June 2, 2016

The reasons behind Turkey leader Recep Erdogan’s Africa tour

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on a four-day east African tour this week, during which he is visiting Kenya and Uganda. This trip is his tenth visit to a sub-Saharan African country in less than 18 months. …

…There is also a local element of Turkish politics being played out in the president’s Africa trips. A significant part of his private meetings have focused on cutting the influence of an imam named Fethullah Gulen, a former ally with whom he publicly fell out in 2013.

For many years, most Turkish businessmen working in Africa were followers of Mr Gulen, who also ran elite private schools that educated the children of senior African officials, especially in Uganda and Kenya. After the two men fell out over a corruption scandal, Mr Erdogan has vowed to prosecute Mr Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the US.

The president is now keen to deter Africans from using the schools and stamp out any sway that Mr Gulen’s followers may still retain on the continent. “In Africa, they were running a parallel structure, pretending to represent the Turkish government,” one official who is traveling in Africa with Mr Erdogan told the FT. “This has to stop.”

However, African officials are not keen to get involved in Mr Erdogan’s domestic vendetta. “They are confused by the constant turmoil and are not interested in this issue at all,” said a recently retired official at Turkey’s ministry of foreign affairs. “These [the Gulenists] are people they have known and done business with for decades.”

Indeed, the Turkish president’s growing authoritarian streak at home might cause unease among potential foreign partners. “He’s very ideological and Africans won’t want the baggage of the fundamental issues,” says Aly-Khan Satchu, a Kenyan investment analyst.

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Excerpt from the article published on Financial Times, 2 June 2016, Thursday