22 December 2017

Africa: Turkey's President Erdogan on Africa - allAfrica's Exclusive Interview

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking in an interview with AllAfrica ahead of a visit to three Muslim-majority African nations, has spoken out strongly against the selling of African migrants into slavery, and in favour of women's rights. He has also rejected criticism of Turkey's record on media freedom.

In a wide-ranging interview with AllAfrica's executive chairman, Amadou Mahtar Ba, President Erdoğan was asked what he would say as a Muslim leader to young Muslims across Africa about a recent report that people were being sold as slaves in Libya.

"We will never allow refugees to be traded off as slaves," he said, "because that can never be approved in the eyes of our religion.... I would like to call out to the Libyan administration and the Libyan youth, please do not be played, do not be fooled, slave markets are prohibited eternally by our religion. Do not resort to them, do not fall for them, and please do everything you can to save those who have fallen to slave markets."

He gave the interview – his first with an African news group – ahead of a four-day visit to Sudan, Chad and Tunisia which begins on Sunday. The visit comes as Turkey works to expand its diplomatic and business links across Africa.

Watch the full interview

Addressing African countries as the leader of a Muslim nation,  he said women need to become much more active in political life.

"Women cannot and should not be left outside the political realm. Secondly, women should be more involved in education, in training, in health, and above all women should be more involved in business life... and even further than that in... non-governmental organisations."

Citing the record in Turkey, where women have voted since the 1930s and serve in the judiciary, Erdoğan said women need to enter the "competitive zone" with men. "It all depends on competence and skills, so long as a person is competent and skillful they should never be stopped."

Asked to explain reports issued year after year saying there is a lack of freedom of expression in Turkey, President Erdoğan accused international press freedom groups of being dishonest and insincere.

On visits to Turkey, he said, when the government showed them documents and evidence "they go quiet". But critical reports continued to circulate. "They are not objective reports. They are biased reports."

"[A] media person does not enjoy infinite freedom. There is a limit to our freedoms. The limit is where the freedom of the other shall begin... A media person cannot support terrorism. If they are harbouring terrorists then there will be a price to be paid. Those who have been sentenced or detained or who have fled Turkey – the so-called media people – have committed crimes, not crimes of expression, not crimes of free thought... There are those without any relevant credentials proving they are journalists."

It has been estimated that about 6,000 Africans who have been fighting with militants from Daesh (better known as ISIS in the West) are expected to return to their countries of origin after the group's defeat in large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Asked how Turkey could work with African nations to counter the threat they posed, Erdoğan said the country had 35 or 40 years' experience in fighting terrorism and pledged cooperation with countries across the continent. He also highlighted the presence of Boko Haram militants in Chad.

In the interview, he also pursued his government's campaign to have African governments close down private schools in many countries which are operated by a network led by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric based in the United States. Thousands of students attend the elite schools in countries across the continent.

Repeating earlier accusations that Gülen was behind the attempted military coup in Turkey in July 2016, in which more than 250 people died and the presidential palace was attacked, Erdoğan said the network used education and religion as a "disguise" behind which they hid.

"We are warning our brothers and sisters in Africa not to be manipulated, not to be deceived, because the Fethullists earned great sums of money out of their actions..." he added.

Speaking soon after the United Nations General Assembly voted to reject the Trump adminstration's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he also lashed out at Israel.

"Israel is a state of violence," he said, "and there is state-sponsored terrorism in Al Quds [Jerusalem] and we have to see these facts for what they are."

He said recognition of the city as Israel's capital was "a trap that we should not have fallen into." President Donald Trump would have to review his situation if he wanted peace in the Middle East.

"If we are defending peace we have to say 'yes' to the two-state solution in Palestine but if we are not defending peace and we want the Middle East to get pushed into further conflict and turmoil, then the price to be paid will be upon President Trump and Israel," he added.

This report has been revised since first publication to reflect a fuller range of issues covered in the interview.

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