TURKISH OPENING TOWARDS AFRICA AND LATIN AMERICA : A COMPARATIVE STUDY
TURKISH OPENING TOWARDS AFRICA AND
LATIN AMERICA :
A COMPARATIVE STUDY
During the last 15 years, one of the main features of the Turkish foreign policy has been the outreach to Africa and Latin America. Indeed, in 1998 the Turkish Government approved two action plans one for Africa and the other for Latin America and the Cribbean both aimed at developing relations of Turkey with these two continents in all fields.
The obvious reason for this was that Turkey was not, basically, happy with the level of her relations with these two continents despite great potentialities currently existing. Indeed, in view of the fact that relations of Turkey with these two continents were not satisfactory, it was necessary to develop them to a large extent.
When we study the main reasons that led Turkey to adopt a policy of opening up to these two continents, we can say, in broad lines, that Turkey achieved during the last decades tremendous developments in economic, social and political fields. The growth rate of the Turkish economy, sizable increase in foreign trade and integration of Turkey into the global economy have been striking.
On the other hand, apparent need of Turkey for friendly countries has always been significant in the conduct of her foreign policy. The development of economic, cultural and trade relations with various countries, as Turkey believed, would help create a strong basis, in time, for political relations as well as mutual understanding.
Turkey deeply felt, in the past, the need of friends when the Cyprus question was discussed in the UN bodies on various occasions.
The method to explain the Turkish views on the Cyprus issue was to send to various countries special emissaries.
Nevertheless, at the end, it is understood that, without any substantial relations with a given country, it was difficult to get political support.
A great number of independent states, members of the United Nations from Africa as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, constitute an important part of the whole membership of the Organization. For any country which needs support in any voting at the United Nations, this fact ought to be taken into consideration (the number of UN member states in Africa is 54 and it is 33 in Latin America and the Caribbean).
At present, Turkey, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is the 16th largest economy of the world when the criterion of purchasing power parity (PPP) is applied. She is the 17th largest economy according to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the basis of the World Bank’s statistics.
Three African and three Latin American countries are mentioned among nine globally pivotal states which are important for US Foreign Policy: Egypt, Algeria and South Africa from Africa as well as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina from Latin America. The remaining three countries are Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey. 
On the other hand, the Group of Twenty ( G-20 ) was created in the aftermath of the economic crises in Asia in 1997 and in Russia in 1998. The basic aim of the creation of G-20 was to provide more chances of representation in the decision-making process of global economy for major industrialized countries together with rising economies which have, increasingly, more weight and importance in the world’s economy. It also aimed at ensuring more stable structure of the international monetary system. Among these twenty countries there are three countries from Latin America (Mexico, Argentina and Brazil) as well as one country from Africa (South Africa). Turkey is also a member of G-20 together with major developed countries and some other rising economies such as China, India, Russian Federation, Indonesia and South Korea. Some of these rising economies have competitive interests in various parts of the world including Africa.
I believe, that this picture may give an idea about Turkey’s keen interest in developing her relations in every field with African, Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Nevertheless, on the one hand, one should admit the fact that settings of Africa and Latin America are totally different within the context of historical, economic, sociological and cultural developments. On the other hand, there are also very different backgrounds concerning Turkish experiences with these two continents.
First, Africa was colonized, almost as a whole, by European powers. There was also a second trauma, slave trade which was a dramatic development in the history of African continent. Africa was colonized, exploited and humiliated. The settlement of European population on the continent, however, was limited.
In Latin America, there were colonization, genocides, massacres, total humiliation of local populations, destruction of the footprints of former civilizations, involvement in slave trade from Africa for employment in plantations. There was also widespread settlement of European populations together with mixed marriages involving local peoples and africans.
Independence movements in Africa and decolonization process started at a later stage as compared to Latin America. Therefore, Africa had to live for a long time under colonial rule.
Latin American countries, however, achieved independence earlier than Africans through struggles for independence.
When Africa was in strict control of European powers in modern times, Latin America was controlled basically in every sense, by the United States by virtue of the Monroe Doctrine which was a US foreign policy principle regarding Latin American countries in the early 19th century. It stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring U.S. intervention. At the same time, the doctrine noted that the United States would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued in 1823 at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved or were at the point of gaining independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. Throughout history, the United States was also disturbed by the French or German efforts to get involved in Mexican affairs. Similarly, ideological infiltration or establishment of regimes which were considered as incompatible with the US interests are not welcomed and perceived as security threats. Ideological infiltration of communism and warm relations of Cuba with the former Soviet Union and some other similar movements in Central American states are considered as such. As officially confessed later in the United States, in Chile, a similar development was not tolerated and prevented by a coup d’état, engineered by the military in cooperation with the US secret services, against the democratically elected government in this country.
This is a very general historical context as far as the two continents are concerned.
Within the context of Turkey’s experiences witth both continents, we can observe radical differences as regards cultural and historical backgrounds. We can easily say that Turkey is not a newcomer in Africa. Latin America, however, is a different story for Turkey. Geographical distance is a disadvantage as compared to Africa. Common historical experiences are very limited.
We should also underline that, at the present, environment of world affairs and global developments, Africa and Latin America have different appearances and features. We can observe diverse experiences of these continents as regards internal stability, human rights and democracy, economic and social development.
At this point, it would be a good idea to take a look at the status Turkey’s relations with Africa and Latin America separately and to make at the end a comparative assessment.
As mentioned earlier, Turkey, has determined that the relations with Africa were not in proportion of a country like Turkey with considerable and developed economy and commercial growth. Diplomatic representation was also limited.
Turkey had, however, some advantages on developing and maintaining special relations with African countries:
Turkey did not have a colonial past. The Ottoman Empire was actually an African state also having large provinces in Africa, having good and friendly relations with African states. The Ottoman Empire was a peace system (Pax Ottomanica) like Roman Empire (Pax Romana).
The Ottoman Empire prevented colonial expansion of Spain in North Africa. Therefore, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya owe their national identities to Turks. Similarly, the Ottoman Empire played a major role in preventing the penetration of Portuguese colonialism in East Africa. The Ottoman Empire, an African State, included following provinces: Algeria, Tunisia, Tripolitania ( Libya ), Egypt, Province of Abyssinia which was including Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, the Harar region in modern Ethiopia, coastline of Red Sea in modern Sudan and Sudan itself.
There is a sympathy in African countries towards Turkey. Moslems positively regard the friendship with Turkey due to the religious common grounds. In addition to this, Christian peoples of Africa, feel admiration for the reforms and secular system carried out by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. As a whole, Africa feels, a particular admiration for Turkey’s war of independence which is considered as the first national war of liberation in our era. The reforms developed under the leadership of Atatürk set a good example for leaders of certain African countriess during the early periods of national independence such as Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Turkey has always attached importance to develop her relations with Africa. Turkey opened a resident Embassy in 1926 in Ethiopia 3 years after the declaration of the Turkish Republic.
In XIX. century Ottoman Empire opposed the partiton of Africa by industrialized countries of Europe at the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885.
On the other hand, Africans, believe that Turkey, a developing country which has made major economic, political and social progress could be a better model for all African countries than others. In other words, Africans can benefit from Turkey’s experiences.
Bearing all these in mind, Turkey adopted in 1998 an Action Plan for opening up to Africa after a series of meetings with representatives of the government and private sector as well as those of think tanks and media. The Action Plan envisages promoting relations of Turkey with African continent in all fields.
Measures proposed for economic, commercial and cultural relations were thought to form a strong basis for creating a mutual understanding in diplomatic issues.
Realization of high level visits, establishment of political consultation mechanisms, mutual parliementary visits, intensification of contacts within international organizations were proposed. Humanitarian assistance, technical assistance programs, increasing the number of Turkish Embassies in Africa which fell from 15 to 12, conclusion of Trade Agreements, Technical, Scientific and Economic Cooperation Agreements and other agreements to complete legal framework were also suggested.
Among other measures proposed by the Action Plan there were Turkey’s accession to African Development Bank as extra-regional donor country, exchange of visits by businessmen, together with some cultural and educational measures to develop Turkish-African relations.
Improvement of maritime transportation and air services were also proposed.
In 2005 the Turkish Government declared the Year of Africa and intensified its efforts to develop Turkey’s relations with Africa.
In 2005 Turkey gained observer status in African Union.
During the 10th African Union Summit in 2008 Turkey was confirmed as a strategic partner of the continent.
A more important stage in the history of Turkey-Africa relations was the official confirmation of cooperation between Turkey and Africa during the Turkey-Africa Cooperation Summit held in Istanbul in 2008. A cooperation framework for Turkish-African partnership was approved. An institutional mechanism was also established for the follow up of the decisions of the Summit.
Turkey has also developed her relations with African Regional Organizations such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Turkey also decided to increase the number of her diplomatic missions in Africa by opening new Embassies as of 2009. At the present time Turkey has 35 Embassies in African continent. This is a substantial increase as compared to 12 resident embassies in 1998.
The Turkish Government also decided to open 4 new Embassies in Africa, namely in Benin (Cotonou), Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Botswana (Gobordone) and Rwanda (Kigali). The formalities for the appointment of Ambassadors have been initiated. Thus, in 2014 the number of the Turkish Embassies in Africa will be 39.
In Ankara African countries opened also new Embassies. The African Embassies at Turkey’s capital reached the number of 29.
Turkey’s national airline company Turkish Airlines (THY) started new flights in Africa. At the present, Turkish Airlines have services to 42 destinations in 25 African countries.
Following the implementation of the Action Plan it was observed a substantial intensification of high level political contacts between Turkey and African countries: presidents of the republic, prime ministers and various ministers.
Turkey’s foreign trade with Africa has been on the rise during recent years. The trade volume with Sub-Saharan countries was 742 million in US dollars in 2000, 3 billion in 2005, 5.7 billion in 2008 and 7.5 billion US dollars in 2013. It represents a tenfold increase for the last 12 years. The volume of the Turkish foreign trade with African continent as a whole was 9 billion US dollar in 2005, 15.8 billion US dollars in 2009 and 23.4 US billion dollars in 2013.
Turkish contractors are also operating in construction business in various African countries.
Turkey provides significant amount of humanitarian assistance. On the other hand, Turkish International Cooperation Agency (TIKA) is organizing various technical cooperation programs for African countries through its regional and liaison offices presently located in some countries.
As a result, Turkish policy towards Africa can be characterized as a success story. As compared to other countries in competition, Turkey has advantages in Africa with human touch in her approach, cultural affinity and common historical experiences.
Turkey’s relations with Latin American countries were established at a later time as compared to Africa due to the geographical distance as well as diversified priorities of Turkey and Latin American countries.
Nevertheless, contacts between Turkey and Brazil started during the Ottoman Empire in XIXth century. This was rather trade relation with a particular focus on coffee. As is known, coffee is originated in Ethiopia, probably taking its name from the province of Kaffa where coffee grows wild. Coffee was imported from Ethiopia to Yemen, from Yemen through Arabia in the XVIth century to Egypt and Syria, then to Turkey, and from Turkey to Europe (also as a drink). Coffee was coming to Ottoman lands from Yemen which was an Ottoman province. When coffee plants were replaced in Yemen by Khat, a stimulant chewed or used as a tea which is at present very common in this country, coffee production in Yemen became insufficient for the Ottoman Empire. Then, Ottoman Empire started to import coffee from Brazil since the Brazilian coffee was found very much appropriate for the Turkish coffee drink. With Brazil, there exists 150 years of diplomatic relations.
On the other hand, there were various migratory movements from the Ottoman Empire to Latin America from 1860’s until the end of the First World War. These migrants, mostly Arabs, were owners of Ottoman passports and they were called as ‘’El Turco’’.
Diplomatic relations with Argentina go back to 1910 at which time a consular protocol was signed between the Ottoman Empire and Argentina. Centenary of diplomatic relations with Argentina was celebrated in 2010. In the Ottoman diplomatic list Argentina was called in Turkish as ‘’Gümüşistan’’(Silverland) since its Latin name was translated into Turkish.
With the inception of the Turkish Republic, diplomatic relations with Latin American countries were established. Chile, was the first Latin American country which recognized Turkey with the conclusion of a Friendship and Cooperation agreement in 1926.
Turkey’s relations with Latin America were at standstill until 1990’s due to the geographical distance and minimum level of contacts.
At present, Turkey has several embassies in Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Venezuela (4 of them are new embassies) and a Consulate General in São Paulo, Brazil. The opening of an embassy in San José, Costa Rica has also been decided and the procedure of the appointment of an ambassador is initiated.
State visit of the Turkish President of the Republic Süleyman Demirel in 1995 to Argentina, Brazil and Chile was the first official visit realized by a Turkish President. Therefore it was a turning point.
As it was done with Africa, Turkey, taking into account new approaches in the foreign policy, decided to develop simultaneously her relations with Latin American and Caribbean countries. As it was the underlying idea in the case of Africa, the obvious reason for that was the insufficient level of relations with Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry organized a series of meetings in 1998 in order to determine the areas where development of relations were possible. Representatives of Government, Private Sector, Turkish Ambassadors in Latin America as well as Honororay Consuls of Latin American countries in Turkey participated in these meetings. At the end, under the light of recommendations emerged during these meetings an Action Plan was prepared.
2006 was declared the ‘’Year of Latin America and the Caribbean’’ in order to give a new momentum to Turkey’s relations with this continent.
Within the context of the vision of the Action Plan, mutual high level visits aimed at strenghtening political ties, conclusion of various agreements to complete legal framework such as conclusion of trade, economic, defence, cultural and technical cooperation agreements, creation of joint business councils in order to increase bilateral trade, particiption in trade fairs, cultural interactions and economic and cultural promotion as well as information activities have been considered.
As a matter of fact, it has been observed an intensification of mutual high level visits between Turkey and Latin America in particular during the 2009-2012 period including presidential visits to Turkey from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica as well as St Vincent and Grenadines. Various prime ministers and foreign ministers from Latin America have been to Turkey The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Mexico and Brazil.
Joint Economic Council Meetings were organized with various countries during the same period.
Political consultation mechanisms were established with 14 countries.
During the visit of the Turkish Prime Minister to Brazil in 2010 an ‘’Action Plan for Strategic Patnership’’ was signed.
Legal framework of Turkey’s relations with regional countries have almost been completed.
There exists interparliamentary friendship groups between Turkey and 15 Latin American countries.
Latin America is a significant region in terms of strategic and economic potentialities with more than 6 trillion US dollars GDP and a population of 590 million. It is also an area of competition for the US, European Union and China as far as trade and investments are concerned.
After the implementation of the Action Plan and following intensified efforts to develop bilateral relations, it has been observed a significant increase in the Turkish Foreign Trade with Latin America. As a matter of fact, in 2000 the volume of Turkish-Latin American foreign trade was 919 million US dollars. In 2011 it reached the level of 7.8 billion US dollars.
Turkish Airlines started new flights to São Paulo, Brazil in 2009. During the visit of the President of Argentina to Turkey in 2011 Air Transport Agreement was signed between Turkey and Argentina. Turkish Airlines started its flights in 2012 to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina and one of the most important cities in Latin America.
Turkey also provides humanitarian and development assistance to regional countries. As a matter of fact Turkey offered assistance in the aftermath of hurricanes and earthquake disasters recently, in particular to Chile and Haiti. Following the earthquake disaster in Haiti Turkish Red Crescent and civil society organizations provided assistance, The Turkish Govrenment offered financial aid (1 million dollar in cash) as well as 1 million US dollars assistance through projects to be realized by the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA).
33 Latin American and Caribbean countries play a significant role in international organizations by adopting similar approaches in particular at the United Nations and other organizations in the UN system.
As mentioned earlier, Turkey is a member of G-20 together with Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
Turkey has also a ‘’Permanent Observer Status’’ in the Organization of American States (OAS) and in the Union of Caribbean States. On the other hand, Turkey follows closely the activities of other regional organizations in the area.
Turkey also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) in order to establih the mechanism of political solidarity and cooperation as well as with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in order to establish the mechanism of consultation and cooperation.
Both Africa and Latin America are strategically important. They are also rich in natural resources. Despite the continued existence of some problems economic and political prospects are much better than it was in the past.
Major developed nations in particular the United States and the members of the European Union attach importance to the stability and sustained economic and social development of the countries of these regions. Present problems in today’s world such as terrorism, fundamentalism, xenophobia, under-development, illegal migration, human trafficking, population explosion, climate change, drug trafficking, bad governance, lack of democracy and human rights violations necessitate a particular attention. These poblems constitute threats to regional and global peace and security.
As far as Africa is concerned, the importance of Turkish policy of opening up to Africa stems also from the fact that Turkey considered as a humanitarian duty not standing idle by problems such as underdevelopment, natural disasters and domestic political crises that Africa faces. Turkey has similar approach for some countries of the Latin America and the Caribbean. In general, however, it was thought that widely developed relations would be in the best interests of Turkey and these continents. This state of affairs will serve, at the end, global and regional peace.
In the final analysis, as a general assessment, it can be said that Turkey’s policies of outreach to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean countries constitute a significant strategic achievement of the Turkish Diplomacy.
 Robert Chase, Emily Hill and Paul Kennedy (eds.), The Pivotal States, a New Framework for US Policy in the Developing World, (New York, London: W.W. Norton&Company, 1998).