French President Emmanuel Macron is well aware of the waning influence and reputation of his country in Africa, but he prefers to lay the blame on “foreign powers”.
In an interview with Jeune Afrique newspaper in December 2020, Macron said the strategies developed by Turkey and Russia were aimed at “playing on post-colonial resentment” against France. “We must not be naïve about this subject,” Macron said. However, there are other factors that affect this causality.
France Reluctant to Acknowledge Colonialist History
France has a strong political, historical, cultural, and linguistic influence over 20 African countries largely due to its past colonialism. It offers development assistance to these countries. The total turnover of the French companies operating across the continent is approximately $60 bn. However, these efforts are not sufficient to boost the worsening image of France.
This is primarily due to the colonialist history of France, which is marked by massacres. Macron stresses that his country must acknowledge its colonialist past but refuses to apologize for the massacre committed during the Algerian war of independence, which raises questions about his truthfulness.
The French military operations launched in Mali for countering terrorism were not welcomed by the Malians as they were seen as another effort to maintain French influence in the region.
Although the UN reports confirm that French airstrikes in Mali have resulted in civilian casualties, the French government vehemently denies responsibility, and this further reinforces the negative opinion about France.
Besides, Macron’s new legislation on reforming Islam, which was promoted as a step to reinforce republican principles of France, as well as his endorsement for publication of the disputed caricatures depicting Prophet Muhammad, created a major backlash among the Muslims in Africa.
In addition to the above, the unfair and unequal relationship between France and Africa, which was first developed during colonialism, has never changed. Since 1961, France has controlled at least 50% of the national reserves of 14 African countries, and it makes $500 billion per year from these reserves.
On the other side, increasing competition and waning reputation gradually weaken France’s grip over the continent. While dominions represented 60% of France’s foreign trade volume, Africa’s share in French exports has gone down to 5% in 2015.
France has also lost its domination over the currencies used in Africa. In 2020, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to abolish the CFA franc, the currency of colonized African states, and introduce a common currency among these states.
Why is Turkey’s approach to Africa Different?
Turkey has the advantage of being clear of a colonialist history in Africa.
It acts on the principle of equality in bilateral relations, instead of standing on a high horse. It refrains from intervening in the internal affairs of other countries and reaches out to them with economic investments and projects in education, healthcare, and transportation.
Humanitarian aid is one of the most important pillars in Turkey’s policy towards Africa. Turkey conducted its biggest foreign humanitarian assistance operation in Somalia.
Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), the Turkish Red Crescent, Turkish Religious Foundation (TDV), IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, and other institutions and non-governmental organizations offer assistance to African countries in addressing diverse issues, including famine, drought, access to drinking water, and access to public services. This approach enhances confidence in Turkey and contributes to regional peace and stability.
From “Opening to Africa” to a Policy of “Partnership with Africa”
The Justice and Development Party, which came to power in Turkey in 2002, set its eyes on developing better ties with African countries in economy, trade, and defense industry. In this framework, the action plan for “Opening to Africa”, which was first drafted in 1998, was launched.
Turkey declared 2005 “the Year of Africa”, which was the most symbolic sign of a new era in Turkish-African relations. The same year, the African Union admitted Turkey as an observer member, and in 2008 Turkey became a strategic partner of the Union.
The “Opening to Africa” policy, after bringing successful results, was replaced with the “Policy of Partnership with Africa” in 2013. The third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit will be held in Turkey this year.
Turkey’s initiatives in African countries were soon reflected in economic and commercial relations. Since 2002, Turkey’s bilateral trade volume with African countries was quadrupled; climbing over $22 bn. Turkey has invested $7 bn in Africa so far. The Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) also started joint business councils with 45 African countries.
Major Diplomatic Leap in Africa
The Turkish initiatives in Africa were also supported by diplomatic breakthrough. The number of Turkish embassies on the African continent went from 12 in 2002 to 42 in 2019. The number of African embassies in Ankara was also increased to 36.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited 28 African countries (both as a president and prime minister), including Algeria, South Africa, Senegal, Nigeria, and Somalia.
Turkey’s Military Presence in Africa
Somalia is also home to the largest Turkish military base abroad, which is also the first Turkish military base in Africa. The base, which was opened in 2017 on an area of 400 acres, will train 10,500 Somalian troops. Turkey also has troops on the Suakin Island in Sudan, in addition to its troops in Mali and the Central African Republic as part of the UN mission.
In the light of the above, it is not surprising that Turkey has strengthened its image in African countries.
This success, achieved in almost 20 years, is thanks to an active diplomatic leap, equality in political and economic relations, and a strong emphasis on humanitarian aid instead of a colonialist approach.