Statistically, the number of its embassies has increased from 12 three years ago to 31 today, with three more in the pipeline by December. only 16 African countries have embassies in Turkey. Take it from me that Turkey did not fly in all these senior media representatives and put them up in five star hotels because it loves Africans. It has its interests to take care of. One is that it wants to be a member of the Security Council. Africa, with 54 countries, is a key ally.
Turkey’s sweet talk: Do African leaders read between the lines?
Dar es Salaam: Exactly two weeks ago today, a batch of African media practitioners travelled to Turkey for a two-day conference dubbed the Turkey-Africa Media Forum. Over 200 journalists from all 54 African countries were guests of Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc. Employing flattering language and addressing the delegates as “distinguished media representatives of brotherly African countries”, the deputy premier laid bare his agenda. “Africa has been subjected to massive torment throughout the centuries,” he said. “Both underground and aboveground resources were looted.”
Turkey, he added, was not in that league of exploiters and instead attaches great importance to establishing new relations with Africa. Since they share a common history and culture, he said, Turkey and Africa could shape the future on the basis of common interests.
The bottom line is that Turkey is advocating what it considers a win-win situation. But why would Turkey be so interested in Africa? The answer might be found in the wider global picture.
Having hit a snag in its efforts to join the European Union, Turkey did not despair. Instead, the country that boasts sitting in two continents - Europe and Asia - and being home to 75 million people is now making its presence felt in Europe and, indeed, worldwide.
Looking at trade trends, one can see the pace at which its initiatives are paying off. While Turkey recorded just $742m worth of trade with Sub-Saharan Africa in 2000, it registered a staggering $7bn trade volume last year. In addition, trade with Africa as a continent stood at $4bn in 2000 but grew to $17bn by 2011.
Kept out of the Euro zone, Turkey’s foreign policies focused on promoting political-economic relations with other blocs. And it is determined to support this strategy through thick and thin. Team Turkey held media conferences with six Turkish-speaking countries two years ago and did the same with 12 Balkan countries. It then hosted over 200 journalists from 22 Arab countries before turning to Africa.
Why is Turkey doing this? No one summarises it better that the Turkish deputy PM himself: “I am of the belief that the media is one of the most influential means in an effort to talk about and discuss cooperation efforts and offer solutions towards this end.”
This got me thinking as an African. Are our governments aware of this? What are they doing to benefit from these partnerships? I asked Mr Wangethi Mwangi, an East African media consultant also attending the conference, and his response was: “Wapi Kazee?”
But there was our host, telling us: “Unlike some Western countries, we do not use pompous language. Turkey makes its presence felt inch by inch in Africa thanks to its institutions and benevolent people.”
Statistically, the number of its embassies has increased from 12 three years ago to 31 today, with three more in the pipeline by December. only 16 African countries have embassies in Turkey.
Take it from me that Turkey did not fly in all these senior media representatives and put them up in five star hotels because it loves Africans. It has its interests to take care of. One is that it wants to be a member of the Security Council. Africa, with 54 countries, is a key ally.
That country also wants to link Turkish and African media. Mr Murat Karakaya, the director-general of the Turkish Press and Information Service, put it this way: Africa has become an area of global interest in recent years thanks to its economic, social and cultural capacity and historical wealth.
Again, the million-dollar-question is: Are our leaders aware of this and are they ready to engage their collective brainpower to ensure they get their piece of the cake?
We tend to adopt policies that then fade out within no time. Tanzania, for instance, adopted economic diplomacy a few years ago to cope with global changes. A quick visit to the official website even showcases the government’s good intentions. But to what extent are these strategies followed by sound action plans that create awareness and promote ownership of the process?
To what extent do we ensure that we get optimal benefits from such partnerships? We are quick to celebrate relatively minor achievements when the potential is much higher. Consider the lack of a clear strategy to develop our industries to benefit from the East African Community Customs Union and the Common Market protocol. We know that we were not prepared for this although we had asked for more time to build capacity.
Come 2004, the Customs Union came into effect. We are still “celebrating” a few years down the road. Why? Because, according to Bank of Tanzania, our exports to Kenya increased from $101m in 2007 to $235m a year later. In the case of Uganda, they increased from $46m to about $59m. What we are not discussing is the why of these increases. Is it true that Kenya has all of a sudden dropped from the position of strongest economy in the region? The answer is obviously No!
The answer lies in what we are exporting—which is raw materials. They add value and sell them at twice as much, if not 10 times in some cases. Yet we are now boasting that we are beating Kenya. Wapi bwana!
I am afraid this scenario will play out in much the same way for many African countries in this Turkish-Africa partnership. The difference between our governments and the Turks is that they have developed a policy and they also own the process and oversee its implementation as chief executives would.
The Turks are advocating a win-win situation, but we will only benefit when we know exactly what we want and go for it at the negotiation table.
- Mr Machumu is the Managing Editor of The Citizen newspapers.