ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday embarked on a five-day tour of west Africa in a bid to ramp up Turkey’s growing influence throughout the continent.
Just two months ago, Erdogan made his first trip to Sudan, where he met President Omar Al-Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), before continuing on to Tunisia and Chad.
Turkey has scented an opportunity to build influence in Africa through delivering aid, setting up transport links and offering its expertise in construction.
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“With each passing day, our cooperation deepens in the areas of tourism, culture, trade, defense and education. God willing, we will take this further in the future,” he told reporters before leaving for Algiers.
Turkey currently has 41 embassies in Africa, up from 12 in 2009, and wants to eventually have top-level representation in all 54 nations on the continent, state media said.
Flag-carrier Turkish Airlines, 49 percent of which is held by a sovereign wealth fund, has also expanded its network to reach 52 destinations in Africa, from Accra to Johannesburg.
An infrequent visitor to Europe as ties with the West strained, Erdogan has made repeated visits to Africa since becoming president in 2014.
In Algeria, all eyes will be on Erdogan’s expected meeting with ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 80, who rarely appears in public.
Bouteflika, who has held office since 1999, suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 that affected his speech and mobility. The APS news agency said they would meet.
His trips to Mali and Mauritania will be the first-ever by a Turkish president, with security is likely to feature high on the agenda in Mali which is battling with a string of attacks and kidnappings by militant groups.
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Last year, Erdogan visited Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania and has also made trips to Ethiopia, Uganda, and conflict-torn Somalia where Turkey has taken a lead in rebuilding efforts.
Aside from bolstering trade and political ties, a major priority for
Erdogan has been to stamp out the influence of a network run by Fethullah Gulen, the exiled US-preacher whom Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Gulen, who denies ordering the putsch, has built up an educational network in Africa. But Erdogan says the continent has served as a center for 'exploitation' by Gulen.