Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has started his offical visits in East Africa including Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagaskar scheduled on 22-26 January 2017. Erdogan has become the first president visiting Mozambique and Madagaskar at the presidential level since Turkey was established in 1923. Erdogan is making his African visit with a large delegation from Turkish politicians and Turkish business circles. Erdogan’s visit in East Africa is giving a strong message to the Western world that Turkey has actively continued to be an active player on the international stage and taking its foreign policy decisions independently despite new security challenges and the new political developments in Turkey. What does Erdogan’s current visit in East Africa mean for Turkey?
There are political, economic, historical and security dynamics behind the Erdogan’s current visit in East Africa. The first dynamics is that Turkey has developed a new foreign policy strategy since the ruling AK Party government came to power in Turkey in November 2002. According to the new Turkish foreign policy, Turkey ought to diversify its foreign relations, play active role in world politics, open new economic spaces for the Turkish business circles and reduce its dependency on the West. In this regard, Africa has been one of the most important strategic areas for Turkish foreign policy after 2002. For instance, Turkey has increased the number of its embassies across the continent from 12 to 39. Turkey has also aimed to increase the current number of its embassy across the African continent in the following years. Turkey had a western-oriented foreign policy during the Cold war era, which limited its foreign policy power around the world. However, Turkey has actively begun to develop new strategic relations with different regions and different continents during the period of the AK Party administration. Erdogan’s visit in East Africa implies that Turkey has institutionalized the policy of diversification of its foreign policy and has determined its foreign policy decisions independently derived from its national interests.
The second dynamics is that Turkey has targeted to deepen its economic relations with the African states since 2002. A crowded business circle has always been accompanying the Erdogan’s visits in Africa including the current one. This is meaning that Erdogan wants to find new economic markets and opportunities for the Turkish businessmen. Developing economic relations has been a strategic purpose for the new Turkish foreign policy. Turkey has been a rising economic power since 2002, became the 16th largest economic power as well as the 6th largest economic power in Europe. Turkey’s total economic trade with the African states has been increasing since 2002, jumped from 2 billion to 18 billion. However, Turkey’s total trade with Africa has begun to reduce since 2011 due to the world economic crisis of 2007 and the impact of the Arab Spring. Erdogan with his recent visit over the states in East Africa has purposed to revitalize Turkish economy which began to slow down since 2011.
Another important point behind the Erdogan’s visit is that Turkey has intended to create a new security policy by making new deals with the African states in the fields of defense and security. In this regard, Turkey has made new deals with many African countries in the fields of defense and security since 2005. Turkey also signed a defense and security deal with Tanzania during the Erdogan’s recent visit. Importantly, Turkey has been recently taking a critical steps in decreasing its dependency on the West in the areas of defense and security. While Turkey imported 90 percent of its weapons from the West, in particular from the U.S., this rate is now down to 40 percent. Turkey’s target for 2023 is fully t produce the weapons Turkey uses and to be among the most important states in the fields of defense and security. Turkey has recently taken strategic steps in increasing its defense and security capacity in world politics. For example, it has established a military base in Somalia in 2016 which is a strategic importance for the world powers. These developments are potentially making an important contribution to increasing to Turkey’s strategic power in world politics.
Historical dimension is also critical for understanding Erdogan’s recent visit in East Africa. In particular, developing relations with the countries in East Africa is important for Turkey due to Turkey’s historical relations over the region. The Ottoman state had a deep religious, political and security relations with the region in East Africa, which played a critical role in preventing the expansionist policy of Portugal in East Africa in the 16th century and provided a significant political, economic and political support to the Muslim Sultanates in this region. In this regard, Erdogan and the ruling party has been paying a significant attention to increasing bilateral relations with the states in East Africa due to its historical relations in the region. According to the new Turkish foreign policy parameters, Turkey needs to maintain its relations with the places where the Ottoman state had a strong relationship. Furthermore, Turkey ought to play a more active role in African politics due to the fact that Turkey is located in a dynamic geographical place in world politics. While Turkey only had one identity in its foreign policy during the Cold War era, “Euro-Afroasian identity” became a new foreign policy identity of the new Turkey, which forces it to become a more active and dynamic player on the international stage. The last dynamics is that Turkey has been living extraordinary political and security developments since the 15th of July in 2016. Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) attempted to topple the democratically elected government in Turkey through the military coup in July 2016. FETO has a deep political, economic and social relations over the African states through its schools, its business circles and its civil society organizations. Erdogan with this visit is also aiming to reduce its power over the states in East Africa.