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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.
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Diana Johnstone recently published a very good book on Hillary Clinton entitled “Queen of Chaos” (Counterpunch Books, 2015). Johnstone justifies the title through her convincing critical examination of Clinton’s performance as Secretary of State as well as her broader record of opinions and actions. But Clinton served under President Barack Obama, and the policies which she pushed while in office were of necessity approved by her superior, who worked with her in “a credible partnership”.1
And after Mrs. Clinton’s exit from office Mr. Obama carried on with replacement John Kerry in a largely similar and not very peaceable mode. Most important was their 2014 escalation of hostilities toward Russia with the coup d’etat in Kiev, anger at the responsive Russian absorption of Crimea, warfare in Eastern Ukraine, and U.S.-sponsored sanctions against Russia for its alleged “aggression.” There was also simmering tension over Syria, with U.S. and client state support of rebels and jihadists attempting to overthrow the Assad government, and with Russia (and Iran and Hezbollah) backing Assad. There was also Obama’s widening use of drone warfare and declared right and intention to bomb any perceived threat to U.S. “national security” anyplace on earth.
In any case, if Hillary Clinton was Queen of Chaos, Obama is surely King. If Iraq, Libya and Syria have been reduced to a chaotic state, Obama has a heavy responsibility for these developments, although Iraq’s downward spiral is in large measure allocable to the Bush-Cheney regime. The Syrian crisis has intensified, with Russia providing substantial air support that has turned the tide in favor of Assad and threatened collapse of the U.S.-Saudi-Turkish campaign of regime change. This remains a dangerous situation with Turkey threatening more aggressive action and the Obama-Kerry team still unwilling to accept defeat.2 Yemen has also descended into chaos in the Obama years, and although Saudi Arabia is the main direct villain in this case, the Obama administration provides much of the weaponry and diplomatic protection for this aggression and for several years has done some drone bombing of Yemen on its own. A fair amount of chaos also characterizes Israel-Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, along with many sub-Saharan regimes (Mali, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, etc.). The leadership of the superpower with long-standing predominant influence over this region must be given substantial (dis)credit for this widening chaotic state, which has produced the main body of refugees flooding into Europe and elsewhere and the surge of retail terrorism.
It is often alleged that this chaos reflects a terrible failure of U.S. policy. This is debatable. Three states that were independent and considered enemy states by Israel and many U.S. policy-makers and influentials–Iraq, Libya and Syria–have been made into failed states and may be in the process of dismemberment. Libya had been ruled by a man, Moammar Gaddafi, who was the most important leader seeking an Africa free of Western domination; he was chairman of the African Union in 2009, two years before his overthrow and murder. His exit led quickly to the advance of the United States African Command (Africom) and U.S.-African state “partnerships” to combat “terrorism”—that is, to a major setback to African independence and progress.3 The chaos in Ukraine and Syria has been a great windfall for the U.S.beneficiaries of the permanent war system, for whom contracts are flowing and job advancement and security are on the upswing. For them the King of Chaos has done well and his policies have been successful.
There has been little publicity and debate addressing President Obama’s new and major contribution to the nuclear arms race and the threat of nuclear war. In April 2009 Mr. Obama claimed a “commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.4 And on the release of a Nuclear Posture Review on April 6, 2010 he stated that the United States would “not develop new nuclear warheads or pursue new military missions or new capabilities for nuclear weapons.” But he wasted no time in violating these promises, embarking soon on a nuclear “modernization” program that involved the development of an array of nuclear weapons that made their use more thinkable (smaller, more accurate, less lethal).
The New York Times reported that “The B61 Model 12, the bomb flight-tested in Nevada last year, is the first of five new warhead types planned as part of an atomic revitalization estimated to cost up to $1 trillion over three decades. As a family, the weapons and their delivery systems move toward the small, the stealthy and the precise. Already there are hints of a new arms race. Russia called the B61 tests ‘irresponsible’ and ‘openly provocative.’ China is said to be especially worried about plans for a nuclear-tipped cruise missile.”5 The Times does cite a number of U.S. analysts who consider this enterprise dangerous as well as “unaffordable and unneeded”.6 But the modernization plan has not aroused much comment or widespread concern. And it would very likely be considered too modest by all the leading Republican presidential candidates.7
What is driving Obama to move in such an anti-social direction, perversely generating threats to national security and wasting vast resources that are urgently needed by the civil society?8 Obama is a weak president, operating in a political economy and political environment that even a strong president could not easily manage. The military-industrial complex is much stronger now than it was in January 1961 when Eisenhower, in his Farewell Speech, warned of its “acquisition of unwarranted influence” and consequent threat to the national well-being. The steady stream of wars has entrenched it further, and the pro-Israel lobby and subservience of the mass media have further consolidated a permanent war system. It also fits the needs of the corporate oligarchy.9
It is interesting to see that even Bernie Sanders doesn’t challenge the permanent war system, whose spiritual effects and ravenous demands would seem to make internal reform much more difficult. We may recall Thorstein Veblen’s more than a century-old description of war-making as having an “unequivocal” regressive cultural value: “it makes for a conservative animus on the part of the population” and during wartime “civil rights are in abeyance; and the more warfare and armament the more abeyance.”
“At the same time war-making directs the popular interest to other, nobler, institutionally less hazardous matters than the unequal distribution of wealth or of creature comforts.”10
With a permanent war system in place, the vetting of political candidates and the budgetary and policy demands of the important institutions dominating the political economy, war-making and nourishing the Pentagon and other security state institutions become the highest priorities of top officials of the state. They all prepare for war on a steady basis and go to war readily, often in violation of international law and even domestic law. Subversion has long been global in scope.11 Reagan’s war on Nicaragua, Clinton’s attacks on Yugoslavia and Iraq, Bush-1’s wars on Panama and Iraq, Bush-2’s wars on Afghanistan, Iraq and a propagandistic “War on Terror,” and Obama’s wars on Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places, show an impressive continuum and growth..
Mr. Obama’s Cuba and Iran policies deviate to some extent from his record of power projection by rule of force. In the case of Cuba, the opposition to recognition of the Cuban reality had diminished and a growing body of businessmen, officials and pundits, and the international community, considered the non-recognition and sanctions an obsolete and somewhat discreditable holdover from the past. It is likely that the new policy recognized the possibility of “democracy promotion” as a superior route to inducing changes in Cuba. It should also be noted that the policy change thus far has not included a lifting of economic sanctions, even though for many years UN Assembly votes against those sanctions have been in the order of 191-2 (in 2015). A more immediate factor in the changed policy course may have been the fact that several Latin American countries threatened to boycott the 2015 OAS Summit if Cuba was not admitted. As Jane Franklin notes, “Obama had to make a choice. He could refuse to attend and therefore be totally isolated or he could join in welcoming Cuba and be a statesman.”12 Obama chose to be a statesman.
In the case of Iran, the new agreement (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed in Vienna on July 14, 2015) was hammered out in an environment in which Iran had long been made the villain that needed to be constrained. This followed years of demonizing and pressure on Iran to scale back its nuclear program, regularly claimed, without evidence, to be aiming at developing nuclear weapons. U.S. hegemony is nowhere better displayed than in the fact that Iran was encouraged to develop a nuclear program when ruled by the Shah of Iran, a U.S.-sponsored dictator, but has been under steady attack for any nuclear effort whatsoever since his replacement by a regime opposed by the United States, with the steady cooperation of the UN and “international community.”
Israel is a major regional rival of Iran, and having succeeded in getting the United States to turn lesser rivals, Iraq and Libya, into failed states, it has been extremely anxious to get the United States to do the same to Iran. And Israel’s leaders have pulled out all the stops in getting its vast array of U.S. politicians, pundits, intellectuals and lobbying groups to press for a U.S. military assault on Iran.13 The tensions between the United States and Iran have been high for years, with a sanctions war already in place. But with many military engagements in progress, tensions with Russia over Ukraine and Syria at a dangerous level, and perhaps resentment at the attempted political bullying by Israeli leaders, the Obama administration chose to negotiate with Iran rather than fight. The agreement finally arrived at with Iran calls for more intrusive inspections and some scaling down of Iran’s nuclear program, while it frees Iran from some onerous sanctions and threats. This was a rare moment of peace-making, and probably the finest moment in the years of the King’s rule. Iran is still treated as a menace and in need of close surveillance. But there was a slowing-down in the drift toward a new and larger war, allowing the Obama administration to focus more on warring in Iraq and Syria and taking on any other threat to U.S. national security.
Edward S. Herman is a Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
- Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “From Bitter Campaign to Strong Alliance,” New York Times, March 19, 2010.
- Patrick Cockburn, “Syrian Civil War: Could Turkey be Gambling on an Invasion?,” Independent, January 30, 2016.
- Maximilian Forte, Slouching Toward Sirte, Baraka Books, 2012.
- “Remarks in Prague,” April 5, 2009
- William Broad and David Sanger, “As U.S. Modernizes Nuclear Weapons, ‘Smaller’ Leaves Some Uneasy,” New York Times, January 11, 2016.
- Andrew C. Weber, former director of the Nuclear Weapons Council
- For a broader discussion of this new nuclear threat, see Lawrence Wittner, “The Frightening Prospect of a Nuclear War Is About to Become a Lot More Likely,” History News Network, January 2016; Jonathan Marshall, “Learning to Love—and Use—the Bomb,” Consortiumnews, January 23, 2016.
- Jonathan Marshall notes ironically that “America’s public sector is apparently too strapped financially even to provide safe drinking water to some of its residents.”
- Jeffrey A. Winters. Oligarchy, Cambridge University Press, 2011
- The Theory of Business Enterprise, Charles Scribner’s, 1904, 391
- See Philip Agee’s Inside the Company and William Blum’s Killing Hope.for massive and compelling details.
- Jane Franklin, Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History, Monthly Review Press, April 2016.,
- James Petras, “The Centerpiece of US Foreign Policy Struggle,” Dissident Voice, August 12, 2015