Tuesday, June 05, 2012
The neglect with which Turkey viewed Africa in Ottoman history is fast changing. Previously regarded as a dark continent, Africa is now increasingly seen as a trade partner with numerous business opportunities.
Turkey like many other countries seems eager to tap into virgin business opportunities available in the continental market. The Euro zone debt crisis which has changed consumption patterns has also handed the continent a blank cheque to cash-in. It is also not clear whether Turkey’s failed bid to join the European Union has fuelled its policy shift towards Africa.
Perhaps this explains why over 250 African journalists and scholars converged in Ankara recently to discuss collaboration. The Turkey – Africa Media Forum held on May 9-10, 2012, in Ankara drew participation from 54 African countries. Owing to the large number of journalists, the Turkish government had to hire two Boeings 737-700s to transport journalists from Ankara to Istanbul its commercial capital.
According to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, the country has a liberal economy, qualified manpower, broad domestic market, competitive industry and a strategic location which African nations can exploit. Turkey is the world’s 16th largest economy in the world with over $800 billion of Gross Domestic Product-the value of all goods and services produced in a year - and Ankara’s international profile is rising by the day.
According to Bulent, the world is on the verge of a defining moment. “Those indifferent to changes and developments will in our opinion not be able to adjust to the future world. We are obliged to take a position in accordance with the course of history and where it leads us to,” Bulent explains.
Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba of Makerere University
says with collapse of the Eurozone, Turkey sees Africa as the emerging market for their products. “Europe is no longer competitive. This has given a big opportunity to Africa to emerge as a potential market,” Nuwagaba explains.
Turkey’s trade volume with African countries has increased considerably, jumping from $ 4b in 2000 to $17b as of 2011. The trade volume with sub-Saharan countries which stood at $742m in 2000 is now about $10b. “These figures are encouraging in terms of economic potential,” Turkey’s deputy premier pointed out.
Through the Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists of Turkey (TUSKON) several Turkish entrepreneurs have sealed business deals on the continent. Similarly, TUSKON has been instrumental in taking African businessmen to Turkey.
There has been an explosion in the number of Turkish tourists visiting Africa. Turkey is also making inroads in education sector with over 100 Turkish schools in 34 African countries and plans are there to set up universities. According to Prof. Kamer Kasim an expert at the International Strategic Research Organization, Africa provides new market opportunities.
Turkey’s magic growth
Economic growth based on industry has been Turkey’s magic bullet. Infrastructural investments in the industrial sector gained impetus in 1980s. The build-operate-transfer and transfer of operating rights model was introduced to meet financial needs. Free trade zones and international fairs were also an effective tool. There are 20 free trade zones to promote export oriented investments and production to speed up the inflow of foreign direct investments. The total volume of trade in the all free zones was $18 billion in 2010. There are over 3000 companies in the FTZ providing over 50,000 jobs.
The textile and ready to wear industries are equally thriving. Turkey is the world’s sixth major cotton producer and 7th largest textile exporter. Turkey also ranks 10th in the world in terms of variety of minerals produced in the country. At least 60 different minerals are produced in the country. The country also has oil and gas and its experience in this sector could be crucial to African countries which have discovered oil.
Africa vote crucial for Turkey’s UN seat
Turkey is gunning to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period 2015-2016. If African countries cast their votes en bloc in favor of Turkey as they did in 2009 for the same country, Ankara will secure a non-permanent seat. In the second Istanbul conference on Somalia which has just ended, African leaders pledged to support Turkey’s bid for the seat .
Turkey has also been instrumental in peace efforts in Africa starting with Turkish nationals deployed in six UN missions in Africa. It has also made efforts towards peace in Somalia by mobilizing $500m towards the Somalia people. Turkey is the first country to fly their airline to Somalia. However there are also concerns about Turkey’s human rights record. Currently over 90 journalists are in jail for what the government says is associated with working with outlawed rebel groups.
No hunt for Africa minerals
Turkey’s Deputy Premier says the re-orientation of Turkey’s foreign policy or soft power interest in Africa should not be misconstrued because it has nothing to do with eying Africa’s vast mineral resources. “But rather Turkey’s policy in the world is being reshaped to assist the African brothers’ advance economically,” he said. Turkish companies are already involved in construction, communication and energy sectors in Africa.
One or all the above could provide and answer to the question about Turkey’s interest in Africa. However, some experts also point at the increasing role of China and India in world politics.
The speed of the two giant nations’ economic development, it’s said, has aroused Turkey’s interest in the hitherto forgotten continent