The Turkey-Africa partnership summit, which begins on December 17, takes place in a country plunged into an economic crisis. As the Turkish lira continues to lose value, African leaders will travel to Istanbul to discuss further cooperation. It comes at a time when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is under pressure at the national level – and he hopes that a strengthened partnership with Africa will solve some of Turkey’s problems.
Under pressure at home
Almost all polls indicate that in the elections scheduled for 2023, neither Erdogan nor his ruling party stand a good chance of remaining in power. At the start of his career, Erdoğan was renowned for his economic miracles. After nearly two decades, few people, including his main supporters, continue to trust him. But Erdoğan continues to fight for his political survival.
At the end of November, the Turkish president declared: “We have switched to a new economic model. We will achieve economic growth based on production. We will attract foreign investors. This is how the Chinese economy has developed. According to his plan, low interest rates or “cheap money” will increase production and employment. The sharp depreciation of the Turkish lira is said to attract investors and compete with competing exporters.
On another occasion, the president promised his deputies – who feared having difficulty convincing their constituents – that in six months “they will start to eat the fruits” and “the citizens will feel it too”. In the meantime, the government must act quickly to achieve quick results.
Erdoğan’s first call for direct investment was a sure bet: he visited his closest ally, the gas-rich Gulf country of Qatar. While there was no public disclosure, it’s not hard to guess that Erdogan didn’t come back empty-handed. During the 2018 currency crisis, Ankara received $ 15 billion in investments and loans from Qatar. The two countries have a history of cooperation: Turkey has maintained a military base there since 2015 and sided with Qatar during the 2017-2020 embargo imposed by the other three Gulf countries.
Deepening the involvement
Erdoğan was just as lucky when it came to finding a new market. For now, he doesn’t need to go anywhere, because a huge market with huge potential is coming to visit him – for the Third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit. Turkey has had ties with the continent for quite a long time. After being declared a strategic partner in 2008, Ankara’s commitments have grown even further, its activities have diversified and its efforts to expand its influence have accelerated.
Turkey aims to almost double its bilateral trade volume with Africa, from $ 25.3 billion last year to $ 50 billion, and to increase it further to $ 75 billion later.
Currently, Turkey has 43 embassies on the continent (54 countries); Turkish national airline THY flies to over 60 different destinations in 39 countries and Erdoğan visited 30 African countries, more than any other non-African leader. However, when it comes to the economy, the numbers are not so striking: Turkey aims to almost double its bilateral trade volume with Africa, from $ 25.3 billion last year to $ 50 billion. dollars, and increase it even later to $ 75 billion, Erdoğan said upon his return. of his African tour in three countries in October.
Currently, Egypt is the only African country among Turkey’s top 15 trading partners. Despite the deterioration of political relations, the volume of trade between the two exceeded $ 5 billion last year. In the same year, Algeria became Turkey’s second largest trading partner on the continent with trade reaching USD 4.2 billion, with Morocco and Libya ranking third and fourth with respective trade volumes of 2.7. and $ 2.3. And bilateral trade with sub-Saharan countries stood at $ 10 billion in 2020 with Nigeria at the top of the list.
Exceeding economic expectations
For Turkey, and especially for the president, Africa plays a role beyond the numbers. In 2011, in the midst of a devastating famine, Erdoğan became the first non-African leader to visit the war-torn Somali capital in two decades. Ankara immediately launched an aid initiative which has since helped the country through every step of its massive state-building process.
This humanitarian approach combined with Islamic kinship, historical ties or anti-colonial rhetoric is still used by government in other countries. And this is how Turkey gained its high-profile reputation as a caring and just partner.
Ankara’s “win-win” formula doesn’t stop there. The largest Turkish military base abroad is located in Somalia, where the Turkish armed forces train Somali soldiers. Whether it’s military formations or so-called “drone diplomacy,” expanding its security sector seems to be the name of the game. One of the main reasons the government didn’t want to withdrawing its military presence from Libya might be because this approach better serves its projections of regional and global power.
The Istanbul Summit is taking place in a city where two continents meet: Erdoğan will aim to add a third continent, Africa, to this junction. In his speech, we can expect him to rant against the former colonizers of Africa and denounce the internal opposition as their collaborators. He will probably end with his famous motto “the world is bigger than five”, invented to criticize the structure of the members of the United Nations Security Council which only grants the right of veto to five of its (permanent) members, namely China, France, Russia, United States United Kingdom and United States.
However, and if he can hope the opposite, it is not certain that his words will attract much attention in the street. This is because most are busy either counting the change in their pockets to find out what they can buy that day; or absorbed in the feeling of hopelessness that there is no money to buy anything.