Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be visiting Kenya and Uganda, but beyond trade and diplomatic ties, the issue of terrorism is seen as a key focal point when he arrives.
Erodogan would be seeking to neutralize the impact and effect of a former ally, preacher Fethullah Gulen, whose Hizmet organisation which claims millions of followers worldwide was formally listed as a terrorist group by Ankara recently.
According to Reuters, Erdogan once looked to Gulen for help in spreading Turkish cultural influence and commerce overseas. But that has since changed with Ankara claiming that Hizmet was abusing Turkey’s name abroad.
The African continent is a big opportunity for Turkey because there are many problems in the Middle East ... affecting Turkey's economic projects.
Erdogan insists that his former ally is building a “parallel state” through followers in all sectors of Turkish society with the aim of overthrowing him, allegations Gulen denies.
The president has made eradicating the Hizmet movement a top priority at home and abroad. “Through these trips, it will be explained that this is a terrorist organization harmful to Turkey and that Turkey does not support it,” a senior Turkish official is quoted by Reuters to have said.
“We consider the Gulen network a national security threat and the issue of their influence regularly comes up in our discussions with African leaders among others, the president will presumably convey this message to his counterparts over the coming days,” a top source also told Reuters.
Beyond Hizmet, Turkey’s interest in Uganda and Kenya
Turkey has boosted its business relations with Africa following instability in the Middle East and European economic weakness, it is reported that Turkish exports to Africa have grown more than sevenfold since Erdogan’s AKP came to power, rising to $12.5 billion last year from $1.7 billion in 2002, with textiles, food, construction and infrastructure services among the key sectors.
Fouad Farhaoui of the Ankara-based USAK think-tank said about Turkey’s Africa relations; “The African continent is a big opportunity for Turkey because there are many problems in the Middle East … affecting Turkey’s economic projects.”
The importance of Uganda and Kenya was particularly because of their energy, agriculture and infrastructure needs, where Turkish firms have expertise, Farhaoui said, but more so for Kenya because of their role in regional security.
Turkey however faces other rivals in partnering Africa with China, India, South Korea and other emerging economic giants all making strides into the African business arena in the last few years.