Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday launched an emergency tour of African countries, meeting with leaders and investors in Angola, Nigeria and Togo ahead of the Turkey-Africa trade summit on Thursday.

The Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum, which was held in Istanbul from October 21-22, aims to provide a platform for Turkish businesses to gain a foothold on the continent.

Organized by the Turkish government and the African Union, Rwakakamba Morrison, the chairman of the Uganda Investment Authority, called it an opportunity to “catch up with potential investors here in Istanbul”.

The first day of the two-day summit will see Turkish and African ministers of trade, investment, technology and logistics hold closed-door meetings on “deepening the Turkey-Africa partnership”.

The agenda for the first day also includes bilateral meetings with business leaders and ministers, as well as panel discussions on emerging opportunities in agriculture, healthcare and the new regional free trade area. – the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The second day of the forum will host sessions promoting innovation, Turkish-African banking cooperation, trade finance and women’s leadership.

The last edition of the biennial event launched in 2016 was held online in October 2020 due to the pandemic.

Battle for hearts and minds

Since 2009, Ankara has engaged with African countries, large and small, at feverish speed, with Erdogan’s overriding ambition on the continent driven by trade and investment, explains Tim Ash, emerging markets economist at BlueBay Asset Management.

During a visit to Angola on Monday, the Turkish president said there were significant bilateral opportunities in the energy and defense sectors, with seven agreements signed so far between the two countries.

“For quite a long time, Turkey has been very Africa-oriented. Under Erdogan, the Turkish embassies expanded massively globally as part of their efforts to boost trade and investment, ”Ash said.

This wave of construction has increased the number of Turkish embassies in Africa from a dozen in 2009 to 43 today. This year, it will open its 44th, in Guinea-Bissau.

The number of Turkish embassies in Africa increased from 12 in 2003 (countries in dark red on the map) to 43 in 2021.

Erdogan’s foreign policy is also shaped by efforts to counter the growing influence of rival Islamic powers in Africa such as the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

With strong historical trade ties, the UAE has become an increasingly vital partner for the continent and its second-largest investor country, just behind China, according to Financial Times’s fDI Intelligence.

Ankara’s allegiance to Qatar pitted Turkey against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates in a “battle for hearts and minds” on the mainland, Ash says.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and the political Islam associated with it, Ash says. Doha and Ankara have given support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and have backed rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

This was manifested in Turkey’s massive investments in education projects on the continent, building 17 schools in Nigeria alone.

“Turkey has been a big investor in education. Expanding Turkish cultural and religious influence as a way to boost Turkish trade, ”Ash said.

Africa is also a huge achievement for Erdogan as Turkey’s tourist economy resists the blows of Covid-19, Ash said.

“Erdogan has huge problems at home, the economy is not doing well and Africa has been one of those who have done relatively well for him in terms of business and commerce. So he probably wants some nice photoshoots of him shaking hands and doing stuff in Africa.

As Turkey’s relations with Europe deteriorate, Ankara has made a point of diversifying its trade outside of Europe. Two-thirds of Turkey’s trade investment funding comes from Europe, but amid political tensions Erdogan has attempted to rekindle trade ties elsewhere, starting in the Middle East. The deterioration of relations with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and the deterioration of the regional security situation have refocused the president’s views on the continent.

“Africa has been a relatively low fruit, with fewer geopolitical issues. Africa is therefore part of this diversification ploy, ”adds Ash.

Trade between Turkey and Africa has grown from $ 5.5 billion in 2003 to over $ 25.3 billion in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“Africa has been very beneficial for Turkish businesses, manufactures, food, it was a big market, it was also a conduit for transit trade and travelers from Africa.”

Today Turkish fingerprints are everywhere in Africa, from the Kigali Arena in Rwanda, the largest stadium in East Africa, built by a Turkish construction company, to an Olympic swimming pool in Senegal, a colossal mosque. in Djibouti and Turkish military equipment on the battlefields of Libya. But while most African countries have welcomed the new partnership, experts question the long-term ambitions of Erdogan’s African strategy.

The Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum is taking place on October 21-22 at the Istanbul Congress Center.

Additional reporting by Charlie Mitchell.

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