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Turkey-Africa ties in framework of Libya and East Med developments

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African countries, which already have fragile economies, are negatively affected by the Libyan crisis. After 2011, the large investments made by the Moammar Gadhafi regime in many African countries were terminated. As a result, many Africans have been deprived of potential sources of income and employment.

The seizure of Libya’s assets in some African countries has also been a factor that strains relations in the region from time to time. Apart from this, Libya was an important immigration region before the civil war, where many people from African countries such as Nigeria, Niger, Sudan and Somalia found jobs for high wages and sent money to their country.

With the developments after the Arab Spring, many migrants became unemployed and started new searches to find a livelihood.

Another factor of the Libyan issue affecting the African economy is the energy dimension. After the oil fields were closed by putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar forces, daily oil production, which was 1.2 million barrels, decreased to 262,000 barrels a day. All these factors, along with the effects of the coronavirus have compounded the economic problems of the continent.

The developments in Libya have the potential to impact African countries in terms of security. The absence of peace and stability since 2011 caused Libya – which has porous borders – to be defined as a major threat to regional security.

In particular, southwestern Libya is known as a region where many radical and terrorist groups are deployed and engaged in arms and smuggling activities due to the country’s security deficit and political stalemates.

Terrorist and criminal organizations here can easily cross into Europe, the Middle East or sub-Saharan African countries, as they do not have border controls. For example, it is known that many terrorist factors that came to Libya through the Middle East and then moved to northern Mali have increased the security problems in Mali.

Apart from this, global terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida and Daesh are going to have new formations in the region through Libya. The Daesh-linked structure known as the “Desert Army,” which carried out actions in Chad, Niger, Algeria and Libya regions, was deployed in southern Libya and increased the number of weapons and members.

Another issue that worries sub-Saharan African countries in terms of security is migration due to conflict. The masses of people escaping from the conflicts in Libya are going to countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Chad.

In this case, the situation of these countries, which are already struggling with many political, military and economic problems, may worsen.

Another aspect of the Libyan crisis that threatens African security is its potential to increase existing ethnic conflicts. The countries involved in the Libyan issue use these tribal and ethnic groups to further their own interests and increase their effectiveness in the region.

This situation may cause new crises and conflicts by intensifying ethnic polarization in North Africa and sub-Sahara in the near future.

France and Egypt’s attempts to reduce the impact of Turkey are an example. While France is trying to reestablish its former colonies in Africa such as Chad and Mali, Egypt is trying to gain the support of the tribal and tribal chiefs in the region.

In fact, Cairo emphasized the neutralization of the Fayez Sarraj administration and Turkish power in Libya by hosting the leaders of the Libyan High Tribal Council on July 20. It was even mentioned that Egypt could carry out a military intervention for this purpose. Some tribal leaders in Libya welcomed Egypt’s possible military intervention, while others looked at the attitude of the Cairo government with concern.

North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are areas of political tribal strength. In Libya, Haftar is mostly active in the rural side of eastern regions and the influence of the tribes in these regions is evident. From this general framework, it can be understood why Egypt sought support through tribes on the Libya issue.

Turkey has also recently hosted the leaders of the Tuareg ethnicity which has a dense population in North and West Africa. While Tuareg’s support is important in the region, Turkey should pay attention to the potential linkages between extremist groups and criminal organizations and the local leaders.

Media agencies and think tanks that are supported by Egypt and some Western actors spread disinformation falsely accusing Turkey of supporting terrorist organizations and radicals.

This negative image of Turkey, which has been created, may profoundly affect the country’s interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and relations with the regional countries.

At this point, Turkish political leaders and assigned diplomacy officers should stay away from rhetoric and actions that could lead to speculation.

Turkey’s moves in Africa

North Africa, the Sahel and sub-Saharan African countries should be included carefully in Turkey’s strategies for the Eastern Mediterranean and Libyan issue. Because these regional countries are influenced heavily by developments and exposed to intense lobbying against Turkey. Being aware of this situation, Turkey’s policies toward Africa have gained new momentum in the last couple of years.

Turkey has increased its diplomatic representation in Africa in recent years. The bilateral trade with the regional countries has increased substantially. Significant military and defense agreements that were signed between Turkey and African countries worry other global actors such as France, China and Russia who want to stay effective in the region.

Turkey built a military base in Somalia spending $50 million, signaling that its military presence on the continent will not remain limited by international peace operations.

Following this base and military training activities in Mogadishu, the naval jurisdiction and military cooperation agreement signed with the Sarraj government in accordance with international law and the sending of troops to Libya enabled the second Turkish military deployment in the continent.

The international media mentioned that Turkey aims to increase to three the number of countries in Africa where there is a Turkish military presence with the military agreement that was signed with the Niger government in July 2020.

After Niger, Turkey is attempting to develop political and military ties with Chad. French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing the former French colony to support Haftar forces.

Although it is thought that this support will be provided due to Chad’s President Idriss Deby’s closeness to France, Haftar’s presence among the Libyan forces that occupied the African country in the 1980s have caused a rift between the two presidents. Turkey should assess Chad’s status strategically remaining cautious about its active support for France in the Libyan crisis.

Another factor that ensures the Turkish military presence in Africa is SADAT International Defense Consultancy Company which is private security company. Considering the fact that other forces that want to be active in the continent are involved in the region with their own private military companies, Turkey’s move should be understood in the context of realpolitik.

However, taking into account that the names of these military private companies are occasionally used in black propaganda against their states, SADAT’s activities in the region should be carefully controlled.

Thus, SADAT may be an important institution that can strengthen Turkey’s hand in the Libya crisis, and the relations with African countries will become stronger in the future.

Turkey’s defense industry, which has become stronger in recent years, is very important in terms of Turkey’s military moves in Africa.

The export of Turkish weapons to the region is also included in the agreements in defense and military fields signed with the continental countries. This important factor that improves bilateral relations between Turkey and African countries in the military field – if used correctly – may provide a great advantage to Turkey and the Sarraj government in the Libya crisis.

While Turkey performs these moves in the military field in Africa, Egypt as a major competitor to Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya issues is also working on creating effective military strategies in the continent.

As it is known, there are two major security threats for the Cairo government, the instability and terrorist threat from Libya and the conflict with Ethiopia in the scope of the construction of the Great Renaissance Dam.

In order to eliminate these two threats, Egypt has been making military preparations close to the Libya-Egypt border while it sent troops to the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) military base in Eritrea to tackle the second threat.

While Eritrea, experiencing border crises with Ethiopia, welcomes Cairo’s move, this is followed as an alarming development by other countries in the region. According to some experts, Turkey should use the Ethiopia card against Egypt who has been considered as a major rival in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya.

However, another vital issue to be considered in this regard is that while supporting Ethiopia against the Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi regime for the interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, relations with Egypt and Sudan are at risk in the long term.

As a result, Turkey has to continue its struggle with regional and global actors in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya, in different parts of the African continent too.

Turkey may have advantageous positions against rival actors in this issue, due to factors such as the absence of colonial past in Africa and the regional relations which were developed on the basis of the win-win principle.

Turkey’s strategy for Africa will both strengthen the hands of Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libyan issues and also reflect positively on future relations with the countries of the continent. For this reason, it is important to emphasize that Turkey is a pro-peace actor that could contribute to the elimination of security threats that may emerge from the Libya crisis.

prof Dr İrfan Kaya Ülger

*Head of the Department of International Relations, Kocaeli University
Huriye Yıldırım Çınar
*Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at Kocaeli Universtiy, expert on African studies

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