In recent years, there have been closer links between President Erdogan’s Turkey and Africa. We saw more of these ties in 2016 with his tour to four West African states (Guinea, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana). Erdogan also visited Kenya, Uganda and Somalia where Turkey has made huge investments in education, health, airports and even its biggest embassy in the world in located in Mogadishu, Somalia, despite the security challenges.
Turkey has been working on deepening strategic partnership with Africa. One may ask; why Turkey’s quest to increase her presence in Africa. Erdogan visited 3 African states in January 2017, making it his first African trip of the year; this trip was related to the failed July coup that aimed to oust the present government. The coup was said to have links to the Gulen Movement, an Islamic group which is blamed by the government to have terrorist links. President Erdogan is working tirelessly to eradicate this movement in and outside Turkey. Weeks after the coup attempt in July, the after-shock of the failed Turkish coup continued to reverberate in Nigeria after one of the country’s leading banks (United Bank for Africa) was named by a Turkish paper as being involved in the disbursement of $2 billion which allegedly funded the coup. The Turkish government requested the closure of 17 schools in Nigeria, which it claimed to have link to the Gulen Movement. This request was made to the Nigerian government through the Turkish Ambassador to Nigeria Hakan Cakil (former).
Who/What is Gulen?
- Born in Erzurum Turkey in 1941, Gulen began as a Sunni Muslim preacher with intense sermons.
- His movement, known as Hizmet, or “service” in Turkish, set up hundreds of schools and businesses in Turkey and later abroad, with an initial focus on post-Soviet Turkic-language-speaking Central Asia.
- Gulen’s philosophy stresses the need to embrace scientific progress, shun radicalism and build bridges to the West and other religious faiths.
- The reclusive Muslim cleric has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, when, according to his website, he “went to the United States for medical treatment of an ailment”. His departure from Turkey came at a time of turmoil for him, some observers have suggested.
- Having fled the country in 1999, as Turkey’s old secular elite charged him with trying to overthrow the state.
- Erdogan accuses Gulen of running a “parallel” structure to the Turkish government with the hopes of overthrowing the president. He wants the United States to extradite him to Turkey, where he could face a prison sentence of up to 34 years. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said Turkey would have to produce “legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny” before the United States would act on an extradition request.
It is obvious Turkey has both political and economic motives behind its push for a greater presence in Africa no matter the angle he comes from. The continent provides a smooth ground for Erdogan to show his interest of Turkey being a key player not only in the Middle East, but also all around the world. In addition, Africa could be a more profitable destination for some Turkish business moguls who for many years have worked and profited in high risk Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Iraq. The rising economic trend in Africa could be just the push they need to boost business and drag out of the already slowing down market in these countries.
“Turks are super-commercial and they’re wanting to make up for losing markets in places like Iraq, Russia and Libya,” says Michael Harris, Renaissance Capital’s leading Turkey analyst. “Also, Europe is crazy competitive and delivers lower margins. They prefer to build higher-margin businesses in less competitive places.” he adds.
Erdogan’s Bid for a One-Man Rule
Turkey’s parliament is voting on amendments to the constitution that would increase the power of the Turkish presidency and fundamentally erode checks and balances on the executive. The Turkish parliament has backed a plan to strengthen the powers of the presidency, though Turks will have the final say in a referendum that could be held in early April. We can see that Turkey is rapidly heading towards the same despotic and authoritarian system of government in most of the African states. Erdogan has been seeking to empower the presidency since his election in 2014, after more than a decade as prime minister. Approval of this bill through a referendum could mean Erdogan being in power up till 2024.
The creation of an executive presidency, proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would be the most significant change to Turkey’s political institutions since the introduction of the multi-party election system in 1950. It would give the president power to appoint ministers, legislate by decree, dissolve and reconstitute parliament, and control judicial appointments which would make Turkey no different from some of its newly found friends in Africa.
(With extracts from CBC, Financial Times, Quartz Africa and Human Rights Watch)