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Global AddisTürkiye’s drone diplomacy in Africa

Türkiye’s drone diplomacy in Africa

Though both the West and the East have worked hard to maintain good ties with Africa, the “disquieting” presence of Türkiye on the continent persists. To take advantage of the continent, though, each faction has its own strategy. Eastern investment is not related to concerns about human rights, although both the West and the East use aid that is tied to democratic values. In the meanwhile, Türkiye has effectively combined both.

There is a military and economic component to Türkiye’s ambitions for Africa. It employs a strategy termed as “quid pro quo” in the jargon of diplomats. African countries want military supplies in order to remain in power, while Türkiye requires a market for its expanding military sector as well as raw materials for factories.

As incumbents in Africa face waves of insurgents and rebel fighters as a result of domestic political turbulence, the demand for cutting-edge military technology has increased. Access to some of Türkiye’s most advanced technologies has also preserved several African regimes, with Ethiopia being the most recent example.

“Türkiye’s drones have become game changers in Africa’s wars. In Ethiopia too, it was their drones that played a crucial role in the Tigray war and changed the direction of the offensive,” a peace and security expert at the African Union (AU), who spoke to The Reporter on the condition of anonymity, said.

The expert states that only a few decades have passed since Türkiye was pleading with superpowers for aircrafts, and that the country today has a highly sophisticated defense sector. Numerous African countries are now dealing with Türkiye, including Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and others, according to the expert.

“Much of Africa learned from the Tigray War that drones can change the outcome of war with minimal war costs. Not only in Africa, but Türkiye’s drones were also game changers in the border war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.”

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Türkiye, has grown closer to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). The PM also assigned Ethiopia’s former chief of staff and former head of intelligence, Adem Mohammad (Gen.), as ambassador to Türkiye. Erdogan has also traveled to Africa more than 40 times in the last two decades.

There are various reports, including from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), that the government has been using drones not only in the Tigray war but also in Oromia, in the fight with OLF/shene.

African countries are highly interested in Türkiye’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) (ANK-S and BAYRAKTAR TB2), armored vehicles, sniper rifles, and other battle equipment. Most of Türkiye’s military weapons proved effective in the Libyan civil war. The country started investing in its nascent military and aerospace industries in the 1970s, and currently, the number of Turkish military industries has grown to over 1,500. These military industries exported over USD 11 billion worth of military equipment in 2020, up from just USD one billion in 2002.

The country also trains the militaries of a number of African states. Its military advance in the west, north, and central Africa is also facing competition from France and Russia’s Wagner group, among others.

Türkiye’s defense and aerospace exports to Africa reached USD 460.6 million in 2021, compared to USD 82.981 million the previous year, according to figures from the Turkish Exporters Assembly. This is more than a fivefold increase in the course of one year, showing the growing interest of African countries and the high potential of the market.

Of course, its arms business in Africa is a meager 0.5 percent of its overall arms market. However, the figure is fast growing. Africa is now Türkiye’s fifth largest importer of military supplies, according to reports.

So far, it has signed defense industry cooperation agreements with more than 25 African countries. Currently, there are also Turkish military attachés in 19 African countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Kenya, among others. Further, Türkiye has planned to organize the Africa Aerospace and Defense Expo in South Africa this year.

Many African states are also keen to learn from Erdogan’s experience in quelling insurgents and staying in power, according to reports. Currently, close to 44 African countries have embassies in Ankara, up from 10 in 2008.

Apart from its economic and military interests, Türkiye also has another reason to increase its presence in Africa. In many African countries, the country has conducted missions to trace and erase the presence of Fethullah Gulen, who is allegedly behind the 2016 coup. Türkiye’s government overtook Gulen’s Islamic schools in several countries, including the one on Entoto Hill in Addis Ababa. Erdogan’s request for Gulen’s extradition was, however, rejected by the US, which became one of Erdogan’s points of contention with the West.

Even though Türkiye is a member of the G20, the EU, NATO, and the AU, it does not explicitly identify as pro-West or pro-East. Türkiye is also not on good terms with the US’s allies, like Germany, and also has high-level military deals with Russia, creating this undercurrent. Because of the country’s extensive dealings with both camps, it is commonly regarded as a balancing force between the east and west camps.

Türkiye has been pressured by the west for a long time, according to the peace and security expert, who says there are strategic issues on which Türkiye still disagrees with the US. “For instance, Türkiye’s main adversary is the PKK, and until recently, the US and its allies were at ease on the Kurdistan case. The West uses the PKK to put pressure on Türkiye, and Türkiye blames the US for supporting the PKK and sheltering Fethullah Gulen, who allegedly orchestrated the 2016 coup against Erdogan.”

Just like it exploits the east and a west platform, Türkiye is also exploiting south-south cooperation, to some extent, to befriend Africa. Türkiye is in the middle, neither west nor east, and has an interest in global geopolitics and power plays. It is trying to create alliances with developing countries like those in Africa because if there is any voting scenarios that arise in the UN, Türkiye would want Africa’s votes.

Given how the world’s politics are changing, it’s not surprising that Türkiye wants to work with Africa, say experts.

The country faces a growing threat in the Balkan and Red Sea regions, and as trade volume increases, so does the need to secure its fleets along the Red Sea global trade highway. The country wants to play an active role in the Red Sea, which is why it needs allies on the western side and arms them so they can protect its interests.

Traditionally, Türkiye’s diplomatic relationship was with Islamic nations, but now, religion is not an issue, and Türkiye is bonding with most African states on the western side of the Red Sea, down to Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Congo, the expert said.

“Some of these African governments in the east, west, and north are already enjoying Türkiye’s drones to fight insurgents. So, just like global superpowers have installed military camps in Djibouti, Türkiye is also strengthening its presence in its own way,” added the expert.

Türkiye’s trade volume with Africa also grew sevenfold in the past two decades, reaching USD 34.5 billion in 2021. Türkiye also needs Africa for its growing manufacturing industries, which can’t work without raw materials from Africa. This means that Africa is a source of resources for the country.

Türkiye’s industry is now mass-producing at a level comparable to China’s, with its products flooding African markets. Simply put, Türkiye has become an alternative to China for Africans. African exporters are also gradually shifting from China to Türkiye.

But since COVID-19, Türkiye has understood that its economy cannot survive on tourism. Nevertheless, it is still one of the three big tourism destinations in Europe. Tourism generates more than USD 40 billion in Türkiye each year.

The country has many historic sites that have become famed tourism sites globally. Ephesus, the Aya Sofya mosque, Cappadocia, the Topkapi Palace, and cruising on the Mediterranean are a few of Türkiye’s top tourism destinations.

However, many experts do not agree with Türkiye’s strategy of increasing military alliances with African dictators. They also say it is against the UN, EU, and AU objectives of silencing the guns.

“International diplomacy is all about give and take. Türkiye supports African dictators, but tomorrow these dictators will go, and perhaps democratic leaders will come to power. It is not about a permanent enemy or friend, but about an interest. Türkiye’s strategy only exacerbates the peace and security crisis in Africa,” the expert said.

Instead, Africans must work on strictly sanctioning term limits for rulers in power and criminalizing coups and attempted coups, explained the expert, who believes extending term limits by power must be sanctioned by the AU. “So far, the AU has sanctioned only coups, but attempted coups also need to be sanctioned. Without foreign military interventions like Türkiye, insurgencies and coups might reduce, and Africa might find peace.”

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