A June 2022 report said Turkey had sent military attachés to 19 African countries, including Morocco, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Algeria, Djibouti, Senegal, Kenya and South Africa. It combines security and economics, two directions that reinforce each other in one way or another. In recent years, Turkey has signed military agreements with most African countries, mainly in West and East Africa. The scope of the agreements varies from country to country and consists, among other things, of technical visits to research centres, people-to-people exchanges between institutions and companies, and training.
The value of Turkey's arms exports increased from $83 million in 2020 to $460.6 million in 2021, the document adds, detailing a more than five-fold increase in Turkey's arms exports, including drones, armoured vehicles and surveillance this year. In the arms sector, Turkey has signed cooperation agreements with more than 25 African countries, including Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Congo, Mali and Nigeria. Since 2017, China has signed military build-up agreements with 20 African countries, including Algeria, Gabon, Sudan, Tunisia, Rwanda and Mauritania. In the security field, Turkey has signed a total of 37 cooperation agreements, 30 of which are with African countries. It has also participated in international peace missions in Africa, particularly in Mali, Central African Republic, Congo, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.
Turkey's share of the African arms market remains small, at around 0.5%, but the rapid growth of its sales in Africa is "impressive", according to a study conducted this year by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs on Turkey's influence in Africa. At a time of Islamic insurgencies in both East and West Africa, as well as internal conflicts, governments are increasing their defence spending, and Turkey is taking advantage. The Ottoman country is proving to be a reliable alternative to traditional arms exporters such as Russia, China, France or even the United States.
African countries that have already received Turkish-made drones include Somalia, Togo, Niger, Nigeria and Ethiopia, although the sale of drones to Ethiopia has drawn criticism from the West after the government used them to target civilians in the Tigray conflict. Other countries have reportedly already placed orders, although the well-known Turkish drone Bayraktar currently has a three-year waiting list.
Compared to US and Israeli drones, Turkish-made drones are cheaper and easier to operate. Moreover, explains Yunus Turhan, a specialist in Turkey-Africa international relations at Haci Bayram Veli University in Ankara, they have already been tested in different conflicts. In a note, he added that they have been used effectively in Syria, Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. More recently, they have been used again in the Ukrainian war for destroying a large number of Russian tanks.
Its longest-standing cooperation is in Somalia, where Turkey has its largest overseas base. Since 2020, it has been training the Nigerian army in drone operations and trains the Kenyan police. Turkey's experience in the fight against terrorism is welcome, noted political analyst Ovigve Eguegu. He added that deepening relations with Turkey brings with it "low diplomatic costs" for the African country, an advantage over China or the United States, as Turkey is a NATO member.
Erdogan, who has visited more African countries than any other non-African leader, recently began defining himself as an "Afro-Eurasian country". "By linking his identity to Africa, he becomes almost a neutral partner for African countries," the analyst noted. Supporting Sahel countries in their fight against terrorism is a further step to strengthen its influence on the African continent. In 2018, Ankara helped the G5-Sahel with $5 million.
The Turkey-Africa summit in 2021 attracted 16 African heads of state and more than 100 ministers. Figures that, according to Senegalese analyst Aissatou Kante, demonstrate Turkey's growing strategic importance both on the continent and in the global military arena.
While African nations are clearly interested in diversifying their partnerships, including in the area of security, Kante believes that there is a danger that defence agreements, such as those signed with Turkey, are the only solution to Africa's security problems.