Turkey’s position bridging Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and its growing economic and political power, make it an increasingly important regional and international actor in terms of security, leadership and governance. Within this context, a particular trend over the last decade has been the increasing leadership role of Turkey in conflict resolution and peacebuilding in such African contexts as Somalia and Libya. Compared to a number of other actors such as Western powers, the US and China, Turkey is relatively new in African politics and trade circles. However, it has already expanded its area of influence in the continent by linking its soft power tools of transportation links, trade and education closely with its foreign policy.
BY PROF. DR. ALPASLAN OZERDEM | APRIL 30, 2013
In its most generalized and simplified terms, the process might proceed as follows: once an African country is identified as a strategic foreign policy priority and the Turkish Foreign Ministry establishes its diplomatic presence there, it is very likely that Turkish Airlines would soon launch a flight destination in that country. This would be followed by increasing economic links formed by a wide range of globally active Turkish companies. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry would probably sign an agreement to ease the existing visa regime between Turkey and that country to increase the level of interaction in the realms of commerce, academia and culture. A number of Turkish schools from the kindergarten to high school levels in the country concerned would also be likely to play an active role in consolidating such diplomatic and trade relations. These private schools are highly sought after by local communities in their particular contexts, as they provide top level education. Finally, the Turkish government may provide scholarship opportunities to graduates of these schools in order to take a university degree in Turkey.
In a wide range of African countries, from Senegal and Niger to Gabon and Cameroon, such a foreign policy strategy has proved to be successful, with fast growing partnerships in the economic and political spheres. Moreover, in war-torn countries like Somalia, Turkey has become one of the most active actors in the humanitarian and peacebuilding contexts. In August 2012, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accompanied with his family, a number of ministers and a large group of Turkish business people and celebrities travelled to Somalia to raise awareness to the ongoing conflict and famine in the country. Prime Minister Erdoğan was the first non-African leader visiting Somalia over the last two decades. There have been a number of Somalia peace talk initiatives organized by Turkey acting as an independent third party respected by almost all conflicting sides in Somalia. Turkish Airlines provides the only international gateway for Mogadishu, while Turkish aid organizations and the Turkish bilateral development agency TIKA are highly active in a wide range of infrastructure, welfare and service sector programmes in the country. Also, a substantial number of university students from Somalia have already been provided with scholarships to study in Turkey.
In other words, Turkey as a rising power is no longer a shy actor of international relations and is steadily showing its presence in most parts of Africa. In keeping with the growing Turkish proclivity for developing its relations with African countries in commerce, trade, education and culture, there are likely to be other similar cases to Somalia where Turkey would again provide its diplomatic, financial and humanitarian assistance to those African countries torn apart by armed conflict. However, if this is a likely scenario for Turkey in Africa, what should be the main cornerstones of its approach to peacebuilding in the continent so that it could avoid mistakes made by other external actors? Also, considering that Turkey claims its increasing interest and influence in Africa is nothing to do with the exploitation of the rich natural resources of the continent as might be the case for other external actors, and on the contrary, is all about to work with African countries as equal partners, how could and should its approach differ, and how can it develop its own trademark approach in assisting those countries in the enormous challenge of building peace? We recommend the strategy of ‘conflict transformation’ with a specific emphasis on the role of ‘youth’ in peacebuilding.
Transforming Conflict and Building Future Peace with Youth
The complex and multifaceted nature of human insecurity is intrinsically linked to shortcomings in governance and poor leadership in a world characterised by globalised conflict and general insecurity. In other words, war and conflict arise from an interconnected set of causal factors, but foremost amongst them are weak or repressive governments and lack of effective political leadership. The many conflicts occurring and recurring in Africa and recent events across the Arab world have demonstrated this in visceral terms.