By Mehmet Kara, Zuhal Demi̇rci̇
The relations between Turkey and African countries are at the highest point, Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Director General for Africa Ahmet Riza Demirer said.
Answering the questions of Anadolu Agency’s correspondents on May 25 Africa Day, Demirer said the ties gained momentum over the past 10 years.
He said that Africa would take more place on the world’s agenda in the 21st century, adding that the continent need to perform a balanced and rapid growth.
Demirer’s interview with Anadolu Agency is as followed:
QUESTION: We observe that the position and presence of Africa has increased on the world agenda and politics. What is the reality of the word "rising Africa" and is there any chance that the 21st century will be the century of African continent?
ANSWER: There is no doubt that the 21st century will be predominantly African. But it is hard to say that every aspect will be positive. It will be an African century because Africa is backward and it was left backward. It could not reach the other continents. [But] It will definitely close this gap. There is no other alternative, no other choice. Let me give an example, I would like to point out because it is striking. Today, all international organizations which govern the world order were established after the World War II. During their establishment, almost all of the African countries were colonized. In these organizations, Africa needs to have a weight and a right to speak. In the 21st century, Africa will take its deserved place here. Secondly, Africa was behind other continents. It is a continent which has rich natural and human resources. Little is known, but Africa is the cradle of humanity. The continent has 54 states but there are hundreds of different cultures. This is Africa's wealth. As the population in the world is stabilizing, there will be a large young population in Africa alone in the coming years. Africa will grow but need to develop fast. Increasing young population which needs to find work should be given education. Society should be provided with health services. The risk here is that Africa has to catch up with a fast, balanced growth. Africa has the potential to succeed. State structures in the countries are stronger than the past ones. Even if some authoritarian governments continue, the need for a more transparent, more democratic, better management is understood across Africa. Both Africa and the world will be in risk if Africa continues on the similar path. This risk is also understood by the whole world. I believe everyone will do more to work with Africa.
QUESTION: Turkey has gained a very good momentum in its relations with Africa, particularly in the last 10 years. Political and commercial agreements have been signed. What are the parameters and principles of Turkey's Africa policy in this context?
ANSWER: The win-win policy in relation to Africa and the necessity of resolving Africa's problems with African solutions are two of our most important principles. Africa has centuries-long experiences. There is no guarantee that the solutions applied in different parts of the world will be successful if applied in Africa. We think that the problems should be resolved by asking African people and not external ones. If Africans propose a solution, we think that the solution should be applied. While setting our African policy, we look at what kind of vision, strategy and solution the African Union has developed. This is our moving point. We have principles of business cooperation and acting together with Africans. We want to work together in sustainable commercial and economic areas in Africa, and do business in accordance with the terms and conditions of [Africa]. Both sides need to win in this business alliance. There must be a balanced and sustainable cooperation. We wish that this [business alliance] will contribute to that country and it will continue [in future].
QUESTION: How did Turkey's Africa initiative process start and through which steps it came to the current position?
ANSWER: We have a relationship with Africa for centuries. This gives us motivation. In 2000, we had the financial means to open up to Africa. We did not go to unknown place by progressing our relations with Africa. Colonial era had a real existence. Countries such as China, Brazil and Australia have become big players. India is another actor to the east and south of the continent. When we go there, we want to show that we are different. We want to offer a different understanding, not competition. Politically, we were very quickly absorbed by the influence of history. We are at the forefront of political vision and action. We are on the same side with African countries at the international institutions. We recommend that Africa should be looked at from the good side. This is the different point that Africans find when they look at us. As countries progress, other problems will become easier to be solved. There is a lot of positive things in Africa. If this relation in commercial and economic development is not strengthened, cooperation that can continue with political relations will not be possible. The point is that we are most focused on is increasing mutual economic and commercial activities. Both sides will benefit from it. We will also be present in the cultural scene.
Turkey declared 2005 as the Year of Africa due to increasing awareness about Africa. In 2008, the African Union recognized us as a strategic partner and the first summit was organized. The second summit was held in 2014. We are planning to held the third summit in Turkey next year. Since 2009, the embassies have begun to open and the density of high level visits has increased. Numbers of the Joint Economic Commission meetings and the Turkey-Africa Business Councils have increased. Turkish Airlines' interest [in the region] has increased and the presence of TIKA [Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency] has strengthened.
QUESTION: There is a serious cooperation in eastern and northern Africa. But there are not much studies in the southern part of Africa yet as well as other regions. Will there be a short and long-term approach for southern African countries?
ANSWER: The Republic of South Africa is one of our most important economic partners in Africa, despite [the figure of trade is] changing by years. We have made great progress in Africa in the last 10 years. All countries are priority but we have started from the geographically closer countries and progressing. Even if we have a little visible presence, our goals for the southern African region do not change. At the same time, our President (Recep Tayyip Erdogan) announced that his next trip will be to the southern African region.
QUESTION: Many new diplomatic missions to Africa have opened, but there are some countries where there are still no embassies. Do you have a plan to open missions in these countries in the near future?
ANSWER: We have recently opened embassies in Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea. We are likely to open [an embassy] in Burundi this year. Our president has a mandate to open embassies in all African countries. We think our embassy numbers [in Africa] will be 50 in the coming years. We want to open embassies in all 54 countries in Africa. We have 41 embassies at this point and we want to complete [opening of embassies] in all countries in the future.
QUESTION: While the number of Turkish embassy in Africa is growing, is there any attempts from African countries to open embassies in Turkey?
ANSWER: Ankara is among several capital cities in the world that has the most number of embassies of African countries. It ranks fourth or fifth. The opening of the embassy is, of course, a difficult process. The staff are having problems such as budget issues.
QUESTION: Africa wants to make a major breakthrough with the agreement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was signed in March and has significant economic objectives for Africa. How does Turkey evaluate the agreement?
ANSWER: Economic and commercial growth is beneficial to all actors. Foreign trade among African countries is very low. This deal aims to increase intra-African trade volume. As the economies get stronger, the countries will be strengthened. If the trade relations among African countries increases, their economic ties with Turkey will not decrease, but rather expanding intra-Africa trade volume brings new opportunities. Everyone with an interest in the region aims to increase trade. This is a necessity for employment of an increasingly young population. Turkey is closely following the agreement. It's a very important deal for Africa.
QUESTION: What kind of progress has been made in Africa in Turkey's fight against FETO [Fetullah Terrorist Organization]? Do you think you have got enough support?
ANSWER: Africa is the continent where we go most forward in fighting against FETO. The countries there also saw the danger. Due to their more fragile structure and foundation, they wanted to make a deal with us. The educational institutions of FETO were dissolved and transferred to the Maarif Foundation. This schools will be example to other countries. Those who do not close schools are now more cautious. The Maarif Foundation has more than 90 schools and 80 thousand students. Because it is easy to exploit [people] in the field of education, the FETO has invested in schools. They have also run businesses like hospitals. They have been financing terrorism and anti-Turkey activities by the revenue obtained from these businesses. These [schools and business places] also provide shelter and source of revenue to terrorists who are fleeing Turkey. For this reason, fighting with such institutions is given priority.
QUESTION: How do the developments in recent years make impression of Turkey in Africa?
ANSWER: There is an extremely positive image of Turkey across Africa. All these countries have different historical backgrounds. Though, we do not have the same level of relationship with all of them, there is no negative outlook towards Turkey. African countries are well aware of their interests in economic and political relations. Countries in the continent read the world agenda well and act according to their own interests. Turkey is even more valuable in the context of interest shown there.
QUESTION: What does Turkey aim by having its largest overseas military base in Somalia, how the countries in the region evaluate it? What is the perspective of the countries in the region toward the base?
ANSWER: Somalia is not a place of competition for us. We do not compete with any other country in Somalia. Somalia is a very important country for us. We are the country that changed the destiny of Somalia. We want the countries, which see us as competitors from time to time, to work for the development and welfare of this place. Our Military training base is there to support security, humanitarian aid and development goals. Somalia has had a serious management problem for 30 years. The country has great quality people and great history. People in Somalia are aware of what they are doing, but of course it is not easy to reach consensus. The country needs security forces and an army to ensure its safety. For 30 years, armed militias, local and state-affiliated forces are present in the country. For this reason, Somalia needs a national army. Our military training base there is working on the establishment of a national army, military and officer training on the request of Somalia. We have no goal of keeping the army under our own command. Trained soldiers will serve in Somalia's national army. In Somalia, UAE, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union are also provide training. We our different in a way that we are working towards the goal of bringing solution to the problems. By doing things which other countries cannot do, we want to train soldiers who are faithful to the national consciousness of Somalia. We consider this not as a short-term but as a lasting solution.
QUESTION: We know that Turkey is running a comprehensive restoration work in Suakin island, which has an important place in the history of bilateral relations between the Ottomans and Sudan. What is the latest situation on the island?
ANSWER: Suakin Island is important for us and Sudan because the island will be a cultural and tourism destination. We will protect our historical presence on the island and ensure that ancient civilizations emerge. We had already completed restoration of some of the buildings, but now we have undertaken rehabilitation of the entire island. TIKA has also sent a large delegation to the island for work. Being a coral island, it cannot lift the weight. Because they are made up of coral sections, the buildings are rapidly damaged due to salt and moisture. For this we are looking for a technical solution in the island. Suakin Island is one of the strongest points of Ottomans presence and it is also meaningful because it is the historical transit route of the pilgrims.
QUESTION: China has made significant investments in Africa over the past 10 years. It continues to invest in almost all parts of the continent. Does this growing influence of China pose a risk to Turkey's works?
ANSWER: In Africa, we do not have political competition with China or any other country. But economically, China and other countries will be competitive in terms of commercial principles. I am not against China's investment in Africa, I even want it to invest more and Africa to be developed. One should not be scared. China does not invest there to throw Turkey or other countries out. The Africans tell those who show interest to them, 'Let's work together.' In fact, we need to ask why other countries do not invest as much as China. The most important thing is to give priority to the interests of Africa, respect to its rules while investing there.