’s strong Islamic roots and culture resonates with more African countries than many other western powers. This strong historical and cultural connection puts Turkey in good stead to act as a crucial ally in Africa’s search for regional peace and security. Clearly, the Turks are in a superior position to deeply appreciate the political and socio-cultural nuances that usually fuels these conflicts in the first place.
3. Turkey’s growing geo-political influence in world affairs
Neutrality and historical/cultural ties notwithstanding, a mediator in any conflict requires a certain level of gravitas or influence to gain the attention and cooperation of the feuding parties. This is fundamental to any peace-building effort. Over the past decade or so Turkey has leveraged its strategic location in the Eurasia region, its massive tourism appeal, its incredibly entrepreneurial and educated human resources backed by strong and able leadership to the extent that the country is now Europe’s 6thlargest economy and the fastest growing one at that. Still only a developing economy, with a population close to 80 million, Turkey clearly has the potential to surpass the major economic powers in Europe in the not-too-distant future if it continues on its current trajectory.
The massive economic growth has brought the country widespread political influence as well. Currently a member of NATO and the G20 as well as a crucial ally to the United States in its war against the Deash(ISIS) and the Assad regime in Syria, Turkey’s geopolitical influence continues to soar. Such influence makes Turkey a very credible partner in supporting the efforts of African governments in their quest for lasting peace and security on the continent.
4. Turkey’s history of dealing with internal terrorist activities
Many may be tempted to point to Turkey’s own internal struggles to deal with terrorists and insurgent activities as a major flaw in the argument that Turkey is a credible peace-building partner to the African continent. Indeed, Turkey is no stranger to political fanaticism and insurgency.
In fact, as I write, the country is battling on three fronts, first the local terrorist group PKK, ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria. This notwithstanding, the Turkish government has displayed remarkable resolve and military savviness in dealing with these challenges to the extent that despite isolated cases of terrorist acts, the general populace are largely secure.
Recent developments in Europe, Asia and even the USA has brought the world to the realization that no country is completely immune to the global wave of terror. The real challenge is when the terror syndicate is local and seek to wave a long term battle as we have seen with Boko Haram and Al Shabab in West and East Africa respectively and of course the PKK in Turkey. Turkey has so far proved to the world that a combination of strong, decisive military activity backed by a strategic plan can be very effective in significantly curtailing the disastrous effects of terrorists.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, recently launched a master plan which details how the Government plans to combat the terror activities in the areas affected as well as develop these regions. Such a combination of tough yet strategic actions doesn’t only help to combat the actions of insurgents but also builds the confidence of the citizenry who then support the Government’s efforts.
What the Turkish government has been able to achieve in the face of arguably its biggest challenge is clearly an example to African governments facing similar challenges. Better still, close collaboration with Turkey could prove useful in helping governments facing similar perils to learn from Turkey’s example.
5. The Turkish Government’s interest in Africa as an partner
All the above points will count for nothing if the Turkish leadership has no interest in partnering the continent in this important venture. Gladly this is far from the case. The Turkish government has over the years displayed remarkable interest in the affairs of the continent and invested heavily in building diplomatic and economic ties to the continent, particular since 2005, a year the Turkish leadership christened the year of Africa.
Currently, Turkey has diplomatic missions spread all over the continent. Turkish businesses are investing heavily in key areas like energy and infrastructure in Africa. Turkish Airlines plies more routes in Africa than any other carrier.. TIKA, Turkey’s official aid agency already works in about 15 countries in Africa whiles Turkey is at the moment the 4th largest provider of official development assistance to the continent. Furthermore, there are over 6000 African students and academics on various scholarships in Turkey sponsored by the Turkish government.
Turkey’s remarkable interest in the continent was perhaps most evident in its support of Somalia. After years of civil unrest, the country was neglected by the world. Its Airports had not seen a plane in about two decades as it was deemed a ‘no-go’ zone. And yet, at the height of such hopeless isolation, the Turkish President (then Prime Minister) Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family, senior members of his government, businessmen etc flew in to offer a helping hand. For many young kids who were born in wartime, this was their first opportunity to see an aircraft. What followed was a huge bilateral nation-building effort. Indeed, President Erdogan in a few years is credited to have resuscitated Somalia from near death. These actions earned the President the nickname the ‘hero of Somalia’.
In the just ended ‘High Level Partnership’ meeting held on the 23rd of February, 2016 to discuss Somalia’s security and political future ahead of the country’s 2016 elections, President Erdogan, was adamant that Turkey “will not leave Somalia and Africa alone”. He cited the fact that Turkey is currently building its largest ever embassy in Somalia as evidence of Turkey’s commitment to Somalia and Africa as a whole.
Thus the framework for strong collaboration between Turkey and Africa has already been laid. Indeed, Turkey is playing a mediating role in the conflicts in Chad and Mali, while the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan were hosted by Turkey. All that’s required is for such collaborations to be scaled up through broad collaborations and partnerships.
In conclusion, it is important to point out that Africa needs all the help it can get in order to overcome its security challenges. As the geopolitical scene of the world changes it’s imperative that we change too. Crucially, Africa requires new partners who will not merely seek to milk the continent of its raw materials or to keep it subdued. What we need is to seek partners, emerging powers whose own interest align with ours, and who will seek to work with us on the basis of friendship and mutual interest. I am convinced that Turkey is precisely that type of partner.
Aboagye Mintah is Head of Business and Associate Director of International Affairs at IMANI Center for Policy and Education, Africa’s second most influential think tank.