Published by Antoine Labeyrie on

Hard power is the use of military and economic means to coerce others and make them do things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Soft power is the use of diplomatic and cultural means to shape others’ decisions by resorting to appeal and attraction.

I. Turkey’s objectives in Africa

  • Making economic gains at the expense of Western powers historically present in Africa
  • Gaining that status of top-tier international power

II. Narrative: an Islamic power that is reliable, modern and selfless

Turkey proposes a win-win approach to its African partners and thus seeks to position itself in opposition to former colonial powers. That’s why it highlights its religious and cultural proximity with its « African brothers » without adopting a moralising stance.

III. Intensification of diplomatic connections since the 2000s

In fact, the number of Turkish diplomatic representations in Africa has been multiplied by 4 since 2003. Conversely, since 2009, the number of African diplomatic representations in Turkey has multiplied by 3.

IV. Turkish goods of “European quality for Chinese prices”

Like diplomatic connections, trade volume dramatically increased since 2003: it has been multiplied by 5. In addition to its dynamic manufacturing industry, Turkey’s economic influence in Africa relies on its private sector that actively competes for megaprojects like railway infrastructures, hospitals, mosques, sport facilities…

V. Humanitarian diplomacy by NGOs close to the Turkish regime

Furthermore, Turkey resorts to humanitarian diplomacy so as to improve its image on the African continent. Overall, it is the world’s second biggest supplier of humanitarian aid with $8 trillion per year, most of it being dedicated to Africa. As a matter of fact, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), of which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the leader, uses a network of loyal NGOs that spread anti-Western discourses in Africa.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

VI. Targeting the youth through cultural contents and educational programs

As a matter of fact, between 1997 and 2013, 100 Gülenist schools opened in almost 40 African countries. These schools’ popularity among African elites explains Erdoğan’s current difficulties in trying to close them. Indeed, the 2016 missed coup against his regime was attributed to Fettulah Gülen.

Fettulah Gülen is a Turkish intellectual who advocates for religious fundamentalism coupled with nationalism. He also promotes democracy and inter-religion dialogue. He criticized Erdoğan’s regime in the 2010s and now lives in the US.

The extent of Turkish soft power in Africa is embodied by the popularity of its TV series that overtake Egyptian ones in terms of audience. Besides, Turkish universities are highly valued by African students and researchers. In addition, Turkish organisations regularly offer traineeships and formations to African diplomats and journalists thus diffusing the regime’s ideology into African spheres of power.

VII. A hard power underpinned by military formations and arm exports

Turkey proposes military formations taking place on its soil to African security forces. As a matter of fact, it enjoys some credibility in the eyes of African countries thanks to the size of its army (350,000 soldiers), its NATO membership and its experience in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that it has a very low participation in UN peace-keeping missions.

Besides, arm exports have increased by 560% between 2020 and 2021. However, we should put this figure in perspective with the fact that France for example exports three times as much military equipment to Africa as does Turkey. The sale of Bayraktar TB-2 drones represents the core of Turkey’s defence industry’s effort with regards to Africa. This product’s selling argument illustrates how Turkey pragmatically positions itself on the international stage. It doesn’t hesitate to adopt an anti-Western rhetoric to oust former colonial powers from Africa while emphasising its NATO membership and the fact that its weapons respect NATO standards in order to make more sales. Moreover, Turkey doesn’t demand its African partners to respect human rights and democracy to be able to buy Turkish weapons, which gives a comparative advantage relative to Western arms sales.

In Libya, Turkey supports pro-Tripoli militias in total disrespect for the arms embargo imposed since the 2011 civil war. In addition, the private military company SADAT provides advices, formations and logistical support to Libya and to Muslim countries’ armed forces in general. Even though this is their official stance, they also send Syrian mercenaries to fight for Libyan factions.

VIII. Territorial sphere of influence

Turkey is currently well-established in Eastern Africa (mainly Somalia) and Northern Africa (mainly Libya). First of all, it endeavours to reinforce its presence in these strongholds. For example, it wants to become the Somalian government’s 1st partner for infrastructure construction and natural resources exploitation. In Libya, as soon as the war ends, Turkey wishes to be the main actor of the country’s reconstruction.

Turkey also seeks to expand its influence in Western Africa and the Sahel region. As a matter of fact, its objective is to establish rear military bases for its Libyan operations as well as for securing its regional investments. To this end, it plans to resort to military industrial contracts with Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Chad.

IX. Challenges

As we’ve seen, Turkey has great ambitions in Africa. Nonetheless, it will have to address some challenges, namely:

  • A lack of financial means compared to its competitors
  • An internal economic vulnerability putting at risks its investments in Africa
  • Its military influence depends on the establishment of prior bilateral economic relations

1 Comment

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