Erdoğan’s drones reach Sub-Saharan Africa
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By Mirza Aydin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived on Sunday in the Southern African nation of Angola for the first leg of a three-country Africa tour. Erdoğan landed in Togo on Tuesday and Nigeria on Wednesday. The Turkish President signed major agreements/ MOU’s including energy, defence industry, mining with Sub-Saharan countries.
The tour is taking place amid rising tensions at home as the main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in a video message shared on social media over the weekend called on Turkish bureaucrats to oppose the Erdogan government and what he calls ‘a mafia system’.
In his statement, Kılıçdaroğlu appealed: “You are not a servant of Erdogan’s family but an honourable public servant of this (Turkish) state. This is my last call, as of Monday, Oct. 18, you will also be responsible for all your support to the illegal requests of this order. You can’t get away with this dirty work by saying, ‘I have received orders.’” He believes that Erdogan has turned the Turkish state into his own family state but that transformation is on the horizon as the Turkish state has entered the path of being a people's state again.
Erdogan at a press conference held at the Istanbul Airport prior to his departure for Angola suggested that Kılıçdaroğlu had committed a crime by inviting the bureaucracy to oppose the specially elected government.
Questions regarding the state of Erdoğan’s health has once again been raised as he answered questions by looking at the notes during the press conference.
Erdoğan however, looked healthier in his address to the Angolan Parliament on Monday. “I feel blessed to be together with you in this parliament. On behalf of my nation, I am passing my heartiest greetings to the nation of Angola. We have 6 thousand kilometres between us but we know that no borders can be drawn between hearts. My visit has historical significance as I am the first Turkish President to visit Angola. The effect of the synergy that will be created by the cooperation of Angola, the important country of sub-Saharan Africa, and Turkey, which is the bridge connecting the continents of Asia and Europe, will undoubtedly be felt in a very wide geography.”
“The African continent is one of the regions with which we have thousand-year-old ties and with which our country has the most deep-rooted relations.
The history of our nation's relations with African people dates back to as far as the 10th century. The most important feature of our common history is that it is based on mutual respect, sincerity, cooperation and brotherhood. We are a nation that does not have the stain of colonialism in its history and does not have the shame of colonialism.” Erdogan said highlighting the nation’s pride in its history as a country that has never been colonised.
Erdogan mentioned the imperialist powers, “who had a bloody history” and are now trying to benefit from the global security architecture of the post-World War II. He further pointed out how these imperialist powers still refuse to recognise the independence of African countries despite millions of lives being sacrificed to attain freedom on the continent.
He asserted that Turkey rejects the western-centred orientalist approach towards the African continent. “I hope that we will reach a 500-million-dollar trade volume soon, we are ready to help to improve Angola’s infrastructure and we have extensive cooperation opportunities in the military and security fields. The Turkey – Africa III Economic And Business Forum to be held on 21-22 October in Istanbul will help to improve Turkey’s ties with Africa and of course with Angola.”
Erdogan’s second stop on his Africa tour was Togo, following a two-day visit to Angola. “Our Lome embassy has been functional since April 1 this year and we hope Togo will soon open its embassy in Ankara. We have reached 148-million-dollar trade volume in 2020 and Turkish firms are ready to sign exemplary investments in Togo’s tourism, agriculture, energy and construction industries… Turkey and the Turkic Council will donate covid-19 vaccines to Togo, Burkina Faso and Liberia. Turkey is ready and willing to sign military and security cooperation agreements with Togo to prevent terrorism from infiltrating this region.” Erdogan said during a press conference with Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbé on Tuesday.
“I have conducted 38 visits to 28 African states and plan to soon revisit a few African states and will return over and over… Erdoğan stated while emphasising his commitment to the continent to the Togolese media.
Erdoğan held a joint press conference with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria following their talks on Wednesday in Abuja. Buhari praised Turkey for receiving and accommodating 4 million refugees fleeing from conflict areas particularly in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
“We are strengthening our cooperation on military defense and security issues with Nigeria, which is fighting against terrorist organizations, armed gangs and piracy," Erdoğan commented at the media briefing.
Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party has recognized the importance of Africa and identified relations with the continent as a core pillar of its foreign policy. In the spirit of enhancing relations with the continent, Turkey launched “a policy of outreach to Africa” in 2003. Turkey has increased its trade volume with Africa from $5.4 billion in 2003 to $25.3 billion in 2020 as well as increased its embassies from 12 in 2002 to 43 in 2021.
The former Turkish President Abdullah Gül who visited many countries across the African continent and hosted the first Turkish-African Summit held in Istanbul in 2008, on several occasions mentioned that Turkey plans to pursue a humanitarian centred Africa policy.
Central to Erdoğan’s political and economic strategies in Africa however is the development of military cooperation and promoting the Turkish defence industry. Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar accompanied Erdoğan on his Africa tour and insisted on signing military and defence agreements with African states.
Reuters last week reported that Turkey has sold the Bayraktar TB2 armed drone, produced by the Turkish company owned by Erdoğan's son-in-law, Selçuk Bayraktar, to Ethiopia and Morocco. Cairo on the other hand has opposed Turkey’s drone shipment to the region. Nigerian customs officers on many different occasions intercepted illegal arms shipments from Turkey at the nation's ports and a top Nigerian official; Colonel Hameed Ali raised the issue with the Turkish Ambassador in Abuja in 2017.
Erdoğan has already firmly established his presence in the Horn of Africa by developing military relations with Ethiopia and Kenya as well as establishing Turkey’s largest military base in Somalia.
Erdoğan aims to establish a strong presence in West Africa too as the region has considerably large Muslim populations while Ankara ambitiously conducts a foreign policy based on anti- French sentiment in the region.
The Turkish media had reported that Angola’s President Joao Lourenco’s requested Turkish-made combat drones during his trip to Turkey three months ago. Losing ground at home has not deterred Erdoğan from making gains in Africa along with his fellow businessmen who have been awarded almost all state-tenders in Turkey and now have their eyes set on the African continent.
* Mirza Aydin is a political analyst based in South Africa.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.