File Photo Somali Times/ Turkey-Africa summit in Istanbul
At a two-day Turkey-Africa summit, president Tayyip Recep Erdogan addressed what he described as a “great injustice.”
“Developments in recent years show us that allowing five member countries of the UN to decide the whole world’s destiny was a mistake,” he told dozens of African leaders assembled in the audience of the summit which opened in Istanbul on Friday.
It is not fair, Erdogan said, “that the African continent, with its population of 1.3 billion, is not represented at the UN Security Council,” while it represents a sixth of the world’s population. But the summit is also a big business opportunity — Turkey has been deepening its defence ties with African countries. It also has sophisticated, battle-tested drones to sell.
This represents the next phase of the fast-blossoming relationship, experts say, since a number of African leaders are looking to buy up military hardware at cheaper prices and with fewer strings attached. In August, Turkey signed a military cooperation pledge with Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who has been embroiled in a war with Tigrayan rebels for the past year.
Ankara already has a military base in Somalia, while Morocco and Tunisia reportedly took their first delivery of Turkish combat drones in September. Angola also expressed an interest in drones during Erdogan’s first visit to the southern African country in October.
Turkey to leapfrog Russia as top weapons seller in Africa?
“The most important sector is the defence sector because this is a new asset. Turkey has pushed this sector a lot, especially drones,” Federico Donelli, an international relations researcher at the University of Genoa, told AFP.
Russia has been the most dominant player on the African arms market, accounting for 49 per cent of the continent’s imports between 2015 and 2019, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
But interest in Turkish weaponry is peaking.
The Bayraktar TB2 model is in high demand after it was credited with swinging the fate of conflicts in Libya and Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the past few years. The drones are made by the private Baykar company, run by Haluk Bayraktar, one of Erdogan’s sons-in-law.
“Everywhere I go in Africa, everyone asks about UAVs,” Erdogan boasted after a visit to Angola, Nigeria, and Togo in October, boasting about his drones.
Turkey’s ties with Ethiopia have also come under serious scrutiny, where a brutal conflict has killed thousands, displaced more than two million, and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.
A Western source said Turkey sent an undisclosed number of combat drones in support of Abiy’s campaign earlier this year, but that Ankara has since responded to international pressure and halted the sales.
“Ethiopia can buy these drones from whoever they want,” Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesman said in October, neither confirming nor denying the sales.
Official Turkish data does not break down the details of military sales to individual countries, only giving the total sales amount for each month. These have soared spectacularly in the past year.
Turkish defence and aviation exports to Ethiopia rose to $94.6 million (approx. €84.2 million) between January and November from around $235,000 (€210,000) in the same period last year, according to figures published by the Turkish Exporters Assembly.
Sales to Angola, Chad, and Morocco experienced similar jumps.
Drones as a bargaining chip Turkey’s drones first made international headlines after Ankara signed two deals with the UN-recognised Libyan government in 2019. It then swarmed the conflict zone with drones, stalling an advance by rebel eastern forces backed by Turkey’s regional rivals and paving the way for a truce.
Turkey cemented its drones’ reputation last year by helping Azerbaijan recapture most of the land it lost to separatist ethnic Armenian forces in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh nearly three decades ago.
“Now Turkey with drones has more cards to play when they have to deal with other countries,” Donelli said.
“This is a very good bargaining chip for Turkey,” he concluded. The head of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board Nail Olpak insisted the growing relationship was not just about weapons. “We care about the defence sector and our relations with Africa,” Olpak told AFP.
“But I would like to emphasise that if we see the defence sector only as weapons, rockets, guns, tanks and rifles, that would be wrong.” He highlighted Turkish mine-clearing vehicles in Togo, which qualify as defence industry sales.
Togo purportedly plans to improve its army with the support of Turkey through training and armoured vehicles, weapons and other kinds of equipment.
Turkey has reportedly set up a web of 37 military offices across Africa in line with Erdogan’s affirmed goal of tripling the annual trade volume with the continent to $75 billion (€66,7 billion) in the coming years.