With Turkey's presidential election days away, African presidents are watching the campaign. For several years, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been very active in Africa.
Will Recep Tayyip Erdoğan be re-elected on May 14 as President of Turkey? A priori, he is the big favorite, he who is a candidate for his own succession. On the side of Africa, one observes with attention the course of the ballot. Because Turkey is a major partner of the continent. Erdoğan continued the African policy of his predecessor Abdullah Gül, and of Ahmet Necdet Sezer before him. Because Turkish diplomacy developed particularly in the early 2000s : Ankara, which today has 43 embassies in Africa, has opened 31 since 2002.
Economically, Turkey sees significant trade potential in Africa: the volume of Turkish trade with Africa amounted in 2021 to $28,3 billion. With a sizeable objective for Ankara: to double its foreign trade with Africa by 2026. Several countries, formerly very close to China, are beginning to turn towards the shores of the Bosphorus: Ghana and Angola, for example. But also the states close to Paris.
Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the great unknown
A status quo for the Turkish presidency would therefore suit most of Ankara's partners, particularly in Africa. If the opponent Kemal Kiliçdaroglu were to be elected, it would be the unknown for the continent. Even if his diplomatic adviser, Ünal Çeviköz, ensures that his candidate would do much more for Africa than Erdoğan: the AKP "has proved incapable of understanding and satisfying the demands of Africans", assures Çeviköz, who promises the extension of a “grain agreement” with Moscow and Kiev, beneficial to Africa in the event of an election. Kiliçdaroglu's adviser also promises Afro-Turkish cooperation regarding the fight against terrorism.
The statement of the Kiliçdaroglu clan is tinged with a good dose of bad faith. Because President Erdoğan, whether he likes it or not, is undoubtedly one of the spearheads of the Turkish diplomatico-economic offensive in Africa. Last year, the Head of State notably embarked on a tour that took him to three new countries on the continent: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, a few months only after trips to Angola, Nigeria and Togo, but especially after the 3ᵉ Turkey-Africa Economy and Business Forum.
On the trade market, Ankara applies its own method, with direct engagement in national markets. President Erdoğan indeed advocates regional integration. For example, Turkish companies promote exports of Tanzanian goods to Angola or Mozambique, and are also omnipresent in Tunisia, where they export their goods to Libya and Algeria.
An all-round breakthrough
An economic strategy, coupled with a desire for effective soft power: now, Turkish is taught in schools in several African countries. A breakthrough that also affects the culture sector: Turkish series are emerging almost everywhere on television on the continent.
"Never has the Turkish president been so proactive in Africa", writes Le Figaro, which recalls that President Erdoğan has "methodically strengthened his influence on the continent" and assured that he wants to "continue to promote (his) relations with African countries on the basis of fraternity and solidarity”, in February 2021. Ankara was also particularly effective at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. Erdoğan has shown that he respects the continent and, inevitably, his re-election should not, for African presidents, be bad news.