By Sedat Aybar
The writer is a professor at Istanbul Aydin University and Director of the Africa Research and Application Center (AFRIKAM) at the same institution.
In the wake of the American election, a summit in Istanbul brought together African and Turkish business communities.
The summit signified the beginning of a new phase for Turkey in her steadfast engagement with the continent.
The First Economic and Business Summit is in fact a follow-up of the Second Africa-Turkey Summit, which took place in 2014 in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea. There, a new Africa strategy was promoted that would carry Turkey’s involvement in Africa to a new stage.
The Malabo summit put forward a “Joint Implementation Plan of Africa-Turkey Partnership 2015 – 2018” and a “Matrix of Key Priority Projects of the Africa - Turkey Partnership 2015 – 2018”.
Featuring key areas of cooperation, it is expected to deepen economic and diplomatic ties. After the First Economic and Business Summit in Istanbul, now it can be safely asserted that Turkey’s “Opening up to Africa Strategy” has been successfully completed and a new chapter opened.
In his opening address to the First Economic and Business Summit, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stressed the need for a deeper economic, sectoral and business-to-business collaboration between African nations and Turkey.
According to Erdogan, ensuring a perpetual “win-win” situation emanates from an enabling business aura. Hence such a framework is permissible and much needed.
In assessing the outcomes of globalization Erdogan emphasized that it has created many opportunities but also created a gloomy prospect for many developing countries, particularly in Africa.
Also, referring to the problems Turkey is facing -- terrorism, migration, income disparity -- he called for deeper economic collaboration with Africa and declared in a spirit of solidarity that “we will not accept to be the wretched of the earth”.
This was welcomed with a standing ovation in the cramped auditorium.
In many ways, the summit was timely. It conveniently coincided with the American elections, particularly considering the election result. This outcome has a conclusive impact upon new Turkey – Africa relations.
Here is why.
President-elect Donald Trump’s election campaign, “Make America Great Again”, was based on a nationalist discourse that brought domestic economic priorities to the fore. During his election campaign Trump championed the idea of reversing the existing economic policy that defines America’s global role. Apparently, the new administration will be more committed to pursuing economic policies that are less global, less altruistic, less trade-oriented and less immigration-friendly. This is not good news for the African continent. Many countries there rely on American help to deal with some of the problems requiring urgent attention. From healthcare to security, absence of much of the American involvement can be problematic in the coming years.
Hence, the First Africa – Turkey Economic and Business Summit has become even more significant after the announcement of the election results in the U.S. Particularly in hindsight of the state of affairs in the continent, “every little will be helpful”, which also includes a handsome aid package from Turkey.
However, Turkey’s long-term interest in Africa is not limited to aid to the continent but it also aims at developing economic and diplomatic collaboration on an equal basis with equal partners, which would foster mutual economic development and growth.
Although Turkey’s Africa strategy had embarked on a new phase long before the failed coup attempt on July 15, it marked an important turning point in the perception of Turkey – Africa relations. Many commentators strongly correlated Turkey’s “opening up to Africa” policy with the presence of Gulenists on the continent.
Erroneously, it was claimed that Turkey’s Africa strategy was very much helped by the wide-spread networks of educational institutions across the continent. More solid academic work, however, proves that this is far from the truth . Accordingly, drivers in Turkey’s interest in the African continent have been bilateral agreements and historical ties.
In fact, the “opening up to Africa” strategy was developed by a group of visionary diplomats who served in Africa. In 1989, the ‘opening up to Africa’ policy was launched bravely amid a popular atmosphere of total ignorance about the “dark continent”.
This is despite the fact that Turkey’s presence on the continent had come to an end only a century ago in 1913 after the loss of the final Ottoman territory there.
Since then, in the eyes of many Turks, apart from few spills of very interesting reporting, particularly by an academic – journalist, Dr. Hifzi Topuz, Turkish minds were kept in the dark regarding the continent.
Turkey had only eight residents in the continent and to be able to fly to a sub-Saharan country, the quickest route would be either via London or Paris. Having no direct knowledge, the Turks tended to reflect the views of the Western media on the “hopeless continent”.
‘Turkey's opening policy towards Africa is now successfully completed’
Turkey’s foreign minister reportedly spelled out these words at the Second Turkey – Africa Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in 2014. There, a "new model for partnership for strengthening sustainable development and integration in Africa" was decided to be the organizing principle for the future course of co-operation.
The oratory scope and breadth surrounding the summit reflected an impressive improvement of the diplomacy between partner countries in Africa and Turkey since 2005, which Turkey declared as “Africa Year”. It is true that economic, diplomatic and political relations experienced some “bumpy rides” but apparently enhanced in quality and number.
This can be traced from trade volumes, from new Turkish representations, from the rise in the number of Turkish Airlines destinations and from the increased presence of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
Turkey’s new policy is based on promoting bilateral business interactions that will help to find “African solutions to African problems”.
It would be necessary to clarify what is meant by “priority projects”. These are listed as projects in the areas of agriculture, agribusiness, rural development, civil defense, water resource management, the development of micro- and small-scale enterprises, security, health and transportation.
It should be noted that in order to produce positive outcomes, collaboration in these areas also requires harmonization of international efforts, but this topic is for another article.
The First Economic and Business Summit in Istanbul was attended by 1,600 delegates representing business interests, companies and officials of all African nations in addition to 900 Turkish delegates of similar nature. The event was supplemented by field trips to factories across the land, bilateral and sectoral business meetings.
Some major contracts encompassing infrastructure and energy projects were signed between large firms and the governments. Many more contracts were agreed upon between medium and smaller enterprises. This was all done with the belief that furthering economic ties would help mutual wealth creation and finding mutual solutions to the common problems faced.
However, there is still a “long walk” to reach the full potential.
For instance, Turkey ought to calculate the impact of free trade agreements amongst African countries upon its own. It should ease up trade relations by creating and promoting free trade zones like the one with Djibouti. The problems relating to double taxation and transportation must be resolved very quickly.
Financing of trade and investments are inadequate and must be addressed. Bank credits are not sufficiently forthcoming and insurance services are mostly absent. Eximbank credit limits for the continent must be increased. Public – private partnership needs to be fostered.
Turkey carefully needs to select target countries and strategic sectors and calculate sectoral spillovers. Larger Turkish corporations must be encouraged to enter the continent and to create economies of scale that would also pave the way for medium and smaller firms. Istanbul Stock Exchange (IMKB) should promote and ease investment financing in the continent.
Additionally, strategic thinking to overcome these problems necessitates some domestic institutional adjustments, with which Turkey will have to deal sooner or later.
 Aybar Sedat (2016), “New” Turkey, “New” Africa: A Gravity Analysis, Florya Chronicles of Political Economy, IAU Publication, Year 2, No: 2, ISSN: 2149 -5750.