Erdogan’s Engagement Finds Willing Partners in Africa

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal this week, returning to the African continent just months after his most recent four-day, three-nation tour last October, as well as the Third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit, which was held in December in Istanbul. The Turkish leader, who has visited more than 30 African countries since becoming prime minister and then president, has devoted considerable effort to cultivating relations with his African counterparts and expanding his country’s presence across the continent.

In a WPR article written after Erdogan’s October tour of Angola, Nigeria and Togo, I noted the steps Ankara has taken to reestablish its once-prominent links to Africa, which faded with the decline of the Ottoman empire. This effort, driven considerably by Erdogan’s personal diplomacy with African heads of state and government, includes leveraging Turkey’s diplomatic, development, commercial and cultural tools to gain inroads in Africa, despite its modest resources, at least as compared with its main competitors—the “Big 3” of China, the United States and the European Union.

The week’s visit began with Erdogan’s Sunday arrival in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, where he was welcomed with an official ceremony at the Kinshasa International Airport by senior Congolese officials including Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde and Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’Apala. Erdogan later held a joint press conference with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi, where he thanked Tshisekedi for Congo’s “support in our fight against the FETO terrorist organization.” He also offered his condolences for the Congolese citizens who died in a Feb. 1 terror attack and pledged to “stand with the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in its fight against terrorism.”

Erdogan restated his “commitment” to a deeper relationship with Congo and Africa more broadly, referring to the communique, action plan and joint implementation report adopted during December’s Turkey-Africa summit as “a roadmap in our relations with Africa for 2022-2026.” The two leaders later signed a number of cooperation agreements on security, infrastructure, commerce, health care and transport. Erdogan also delivered 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines during the visit, pledging to donate more than 1 million more soon.

Erdogan arrived Monday at Senegal’s Blaise Diagne Airport, which was partly built by two Turkish companies in 2016. Ahead of his arrival, Erdogan penned an article published on AllAfrica’s website where he detailed the diplomatic relationship between the two countries and their long ties spanning the areas of trade, commerce, education and cultural exchanges. In a not-so-subtle reference to France’s legacy in Senegal and the broader West African region, Erdogan made allusions to Turkey as a country “not tainted with colonialism in its millennial history on the African continent,” a theme he has regularly returned to in his engagement with African audiences. “We are eager to expand our cooperation, which has increased via mutual visits and investments, on the basis of mutual respect, equal partnership and win-win in the future period.”

Upon his arrival in Dakar, Erdogan and Senegalese President Macky Sall attended and participated in the Senegal-Turkey Business Forum, where they pledged to increase bilateral trade between the two countries. At a joint press conference afterward, Erdogan announced, “Our target now is $1 billion. With our joint efforts we will reach this figure in short order.” He noted that trade with Senegal increased in 2021 despite the coronavirus pandemic, meeting and even exceeding the previous trade volume target of $500 million.

Erdogan also attended the opening of the Abdoulaye Wade Stadium, the newly built 50,000-seat national stadium named after Sall’s immediate predecessor, who was president from 2000 to 2012. The Turkish-built stadium, constructed at a reported cost of $270 million, will host the Senegalese national football team’s home games. Sall and Erdogan took part in a ceremonial kick-off ahead of an exhibition game featuring retired African football legends including Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba, Nigerian sensation Austin “Jay-Jay” Okocha and Ghana’s Sammy Kuffuor, as well as Senegalese heroes like El-Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga. In attendance were other world leaders, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Gambian President Adama Barrow, as well as FIFA President Gianni Infantino and CAF President Patrice Motsepe. The inauguration ceremony featured a celebration of Senegalese culture that included a dance performance and concluded with a musical performance by internationally acclaimed artist Youssou N’Dour.

Samba Dialimpa, a journalist and editor of Africa Check, says that Turkey has solidified its presence in Senegal in recent years, particularly on the economic side. In addition to having built the Blaise Diagne airport and national stadium, Turkish companies also built the Dakar Arena sports complex and the Abdou Diouf International Conference Center, all in Diamniadio, a new city roughly 20 miles from Dakar. Turkish companies, he says, are active in several Senegalese sectors, including energy, industry and the environment, and are a major part of the effort to increase bilateral trade touted by Sall and Erdogan. “We can consider these developments to be evidence of a solid relationship, in the sense that cooperation with Turkey is important for Senegal as part of its strategy of diversifying its economic partners,” he added.

This shared commitment to building substantive relationships with a broader range of international partners appears to be an area of convergence for their own deepening ties.

Keep up to date on Africa news with our daily curated Africa news wire.

Civil Society Watch

A coalition of Nigerian civil society groups took to the streets of Abuja on Wednesday to protest President Muhammadu Buhari’s delay in signing the Electoral Act Amendment Bill of 2022. The protesting groups included some of the most prominent civil society organizations in the country, including Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, the CLEEN Foundation and Enough is Enough.

Buhari had declined to sign the legislation on four previous occasions in the past five years, but with the National Assembly having passed the law a fifth time, Buhari finally signed it into law today at a ceremony in the Aso Rock presidential villa.

Culture Watch

Kiswahili is perhaps Africa’s most globally recognized language, with more than 100 million speakers on the continent and more than 200 million worldwide. Africa’s Swahili-speaking zone spans much of the continent, including its heart. Many of the continent’s intellectuals and political figures have long called for its adoption as Africa’s lingua franca, a sentiment which likely influenced the African Union’s recent decision to adopt Swahili as one of the organization’s official working languages alongside English and French.

In recognition of the AU’s decision, the Conversation republished a chapter of John Mugane’s book, “The Story of Swahili,” explaining how Swahili came to be the African language most widely recognized outside the continent.

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Inside Facebook’s African Sweatshop. Many observers over the years have noted how technological and digital tools and connectivity are bringing economic, political, social and cultural transformations to Africa. But all those developments are accompanied by a darker story of economic exploitation and the disregard for human rights. Billy Perrigo writes in TIME Magazine about Facebook’s outsourcing of low-paying content moderation jobs to Nairobi and the shocking lack of ethics involved.

Female scientists in Africa are changing the face of their continent. This editorial in Nature magazine summarizes the findings of a poll it conducted among nearly 250 African researchers working on the continent, 103 of whom identified as female. They include female scientists training HIV/AIDS researchers in Ethiopia, mathematicians in Ghana, a Nigerian microbiologist and many more accomplished professionals who have founded businesses, launched nonprofits and served as technical experts in government.

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