Erdogan’s growing appetite for Africa
ALTHOUGH Recip Tayyip Erdogan is considered the most powerful leader of Turkey since Mustafa Atatürk, he frequently chooses to visit Latin American countries with which Turkey has weak ties, as well as small European and African states.
Erdogan has visited Sub-Sharan Africa 10 times in less than 18 months. This week, Erdogan will be visiting Mozambique, Angola and Madagascar at a time when the Turkish lira appears to be 2017’s worst-performing currency.
Erdogan’s Africa visit has political and economic motives. Turkey has strong relations with Africa. Istanbul hosted the “Turkey-Africa Co-operation Summit” in2008 which was attended by 49 countries. The second Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit took place in 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Today Ankara runs 34 embassies on the continent, even in some countries which have almost no Turkish citizens, like Namibia. Turkish Airlines flies to 51 destinations in 34 countries across the continent, double Emirates’ African network.
Turkey’s bilateral trade volume with Africa reached $17.5billion in 2015, and trade volume with Sub-Saharan Africa reached $6bn the same year. But what is the real motivation of Erdogan’s visit in these turbulent days for Turkey?
Erdogan is expanding his witch-hunt against the Islamic Gülen Movement (Hizmet) to Africa.
While the Turkish lira replaces the rand as the world’s most volatile currency and the most critical Cyprus meeting is in process in Geneva, Erdogan’s Africa visit is not surprising for the citizens of Turkey.
Erdogan has made most of his famous critical statements during his trips abroad, and has been out of Turkey at times when the country has faced serious social turmoil, such as during the Gezi Park protests.
But this time, the issue is not opposition protests or challenging the country’s secular army. Turkey faces an existential problem as Erdogan challenges Russia and the US at the same time. This is in addition to the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) whom Turkey has been fighting for 40 years, and the Islamic State, which has carried out deadly attacks in major cities almost weekly.
Although Erdogan engages Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia might plan to take revenge for the killing of their ambassador and the jet downing. But those who follow Erdogan will know that these challenges never prevent him from fighting his personal enemies.
Erdogan wiped out the power of the secular elite and army during his 14 years of rule. But his hatred towards the Gülen Movement has a different dimension than other opponents as he blames Gülenist bureaucrats for organising the 2013 corruption case against his family and inner circle.
Erdogan has openly stated that his government will focus on fighting Gülenists abroad this year as the AKP (the Justice and Development Party) has completely shut down all the Gülen-affiliated institutions in 2016 in Turkey.
Erdogan’s powerful AKP formed the Maarif Trust under the Turkish education ministry to take over Gülen schools abroad and this trust has succeeded in taking over some of the movement’s schools. Erdogan’s team carefully select the countries which they believe he can convince to co-operate.
For a long time, one of the key agendas of Turkish ambassadors has been to fight the Gülen Movement even though many ambassadors have joined the opening ceremonies of Turkish schools a few years ago. Ex-president Abdullah Gül, Erdogan, former prime minister Ahmet Davuto lu, and almost all the ministers visited Hizmet schools in Africa prior to the AKP’s fallout with the Gülen Movement. Hizmet schools are registered by local authorities and they follow the local curriculum, with almost all the students being local. That’s the reason why, in Pakistan, Morocco and Senegal, parents and students organised massive protests against their local authorities in order to protect their children’s educational rights.
The Maarif Trust announced from its website that they took over Hizmet schools in Gine, Somalia, and are negotiating to take over schools in Sudan, Mauritania, Senegal, and Chad.
Since the Arab Spring, Erdo an’s inner-circle have portrayed him as a Caliph of the Muslim world and they met Muslim leaders in many countries. We see today that the Maarif Trust is aiming to take over Hizmet schools in the majority Muslim countries.
As in his previous visits, Erdogan will be very generous to African leaders in order to shut down Hizmet schools. Turkey has strong economic and political ties with Sudan, Somalia and other countries who have decided to close down Hizmet schools.
The Hizmet Movement has been in the education field for the past 40 years in Turkey, and 30 years abroad. Thousands of volunteers who graduated from top Turkish universities contributed to education in several countries. For the Turkish government, it would not have been easy to convince teachers to serve in African countries with lower-living standards compared to Turkey.
Former president Gül stated that Turkey’s Africa strategy is human-centred. The Hizmet-affiliated Chamber of Commerce Tuskon and Hizmet schools played a massive role in building relations between Ankara and Africa. But now, things have changed, and we don’t see a fast-developing Turkey which could have competed with China just eight years ago.
Since 2013, Turkey has become increasingly authoritarian and is accused of having relations with many armed groups outside the country. Any ordinary Libyan citizen knows that Erdogan supports the opposition in their country and played a key role in toppling the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
According to sources, Erdogan will visit Madagascar for three hours. It is expected that he will request Mozambique to close Hizmet schools operating in its territory. The irony is that Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi’s son graduated from Maputo’s Willow School.
While Erdogan’s government takes over Hizmet schools in Africa, a government teacher Aydin Erekmen has posed with his students holding hanging ropes in their hands to demand the death penalty in Turkey. CHP (Populist Political Party) MP Murat Bakan took this issue to parliament, saying: “Allowing this man to teach is tantamount to murder.”
Erdogan has not forced any Western countries to shut down Hizmet schools. Germany arrested Erdogan’s former adviser, and France’s President François Hollande deported a Turkish official, accusing him of spying for Turkey.
He wants to close down continent’s Hizmet schools