Liban Obsiye and Abubakar Mohamud
The Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum in Istanbul late last year can be characterized as an exercise in hope for prosperity for both African and Turkish entrepreneurs. The forum itself is the best evidence of an international shift away from seeing Africa and Africans as mere recipients of aid to actual and potential partners in trade and industry for the economic progress and prosperity of both sides.
All Africans and their leaders should welcome the promise of a “tight connection” between Africa and Turkey clearly advocated for by Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci when it comes to investment, trade and commerce. The simple fact is that trade, and not aid, is the only effective, sustainable and dignified means of empowering developing nations and their people to take charge of their future.
Although Turkey is a relatively newcomer to the African continent, its serious desire to engage with African governments, businesses and civil society is evident in its sustained investment. Today, Turkish Airlines flies to more destinations in Africa than any other airline, while Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) actively leads on humanitarian and developmental projects across the continent. The Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) has continued to strengthen ties between Turkish and African investors and entrepreneurs respectively through the formation of national business councils. This clear and direct humanitarian, diplomatic and economic engagement with Africa has seen Turkey’s influence in the continent increase and in the process, have it become one of the partners of choice in all areas including investment.
Africa, despite its riches, has truly been economically underperforming. This is a fact recognized by the African Union,which has devised Agenda 2063, which aims to create a more connected, interdependent and prosperous African continent through investment, trade, the promotion of free movement of people and fundamental rights. While on paper the wording of Agenda 2063 is most impressive, its slow implementation is hampering Africa’s march forward to a better future.
Anthony Mothae Maruping, the commissioner for Economic Affairs of the African Union Commission, rightfully highlighted infrastructure and energy as the key issues for the continent during the Business Forum in Istanbul. He also made very clear the role of partnerships in spearheading progress in these two areas that have the capacity to unleash Africa’s manufacturing and entrepreneurial spirit and capabilities.
Investment in infrastructure, energy and agriculture and other important sectors is significant to offer more solid benefits to both Turkish investors within Africa and for African exporters and entrepreneurs seeking to export nationally produced goods to Turkey. Unlike many Business Forum meetings before it, the recent one in Istanbul recognized and sought to genuinely address trade imbalances between Turkey and its African partners. It is therefore welcome news that Turkish companies will be encouraged and supported to build industrial zones and logistics centers in Africa and contribute in manufacturing and processing on the continent. This is clearly a step in the right direction which should encourage fair trade between both sides and promote common prosperity.
Across Africa, Turkey faces stiff competition with China, the U.S. and the European Union for economic influence and partnership. One way that Turkey has stood out in this contest of giants is to invest in upcoming nations that many feel are too risky to even visit let alone invest in at present. One of these countries is Somalia, and on balance, the decision to invest has paid positive dividends for Turkish investors, brands and service providers.
Despite some lingering security challenges, Somalia is geographically placed as the gateway to the African continent, with one of the longest coastlines in the world and a great many resources that require expertise to reap the full benefits. Turkish companies were among the first to see the potential of this beautiful and rich nation and today some of these companies are engaged in the operational management of the Port of Mogadishu, the international airport and the fast growing construction sector as engineers and contractors. Furthermore, Turkish products are becoming popular and well publicized while Somali tourism numbers in Turkey, both from within Somalia and the diaspora, is increasing.
The next step for Somalia and many other African states is for their governments to continue to improve the investment environment and for Turkish companies to accelerate investment in all sectors. In the Somali case, investors are spoilt for choice in almost every sector and the national investment law is among the most flexible in the world, which will even reward Turkish investors for assisting in the construction of industrial zones and logistics centers so that trade volumes can increase between the two sides and reach more people in the Horn of Africa more quickly, efficiently and cheaply.
For trade and investment between Africa and Turkey and the rest of the world to benefit all stakeholders including citizens, the dialogue must not end with the Forums and Summits. It must continue in our capitals, the boardrooms, and in the media. Furthermore, the African Union, in conjunction with member states, must work even harder to implement the hopes and dreams contained within Agenda 2063,which will speed up investment in a more peaceful, connected and competitive Africa.
* Liban Obsiye is a senior adviser at the Somali Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion.
** Abubakar Mohamud is the Director of Maritime Affairs at the same Ministry.
This article was first appeared in http://www.dailysabah.com/