January 30, 2015

Erdoğan’s fight against education in Africa

İhsan Yılmaz

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited a few African nations, among them Somalia and Ethiopia. When looking at his media mouthpieces' coverage of the trip and his declarations, it seems the primary reason of his trip was to “tell” the African nations to close schools that were established by civil society groups and private companies affiliated with the Hizmet movement. He told them that the staff of these schools are foreign agents and, similar to what they did in Turkey, they could stage a coup in these African nations! Erdoğan's solution was simple: Close the schools and the Turkish state will open new ones.

A Nigerian daily has responded to Erdoğan and wrote that Erdoğan thinks the Africans are stupid just because their countries are developing. This is exactly what we in Turkey have also been saying about Erdoğan's funny maneuver. Hizmet exists in more than 160 countries, and in most of them it has fully functioning schools. In many of these, the schools have been operating for more than 20 years. And in almost all these countries where the schools exist, the children of the countries' elite attend these schools.

The rulers and elite of these countries not only closely monitor and scrutinize these schools through their intelligence organs and the help that they get from their international intelligence partners, they also have a sort of insider knowledge about these schools and their staff through their own children. I have visited about 50 countries and have observed these schools, have met with staff, parents and the elite, including people from the media, the bureaucracy, business and politics, and have never heard of the ridiculous accusation that these teachers are spies or that they are preparing to stage a coup.

Erdoğan is so furious and insecure about the allegations of corruption he is facing in Turkey, he is not even aware that he is directly insulting the intellect and intelligence agencies of these nations. He is simply telling them that they are so stupid that they do not even know what is going on in their country and that he is the only one on Earth who knows the secrets of these schools. He is indirectly telling African leaders that they do not read The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Guardian, the Independent, etc., and never listen to the BBC or peruse its website, so they have not heard about his illegal, illegitimate fight and personal grudge against the Hizmet movement just because it does not support his corruption, does not obey him fully, does not make its media his mouthpiece, does not encourage people to accept his dictatorial tendencies, objects to his full control of the judiciary and the imprisonment of journalists. He does not even know that the elite of these countries are more educated, wise and multilingual than him. Their countries may be developing or underdeveloped for a variety of reasons, but these elite have received the best education in their countries and in the prestigious Western universities, speak English, French, etc., read books and listen to their advisers, international critics, etc., unlike Erdoğan, who does not possess any of these qualities.

Erdoğan is using the full credibility, prestige and power of Turkey, the Turkish nation and the Turkish state for his personal fight. These African leaders, who are polite and diplomatic, unlike Erdoğan, do not tell him off, but there are all sorts of signs that they are upset with Erdoğan's immature attitude and will only pay lip service to his “wise” advice. If Erdoğan wants to open new schools in Africa, there is no ban on that. He can use the Turkish state's money to do that, or he can ask his extremely rich sons, friends and relatives, who now command billions of US dollars, to open new schools in Africa. He can encourage other civil society actors to open new institutions in Africa, if he is sincere about education in Africa. But it seems that he is only preoccupied with closing down the already established, well running and successful schools just because he wants revenge.

He is so alone in this cruel fight that only a few politicians in his party support his statements against the Hizmet schools in Africa.

Published on Today's Zaman, 30 January 2015, Friday