The continent of Africa is an actor in global politics getting stronger day by day in the 21st century at the global stage.
The continent, with its abundant natural and human resources, has played an active role in the international system as from the second half of 21st century, and will have more power to define the trajectory of international developments. In the past ten years, 7 out of 10 fastest growing economies in the world emerged in this continent. According to World Bank data, in the past five years, annual growth rate average in the continent based on non-petroleum income is 5.4%. In line with economic development, there are advancements in democracy as well. In 1989, there were only three democracies in the continent and one generation after, today, almost one third of African countries are defined as democracies.
The African Union is the common meeting platform of African countries. The union follows the principle stating that the problems in the African continent require African solutions, and develop policies accordingly.
Turkey has historical ties with the continent and our relation dates back but recently we have witnessed a decisive re-development of the relationships. Today, the relationship turned out to be a success story. The policy of “opening towards African” began in 1998 and had been successfully completed today. We have achieved rapid advancements in many fields, from trade volume to political dialogue mechanisms, from education activities to economic investments. Turkey, as an Afro-Eurasian country since the Ottoman Empire till today, has entered into a new era in African policy, compatible with realities of the 21st century.
Turkey’s relations with Sub-Saharan Africa could be distinguished into four historical periods:
First of all, Turkey’s relations with continent arise from a principled and strong historical past, dating back to centuries ago. Ottoman Empire extended to 3 continents and a significant part of its boundaries were in Africa continent. In the first period of the relationship, from 15th to 19th century, there had been strong relationship between Ottoman Empire and certain sub-Saharan countries. (Habesh Province, Sudan, Niger, Chad, and some parts of Uganda). Further to that certain regions in the Horn of Africa were defended by the Ottomans against colonialism. In its policies towards Africa, Ottoman Empire performed in a way that side itself with the people of Africa. In the 16th century, Ottoman Navy commanded by Seydi Ali Reis defended Zanzibar Island against colonialists from the West. Ottomans developed close relations with Timbuktu Empire, which was ruling in Mali.
The second period in the relationship covers a timeframe from the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 to 1998. In this period, relations with African countries were at minimum level as political and economic capabilities of our country were different from those of today.
The third period lasts from 1998 to 2012. The Africa Action Plan was adopted in 1998 and since then, there had been deepening of relationships. Within the framework of “Africa Strategy Document” declared in 2010, the Policy of Opening Towards Africa was introduced and relations with the continent improved in all fields.
At the African Union Summit in January 2008, Turkey was declared as the strategic partner of the Continent and relations gained momentum. When Turkey became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2009-2010 period, particularly with the support of African countries, Turkey, acted as voice of African countries at every occasion in international arena.
Our Embassies in the continent build close relations with African people and administrations. Actually, the dramatic increase in the number of opened Embassies is a solid evidence of our political will for advancing the policy of “Opening Towards Africa”.
In addition to opening of new embassies, the process is supported by increasing number of contacts in all fields and at all levels with African countries. All these reinforce positive perceptions.
In this line, we rapidly continue our works to activate our new embassies, which undertake a significant role in implementing our Africa policy. In May 2009, we had 12 Embassies in the continent, 7 of them being in southern Sahara. As for the process so far, in 2009 the number of our Embassies reached 14 with Tanzania and Ivory Coast. In 2010, the number of embassies reached 20 with Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Uganda, Angola and Madagascar. In 2011, this number reached 27 with Zambia, Mozambique, Mauritania, Zimbabwe, Southern Sudan, Somalia and Gambia. In 2012, we reached 31 embassies with Niger, Namibia, Burkina Faso and Gabon. In early 2013, we opened embassies in Chad, Guinea and Djibuti, taking the total number to 34. In 2013 and following periods, we aim to open new Embassies in as many as African countries.
In this context, our steps got strong positive responses from African countries, which is an important indicator of the momentum we gained through the Policy of Opening Towards Africa. In early 2008, 10 countries from the continent had Embassies in Ankara, 5 of them being from southern Sahara. In 2013, this number reached 25 and it is expected to increase in the near future.
Our economic relations and trade volume with African countries has also significantly increased recently.
Our trade volume with sub-Saharan African countries was 742 million USD in 2000. In the year 2008, this figure reached 5.7 billion USD, and in 2012 it reached almost 6.5 billion USD. As you see the figures, we can say there is almost ten times growth in the past 12 years.
Our trade volume with all African countries was 9 billion USD in 2005. This figure reached 23 billion USD in 2012. We aim to increase trade volume up to 100 billion USD in the 100th anniversary of our Republic.
On the other hand, from 1972 to 2010, Turkish construction industry undertook projects across whole Africa, amounting to 39 billion USD. This figure corresponds to 21% of our global volume.
Today, Turkish Airlines has flights to 34 destinations in the continent. We have been supporting this for enhancing means of transportation between Turkey and African countries, ties between people, connections between businesspeople and making Turkey a juncture between the rest of the world and African countries.
Through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), Red Crescent (Kızılay), Health Ministry and NGOs; we maintain our works almost everywhere in the continent, in solidarity with African sisters and brothers.
Besides political and economic relations, more than 100 Turkish schools in 34 countries in the continent offer education opportunities to African children.
From 1991 to 2011, a total of 3254 scholarship quotas were allocated to the African countries, in addition to the educational military trainings and courses. Out of these figure, 864 scholarships were used. For the academic year 2012–2013, scholarships were allocated for 561 students from sub-Saharan countries, in addition to special scholarship program.
Since 1992, Diplomacy Academy of the Foreign Ministry has been organizing educational programs called “International Young Diplomats Training Program”. So far, around 100 diplomats from African countries attended the program.
Turkey attributes a great importance to contribute peace and solidarity in Africa. In this regard, Turkey contributes by staff to 5 UN Missions out of 6 missions serving in Africa.
In 2013, we have entered a new phase in our relationship. We have moved beyond the Policy of Opening Towards Africa and in this year, the fourth period has begun. The new period is called as “Africa Partnership Policy”.
The goals of our Africa Partnership Policy are as following: to contribute to the establishment of peace and stability in Africa continent, to assist African countries in their political, economic and social development; in this aim to provide outright support in fields of politics, economy, trade, humanitarian aid, re-construction, security, public diplomacy and mediation; to contribute to the development of African resources for the benefit of African people; to improve bilateral relations on the basis of equal partnership and mutual benefits.
In the second half of this year, the 2nd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit will be organized. The framework and content of the Partnership Policy, covering the years 2013 to 2018, will be discussed and decided at this Summit. The date and venue of the Summit will be decided at the African Union Summit on 26-27 May 2013. We have already declared our desire to host the 2nd Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit to the African Union Commission.
Turkey will keep sharing her historical experience; social, political and cultural accumulation; her amenities and resources with African administrations and people, in the framework of “African solutions to African problems” and on the basis of mutual benefits. This perception determines the core of our partnership policy.
In conclusion, I have a firm conviction that African people will peacefully reach the welfare and development they deserve. I wish the 50th Anniversary of the African Union will bring all the best for all.
*This article is based on the speech made by H.E. Bekir Bozdağ during the inauguration of the African Day Symposium at the Hacettepe University, Beytepe Campus, Ankara, Turkey.