Turkey fronts ‘new approaches’ to diplomacy in latest pitch to Africa, world

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a press conference after the NATO summit at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels on June 14, 2021. 

Photo credit: Yves Herman | Pool | AFP

What you need to know:

  • At a two-day forum attended by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta in the Mediterranean city of Antalya, Turkish officials railed at the world’s richest nations for “abandoning” the poor.

Turkey is fronting what it calls “new approaches” to international relations as African leaders criticise rich nations for hoarding vaccines.

At a two-day forum attended by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta in the Mediterranean city of Antalya, Turkish officials railed at the world’s richest nations for “abandoning” the poor.

“While the burden of billions of people could only be lightened by solidarity, our African, Asian and Latin American brothers and sisters were abandoned to their fate,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told an audience at the Antalya Diplomacy Forum at the start of the conference on Friday.

“The pandemic has further deepened the gap between the rich and the poor. The recurrence of social unrest in many countries, the revival of irregular migration routes, and the increase in deaths in the Mediterranean are the most striking examples of this,” the Turkish leader added, referring to the continual sinking of boats carrying migrants from Africa in the Mediterranean.

He spoke as leaders including President Uhuru Kenyatta gathered at the NEST Congress and Exhibition Centre in Antalya to attend this year’s Forum on “new era, new approaches.”

Some ten heads of governments, dozens of foreign ministers and heads of key international organisations were among those in attendance.

Turkish officials used the occasion to lampoon the West for “vaccine nationalism” which the Turkish President said had been a mistake in the pandemic season which requires cooperation, rather than competition.

The world’s rich have come under scrutiny for hoarding vaccines, with some buying as much as 190 per cent of their need. And after a series of complaints, the EU and the US have both announced a roll-out of plans to distribute doses of vaccines to the poor. However, critics have charged the latest move amounted to tokenism as what the poorer nations needed was technology transfer to manufacturer the doses locally.

Equity problem

Speaking on a panel discussion on a number of issues, President Kenyatta argued the problem lies in a global system that has not been equitable.

“We were… very active in the very early stages, participated, with corporations that were developing vaccines by participating in the clinical trials but unfortunately…. when it came to access to the very vaccines that would have given us protection, we are at the bottom of the list now,” President Kenyatta said.

“This is something that truly indicates that the kind of vaccine kind of nationalism that have seen the kind of bias that you have seen in terms of holding critical Vaccines where you have countries today then have 50 Vaccines to every citizen,” the Kenyan leader told the audience.

Kenya and most of African countries have been unable to access more vaccines, having received an initial consignment under the Covax facility which is promoted by the World Health Organization.

At the forum, EU’s Foreign Policy boss Josep Borrell admitted there had been “competition, rather than cooperation” as the pandemic struck through the world last year.

Turkey used the occasion to promised “sharing with humanity” its own vaccine, which is currently under study.

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the pandemic and other challenges including terrorism have made the world very “fluid and uncertain.”

“There is a constant shift in the balance of power. States are in a competition, even a struggle, besides cooperation. We hear the cries of an international system that is trying to survive in strong turbulence,” Çavuşoğlu told the Forum.

“We apply entrepreneurial diplomacy that tries to solve problems in every corner of the world, both at the level of leaders and at the level of embassies."

Areas of focus

In Africa, Turkey’s focus has seen it increase its embassies from just 12 in 2002 to 44 in 2020, establishing ties in all of the Horn of Africa including Kenya and Somalia, where it built its largest foreign mission on the continent.

“The economic and commercial potential and geopolitical weight of the rapidly developing Continent in several areas have started to attract a vast number of countries and investors to Africa in recent years,” says a policy statement posted on the website of Turkish Foreign Ministry.

“Constructed on a historical foundation, Turkey's Africa policy involves establishing political, humanitarian, economic and cultural relations on bilateral, regional, continental and global levels.”

Erdogan has toured 28 African countries, including Kenya in 2016, from 2005 when he first visited Africa. An observer member of the African Union, Turkey is also a member of the African Development Bank and signed a ‘strategic partnership’ agreement with the AU. Its trade with Africa grew from $5.4 billion in 2003 to $25.6 billion 2019 with Africa.

But while appearing friendly, observers say Turkey is not gullible, which may be informing its neutral stance on Somalia’s politics.

“They have longterm strategic planning. In 20 years’ time, there will be a different picture,” said Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, who analyses political events in the Horn of Africa.

“They don’t want to make business of current politicians (In Somalia), because they are fully aware that the current Somali political elite are a bunch of pseudo-leaders and have conflict of loyalty,” he told the Nation.

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