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Ben Eguzozie, in Port Harcourt
Turkey, a member of the European Union, has been making a decided footprint and influence in Africa at breakneck speed. Since 2003, trade between Turkey and Africa has ballooned from $5.5 billion (in 2003) to more than $26 billion today, according to Turkish officials. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, exhibiting an African glasnost wants trade with the continent to double to $50 billion in the coming years.
The European Union member has also undertaken a train of infrastructure projects in Africa, in what development economists describe as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s gamble paying dividends for both Turkey and Africa.
Turkish economic, diplomatic and military involvement in Africa has grown significantly since Ankara dubbed 2005 the “Year of Africa”. From a raft of new embassies and with sprawling flight connections serviced by Turkish Airlines to rising trade volumes and infrastructure projects, President Erdogan is making a play for the continent, economic and diplomatic experts say.
For instance, the number of Turkish embassies in Africa has mushroomed from a dozen in 2009 to 42 today; and it will soon open its 43rd embassy in Guinea-Bissau, the West African former Portuguese colony. Analysts see the engagement as having a political dimension, allowing President Erdogan to portray Turkey as a ‘proactive alternative’ to a negligent West, while at the same time boosting the European country’s military influence on the continent described recently as “the continent of the future” by the U.S State Department.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Airlines fly to 51 destinations in 33 African countries, including 26 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Between 2003 and 2018, the value of Turkish exports to Africa increased by 579 per cent. On the flip side, Turkish foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa saw an astronomic rise from just $100 million in 2003 to $6.5 billion as of 2021. In 2015, Turkish development assistance to Africa was $3.9 billion.
But Turkey’s more-than-passing interest in Africa appears less significant when compared with the entire European Union’s planned $54 billion “sustainable investment” in Africa. What of the U.S, easily seen as Africa’s biggest investor, accounting for $54 billion FDI stock on the continent.
However, 16 years in, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visits to Africa have driven trade and political connections. Since 2003, as prime minister and then president, he has visited 27 African countries – more than any other non-African leader.
Ankara’s gamble is paying dividends for Turkey, and also for Africa, a continent with 17 per cent of the world population; 9.6 per cent of global oil output; 90 per cent of world’s platinum supply; 90 per cent of world’s cobalt supply, half the world’s gold supply; two-thirds of world’s uranium; 75 per cent of the world’s coltan and 54 votes at the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
By 2050, Africa’s population will more than double from its present 1.3 billion people to 2.2 billion, with over 60 per cent of its population under the age of 25. Its attraction appears unending.
While many economic and diplomatic analysts applaud President Erdogan’s Turkey rising footprint in Africa, some however, remain sceptical about Erdogan, who they assess as a nationalist strongman widely viewed as a wily and ruthless political operator. However, African development economists adduce that Africa can “make the most” of this exciting relationship.