Increasingly, Turkey is devoting resources and political capital to ensuring that it has a strong relationship with several African countries.

Turkey will soon open new embassies in Togo and Guinea-Bissau raising its diplomatic representation to 42 missions since Turkey began opening-up to Africa in 1998.

Turkey’s interaction with Africa between 1923-1998 was low. There are two reasons behind this. First, Turkey as a newly established Republic had very few economic resources to pursue a foreign policy with an African dimension. Second, Turkish Foreign Policy (TFP) had a strict Western orientation from the early 1920s until the 1960s.

Even though the newly established Turkish Republic did not have the economic capacity for a comprehensive footprint in Africa, the first Turkish embassy opened in Sub-Saharan Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1926.

It also implemented health care measures in Madagascar against the plague in 1945. Its distance from Africa gradually decreased in the 1950s and it recognised all newly independent states during the decolonisation period.

Turkey enhanced its relations with the African continent by opening a consulate in Nigeria in 1956, and Ghana in 1957, and an embassy in Ghana in 1964.

It continued to open embassies soon after Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Sudan gained independence. This trend continued with embassies in Nigeria in 1962, in Senegal 1962, and in Kenya in 1968.

Last but not least, the first diplomatic visits between officials of Sub-Saharan African countries and Turkey took place with the visit of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selasiye to Turkey in March 1967, and the visit of Turkish President Cevdet Sunay to Ethiopia in December 1969.

Although Turkey sought to diversify its foreign policy in the mid-1960s and 1970s seeking support from the international community on the back of the Cyprus issue – this expected support was not achieved.

Due to its deteriorating relations with the US in the 1970s, Turkey’s eagerness for enhanced relations with African countries became more visible. It opened an embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1974 and sent medical assistance to Zimbabwe, as an early example of foreign assistance of Turkey to Africa, and in 1978 and signed an economic and technical cooperation (TET) agreement with Sierra Leone in 1979.

As Volkan Ipek, an academician specialising on Africa, stressed, the relationship in the first half of the 1980s was not lucrative because of the military coup in Turkey which lasted from 1980 until 1983. With a new civilian government in 1983, Turkey restarted the diversification of its foreign policy.

Accordingly, $10 million in foreign assistance was allocated for Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan. The new government’s quest for improved relations with Africa aimed to rebuild centuries-old relations with the continent.

Turkey soon signed cooperation and TET agreements from 1987-1997 with Nigeria, Chad, Djibouti, Gambia, Zambia, Botswana, Sudan, Senegal, Ethiopia, Ghana and Guinea. Turkey also opened an embassy in Pretoria, South Africa in 1994 and Turkish President Turgut Ozal visited Senegal in 1996.

Opening Up Period 1998-2020

The first 'Action Plan for Africa’ was prepared in 1998. This decision of opening up to Africa was initiated by Ismail Cem, Foreign Minister of Turkey from 1997-2002. It also came as a consequences of the European Union’s decision to exclude Turkey from full membership at the Luxembourg Summit in 1997.

The plan emphasised enhancing political, economic and cultural relations with Africa. It proposed that Turkey’s diplomatic representation in Africa be enhanced, and new embassies were (re)opened in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe, in addition to twelve existing embassies.

Far more developments regarding TFP towards Africa came under the AK Party government led by the current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey declared 2005 as the “Year of Africa” marking a significant milestone in Turkey-Africa relations.

The election for non-permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held in 2008 was also a key driving force behind Turkey’s (re)opening to Africa. After the declaration of 2005 as the “Year of Africa”, the AK Party’s foreign policy preferences led Turkey to pursue a far more proactive foreign policy in Africa.

Thus, Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid visits to Ethiopia and South Africa in March 2005.

Turkey’s efforts gradually yielded tangible outcomes from 2005-2008. In 2005, Turkey was granted ‘Observer Status’ in the African Union (AU). Erdogan also became the first Turkish Prime Minister to deliver a speech at an African Union Assembly during his 2007 visit to Ethiopia.

The African Union, in 2008, declared Turkey as a ‘Strategic Partner of the Continent’. The “Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit” was held with the participation of 49 African countries on 18-21 August 2008, in Istanbul.

That accelerated pace between 2005-2008, mainly as a part of Turkey’s campaign to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for the term of 2009–2010, is itself an indication of its drive to establish a higher international profile which was only possible by engaging more deeply with Africa.

Turkey’s rising position was highlighted in the report ‘African Economic Outlook 2011’. The report issued by the African Development Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says that Turkey is one of the new key players in Africa. In that sense, development cooperation is evaluated as an essential pillar of Turkey’s relationship with Africa.

The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), with its 22 country offices, has been developing projects for the entire continent since 2005.

There is now no doubt that Turkey’s long term quest for improved relations with Africa since 1998 makes sense. Erdogan’s visits to approximately 30 African countries during his term, new Turkish embassies in Togo and Guinea-Bissau and the rising number of diplomatic missions in Africa is an indication of a renewed Turkish confidence in its abilities to achieve a global vision.

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