Turkey's Erdogan seeks more influence in Africa

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been on tour in Africa again. It is no longer about economic cooperation only. Turkey could also be much involved in the issue of security in the future.

Africa can be said to be a favorite destination for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At least from the look of the foreign trips the Turkish President has made in the last years. In 2015 he visited Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, in 2016 it was Uganda and Kenya on the line. He stopped by six African countries in 2017.

Africa | 02.06.2016

Read more: Turkey to expand business ties with Africa

It is less surprising that Erdogan is once again in Africa since the beginning of the week. This time, the Turkish president is visiting Algeria, Mauritania, Senegal and Mali with a large business delegation and a diplomatic entourage. On Erdogan's trips it's mainly about one thing, political and economical influence.

This was seen in his quick stop in Algiers. There he praised the good relations between Algeria and Turkey, but put pressure on the topic of investment protection. Erdogan said that with the help of a bilateral agreement that secures investments in Algeria, trade between the two countries could increase to more than double in the coming years.

Erdogan as leader of the Muslim world?

The striking thing about this year's itinerary is that in all the four host countries, 90 percent of the population is Muslim. It's not a coincidence, according to Cagri Özdemir, an editor with DW's Turkish service. "It's easier to engage if a country that Turkey is dealing with has this kind of common ground."

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

New players in development assistance

Despite signs of slowing growth, the scope and scale of emerging donor activity has increased markedly over the past few years. According to a study conducted by global development platform Devex, emerging donors could contribute close to 20 percent of total foreign aid by 2020, up from an estimated 7-10 percent in 2012.

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

The rising dragon

With a 2013 foreign aid budget of $7.1 billion (5.93 billion euros), China is not only by far the biggest emerging donor, it's also the sixth-largest in the world. Reaching 121 countries, Beijing’s program has a clear Africa focus and is a key element of its diplomatic and economic push into the continent. Almost half of China’s overall foreign aid goes towards infrastructure projects.

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

Sustained aid growth?

The Devex report, which surveyed nearly 1,000 development executives, says emerging donors will continue to boost their foreign aid spending over the next decade. "We are taking efforts to increase steadily the size of our ODA [Official Development Assistance] for several years," the deputy government director for ODA South Korea said in the report.

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

United Arab Emirates on the rise

In 2013, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recorded the largest jump in its development assistance among all donor governments — a staggering 435 percent increase. The bulk of UAE's foreign aid goes to majority-Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. The Gulf State is also a major donor to humanitarian crises as far as the Philippines and the Central African Republic.

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

Donor profiles: Russia and Turkey

Russia's re-emerging foreign aid program focuses on health and education and is considered a by-product of its familiarity with the medical and school systems of its development partners in the former Soviet Union. However, Western sanctions over Ukraine begin to take their toll. In Turkey, things look brighter: Ankara's ODA rose more than threefold to $3.4 billion between 2010 and 2014 alone.

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

Changing of the guards?

The Devex report looked at funding strategies and priorities of eight emerging donors: the BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as well as South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. At the 2017 BRICS meeting last month in China, the emerging donors urged "developed countries to honor their Official Development Assistance commitments in time and in full."

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

Focus close to home

Even as they contend that their foreign aid programs have global ambitions, emerging donors generally direct the vast majority of their funding toward neighboring regions. India, UAE and South Africa have a particularly sharp focus on their home regions. China, Russia and South Korea are the exceptions to this trend.

How emerging donors are transforming the foreign aid industry

Peace building, democracy and governance

Albeit having considerably lower aid flows than its peers, South Africa has been aggressively positioning itself as an emerging donor over the past decade, directing nearly all its budget to the continent — 70 percent alone goes towards the Southern part of Africa. According to the Devex report, priorities are peace building, democracy and governance as well as humanitarian assistance.

Erdogan has been trying for a long time to position Turkey as a protecting power for Muslims in the whole world. A good example is Turkey's strong commitment to the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.

Erdogan had also called for an emergency summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December to denounce the United State's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's Capital. According to Turkey's state-owned television TRT, Erdogan wants to use his current trip to thank African leaders, who voted against the US in the UN Jerusalem vote.

Turkey's role on security

Erdogan describes his current trip as "historical," referring to his visit in Mauritania and Mali. This is because no Turkish president has ever visited the two West African countries. According to media reports, Erdogan wants to talk about security among other things. Mauritania and Mali have both had to deal with attacks and abduction from Islamic terror groups for years.

Read more: Turkey targets Gulen schools in Africa

Observers are therefore rating his trip also as a sign of Turkey's stronger security policy agreement in Africa. This is because Ankara has long been trying to cement its influence in Africa, not only through development aid and economic cooperation.

The meeting with Algeria's President Bouteflika was about economic cooperation

Cagri Özdemir refers to the example of Somalia. "Turkey started engaging with Somalia which is a war-torn country decades ago and started with economic cooperation, with small steps. And over time it started engaging in reconstruction efforts, like a new airport, and some hospitals. It came to a point over the past summer that Turkey opened a military base and deployed a couple of hundred soldiers to train Somali troops," Özdemir said.

Economy is still top on the list

According to Özdemir economic cooperation still takes the highest priority for Turkey. "Turkey, when it comes to raw materials, is a poor country," said the journalist. In Algeria it was mainly about stronger cooperation in the oil and liquid gas sector.

Related Subjects

Since 2005, Turkey has been aiming for closer ties with African countries. Currently, Ankara has diplomatic representation in 41 countries on the continent, increasing from 12 missions in 2009. Turkey's foreign trade volume with African countries has increased sixfold in the past fifteen years – to more than 14 billion euros in 2017.

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