Over the last few years, Turkey has continued to consolidate its presence in Africa. According to the Anadolu Agency, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government has donated millions of dollars in infrastructure projects and has offered scholarships to hundreds of African students. This indicates a strong Turkish interest in the continent. It appears that that interest is moving from soft to hard power.
Following its involvement in the Libyan civil war, Turkey is seeking to expand its influence to neighbouring Niger. Turkey’s participation in Africa’s geopolitics has become evident following its backing of Libya’s Government of National Accord’s (GNA), which has put it in proxy confrontation with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and France, who all back rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
On 21 July 2020, Turkey signed agreements on military cooperation with Niger. It appears that Turkey has chosen Niger for a strategic reason: to gain ground in a country bordering Libya, and it is no coincidence that the agreement came a few weeks after the Egyptian parliament ratified Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to get Egypt involved militarily in Libya.
The agreement between Turkey and Niger was reached during a three-nation West African tour by Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, whose visits to Equatorial Guinea, Niger and Togo suggest Turkey’s continuous desire to be a part of the continent’s geopolitics. In the meeting with the Nigerien President, Mahamadou Issoufou, discussions focused on the effects of the security crisis in Libya and across the Sahel. Turkey has no ground border with Libya, so it is obvious that should the crisis escalate, especially with Egypt’s continuous threat to take military action against the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord’s (GNA) forces in Libya, Turkey would need an ally in the region and Niger appears to be a good fit.
Speaking in Niger, Çavuşoğlu noted that Turkey “… would like to contribute to Niger’s development in the areas of transportation, construction, energy, mining and agriculture”. He reiterated Turkey’s commitment to engage in bilateral cooperation with the Sahel region in combating terrorism.
Away from the Libya conflict, the Niger-Turkey agreement is likely to stoke tensions between France and Turkey, as France considers Niger and much of the Sahel region within its geopolitical sphere. Tensions between France and Turkey have escalated in recent times. Within the last few weeks, following Turkey’s decision to send a scientific vessel along with a naval fleet to the energy-rich and disputed eastern Mediterranean, France sent military reinforcements to the region in support of Greece. France also happens to be involved in the Libya conflict, on General Haftar’s side like Egypt and is also opposed to Turkey in the Syria conflict.
With French involvement in the Sahel region and thousands of French troops helping to combat the proliferation of jihadist groups, Niger’s military agreement with Turkey complicates things.
As we enter a new decade we are likely to see France’s dominance in Francophone Africa be threatened by not just China, but also by Turkey. France’s ability to continue to maintain its hold on the politics of these countries will be challenged as a natural consequence of rising anti-French sentiments which are being driven by an upcoming generation founded on disillusion with continued French involvement in the internal politics of their countries, the failure of FranceAfrique to deliver broad-based prosperity, and the inability of their militaries, and the French military, to defeat terror elements. Already, the CFA Franc currency debate that started last year is beginning to open up other discussions about France’s future in Africa. Turkey, as well as China, are providing both economic and military alternatives to French partnership.
Nigeria’s inability to end its internal security challenges has prevented it from exerting dominance in West Africa, an area that it considers its primary sphere of influence. Nigeria’s reaction to the proliferation of foreign military bases on the continent has been lukewarm opposition, as seen in the Yar’adua administration’s reaction to the then planned establishment of the US Africa Command. However, Nigeria is no position to punch above its weight and would thus be restricted to watching nervously on the sidelines as events unfold in its backyard, hoping not to have Turkish-made and other illegal weapons flowing through its numerous porous borders and causing more destabilisation here.