21 Mon, Aug 2017
Asst.Prof Volkan IPEK :The African Spring had started much before Yahya Jammeh left the Gambia.

Asst.Prof Volkan IPEK :The African Spring had started much before Yahya Jammeh left the Gambia.

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-It is seen in the media that the African Spring started with Yahya Jammeh’s leaving the Gambia. How realist is the Africa Spring to you?

-The African Spring had started much before Yahya Jammeh left the Gambia. In 2015, the Burundian people reacted to the Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza when he asserted that he wanted a third term in office. This significant reaction, at the end, led to a one day military rule, or let’s say during the attempt, which Nkurunziza suddenly came back to Bujumbura when he was in Tanzania as soon as he heard about the story.

 Today, even though not too much, attacks from the con-Nkurunziza front are still observable and are targeting the Burundian army. Some Burundian people are still not happy with the fact that Nkurunziza would rule Burundi for another term. Another example is from The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

 The state that has been ruled by Josepha Kabila, the son of Laurent Kabila who was assassinated in 2001 by a bodyguard, has been in a critical turmoil for two years. The Congolese people as did the Burundian to Nkurunziza, showed strong reaction to Kabila when he declared that he would be a candidate for presidential election for a third term. Even though his current term ended five months ago, a hardly consensus was provided on making the election on November 2017. But nothing changes the far-being of DR Congo from stability. The government forces hardly control the masses, especially after the assassination of a tribal chief and militia leader Kamuina Nsapu, the Black Ant, by the security services in Kasai province.

This cost the death of 400 people in the demonstrations against the government. One of the good things we can talk about DR Congo is the opposition movement, Le Rassemblement, that really played a significant role in setting a date for the 2017 elections. Another example is from Republic of South Africa.

 The election victory of the Democratic Alliance Party in the municipal elections in Johannesburg by defeating the African National Congress that ruled the city since 1994 is a critical development. What has been happening in these three states in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) started much before the crisis created by Jammeh in the Gambia. I think that the asylum status of Jammeh who once said "If God lets me, I will rule this country for a billion years”, who vetoed the two terms (5+5) duration for the Presidencies in SSA proposal in the ECOWAS, who forced women to wear veils in public offices, to Equatorial Guinea by being defeated to Adama Barrow in the last presidential election is vehement to measure the impacts of Arab Spring in SSA. At given point, related to Presidential terms, there are two points to specify. One is to find an answer to when leaders such as Theodore Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Yaweri Museweni in Uganda who has been in office for more than 30 years will step down. In addition, and more sensitively, to the question of when the people in Sub-Saharan Africa are going to grasp that their loyalty to these figures are less important than their countries’ democracy consolidation and full implementation of their human rights. I guess, whenever we have answers to these two, we will have a strong prompted Arab Spring on SSA.

-We are reading very frequently that France is losing its hegemony in Africa.That is why, we also read that the Hollande government is using more aggressive methods in Africa such as military interventions. Do you really think that France is losing its hegemony in Africa?

-France, since the beginning of the decolonization period including De Gaulle, d’Estaing, Mitterrand, Chirac, and even Sarkozy, perceived SSA in the framework of pre carré, that means, within a sphere of influence in its foreign policy. 

 Relatedly, significant military interventions to numerous states in SSA, which we are here talking about 23 interventions between 1960 and 1995, continued under the rule of Hollande. Nevertheless, France that has been trying to maintain its sphere of influence through such interventions like Operation Berkhane and Operation Serval is now facing with China. One must never underestimate the force of China, which is quite mobile in not only Francophone but also Anglophone Africa when the number of trade agreements, embassies, and bilateral visits are being taking into account. China that has been trying to precede its influence on SSA in terms of economics, is now trying to multiply its military abilities on the continent.

 Today, Chinese military vessels are escorting Chinese trade ones if you go to the Djibouti Port and watch the Aden Gulf. Furthermore, China also sent a peace corps to South Sudan at the beginning of year, a country where the Chinese diplomats are fiercely supporting the non-intervention of Western powers into the domestic affairs. We also know that China has the intention to open military bases in many SSA states. I guess that all these military steps are critical security attempts for SSA with more than 2 million Chinese people.

 Then, the French capital that has been pacified by the Chinese capital in SSA remains quite weak. Today, the power of China on SSA is very clearly seen. I don’t think no other country could break the Chinese playground in the continent, for now at least.

-And how do you evaluate Macron’s Presidency for SSA?  Are you hopeful about his foreign policy on the continent?

-France is very important for SSA, and likely, SSA is very important for France. Macron’s Presidency was a response to the rising right in Europe that was ready to discriminate the migrants from the Third World. Again, instead of Jean Marine Le Pen who was ready to abstract the migrants in France, Macron’s "En Marche” philosophy would renovate a civic French nationalism on all the French citizens, including the ones with African origins as well.

 I am sure that Macron’s presidency relaxed the tension in France, especially about such racism potentials. Coming back to SSA, first of all, Macron knows the region. His internship in Nigeria in 2002, I am sure introduced a lot to Macron. Plus, no matter what the Chinese impact is growing, there is still the Francophonie culture in SSA, as the British have an Anglophonie one. In addition, I believe that Macron would continue fighting the Islamic fundamentalist terror in Africa, which makes suffer Mali the most currently.

 His first visit as a President was to Mali, I believe shows this. In the visit to Gao and Bamako where he declared that France would go on fighting terrorism, Macron’s idea to cooperate with Germany in Mali was also welcomed. Plus, his view of what France did in Algeria as a crime against humanity when he was a candidate turns a green light on Macron among the African presidents. And then, his one day visit to Morocco is very critical. France has a significant importance for Morocco. In 1987, when Morocco under the rule of King Hassan II applied for the membership of the European Economic Community, the hybridity created in the French Protectorate was used as a justification of why Morocco was European according to the article 237 of the Treaty of Rome. In other words, King Hassan II instrumentalized the hybridity between French and Morocco to justify why Morocco was European. By claiming that it is Morocco’s right to be in the E.E.C because Morocco was so interpenetrated with Europe (here he refers to France actually because of the French Protectorate), that Morocco is a tree with roots in Africa but leaves on Europe on the way to Paris and Madrid, by implying that Morocco’s public liberties, trade unions, political institutions, and organizations that correspond to the ones of Europe (that were actually formed by the French in the colonial and against France in the postcolonial episodes), and also, by arguing that he benefited from the Presidency of François Mitterand as a mediator to submit the official application letter, King Hassan II made France a keyword for Morocco’s relations with the European Union, in my view.

 With Macron who once said he would not be against Turkey’s membership, we can now estimate that that France could ease Morocco’s full membership to the EEC, one day. Nevertheless, besides all, I believe that Macron has a disadvantage. Unlike former French Presidents like Mitterand and Chirac who had close contacts in SSA, Macron is too young to have them. Accordingly, it seems that he would need a lot of consultancy about what SSA signifies for France, especially if he really wants an effective interaction.

 In total, I think that France will continue the traditional French view of SSA, which is fighting terrorism and sphere of influence, under the Presidency of Macron.

-Just for this, can we say that IS or Boko Haram, is or are neglected in Africa? Do you think that the existence of IS does contain a risk of military intervention in Sub-Saharan Africa?

-Maybe not IS, but there are two points to highlight about Boko Haram. One is that Boko Haram does not merely belong to Nigeria, that is, it is not a Nigeria-based problem.

 Rather, it belongs to all the states around the Lake Chad. I heard about this statement from a Nigerian professor this winter in a conference in Sierra Leone but I can’t remember his name. Anyways, this makes Boko Haram directly a regional problem instead of a national one.

 Nevertheless, the literature I don’t know why, keeps insisting on regarding Boko Haram as a Nigerian entity. But it is an illusion. Such perception halts us to capture the internationality of Boko Haram. What Boko Haram did in Cameroun must be very carefully analyzed. There is a fact that its militants could easily kidnap the wife of General Chief of Staff. We need to see and accept what Boko Haram can do around Nigeria but not only in Nigeria. Second, Boko Haram is not the only terror group, around and in Nigeria especially.

 There are at least four similarly dangerous organizations; Al Sunna Wal Jamma, Jamaatu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis-Sudan, and Delta Avengers. Again, the fact that international media and academic literature focus so much on Boko Haram by reflecting it as a problem of Nigeria only that, at the end, we can’t see and rate what these others are doing in the name of terror in SSA.  

 Third and related to the second, IS was so strong when we heard about its name that many terrorist organizations in the world were denied. Everybody focused on IS. I guess that Boko Haram could move in the sky with the air of such perception. The success of Boko Haram in Africa, rather than its armed capabilities and government forces’ unwillingness to fight against, is related to the attention of the whole world and media on IS. That is why I do not think that concepts like international terrorism are appropriate. As we see today, IS is different, Boko Haram is different, Al Qaeda is different, Al Shabab is different.

 There is no need and also meaning to categorize all these different vectors under the same geometry.  There is still no SSA state where IS is dominantly effective, except for the seizure of Qandala town in northern Somalia last October which we can’t really call it as a domination. I think that the forces that are already in the region such as Azawad Front in Mali, armed Tuareg structures in Niger, police corps that the state neglects in Burkina Faso would not let IS to be dominant too. IS is currently active in North Africa, chiefly Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. I do not now the formation ıf IS in the Middle East bıt concerning North Africa, if one eliminates it from Libya, I think both Tunisia and Egypt will relax. And in Libya, now, the efforts to construct a new government quite weakened the strength of IS.

- When to observe from outside, there is a deterioration in the relations between Jacob Zuma and the West. Do you think that the West really is not happy with Zuma?

-In 2015, a deputy from African National Congress that Zuma has been its member for years said: "We need to sample the Chinese Communist Party for everything we do”, which explains a lot. As I said above, Chinese presence not only in Southern but also central and West Africa is never to deny. So why China is so popular? Well, it is because they pursue the Beijing Consensus which does not stipulate a state’s loyalty human rights, democratization to Chinese business making. China says "no matter your human rights situation or democracy level, if you need me, I can come and make business with you”. This is quite opposite to the Washington Consensus, which first asks the African governments following political reforms before economic interactions, for instance. As a result, many African leaders prefer the Beijing one instead of Washington. Zuma is one of them, apparently, at least for now.

 Imagine a leader who constructs a 20 million USD house with the people’s taxes, who have 783 corruption cases against, withdraws Republic of South Africa from the International Court of Justice, and condemned by the Constitutional Court since the nuclear plant project he signed with Russia was unconstitutional. In South Africa, it is a rule that no candidate shall conduct an open propaganda for elections. Lately, members of South Africa’s main federation of trade unions complained about him when he tried to speak at rally.

 Last April, Stand and Poor’s cut South Africa’s debt to junk status for the first time since 2000 after Zuma sacked the respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan. Last December too, he hardly survived an attempt to remove him as leader of the ruling African National Congress by party dissidents because of an influence peddling scandal, as the Economist says. At the end, when there is a leader that the West do not support, is it possible that this leader can support the West? This is the short story in Republic of South Africa.

- How would you evaluate the Turkish President Erdogan’s Africa latest East Africa visit? Do you think Turkey’s sphere of influence is recognized enough in the region?

-The last visit of Erdogan to East Africa is a part of the 1998 Africa Opening Plan of Turkey. According to the plan, briefly, Turkey would intensify its political, diplomatic, cultural and economic relations especially with the SSA states. Contextually, Erdogan accelerated the speed of his Africa initiative that he has been leading since 2008.

 Nevertheless, public opinion, majorly in Turkey, are relating Erdogan’s visits to Africa to his efforts of persuading African leaders closing the Turkish schools inaugurated by the Gulenist movement. Yes there is such an effort, but it would be wrong to evaluate these visits just with one goal. If we analyze the content of his visits to Ivory Coast, Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Somalia and Madagascar, Erdogan and the cabinet around him often talk about serious material donations such as public buses or metro buses. Plus, many agreements on social and economic fields are being signed with these states.

 Take Mozambique for instance. According to the Official Gazzette, there is nothing between Turkey and Mozambique until Erdogan went to Maputo. No trade agreement, no tourism agreement, no cultural agreement, nothing. Or take Madagascar. Turkey implied anti-plague sanctions to Madagascar in 1945, and relations were frozen. So the countries Erdogan visits in SSA are having the aim to vitalize bilateral relations. All of these, at the end, are the implementations of the 1998 Africa Plan.  Moreover, Erdogan is using Africa to address his indirect criticisms to the European Union, by reminding Europe as colonialist in the past in Africa. He is trying to draw the image of a non-colonialist Turkey in Africa and he succeeds it. This is a typical foreign policy analysis case. It is interesting to notice academically that whereas Turkey’s foreign policy to African state is ameliorating, its foreign policy on European Union is deteriorating. In my view, Turkey’s sphere of influence is quite a lot recognized in SSA. In my trip to Uganda and Rwanda in the summer of 2016, which I went to these states just after the 15th of July military coup attempt, I saw that television programs in the hotels I stayed were always about Turkey. Again, for instance, when I went to visit the palace of Idi Amin, the guide asked me critical questions about Turkey.

 I guess that African states and people are more interested in Turkey than Turkish people are interested in African states and people. Unfortunately, we cannot see a deepening of African studies in Turkey. Many people are writing on Africa without showing a vital interest in Africa, without knowing the languages necessary to write and comment on Africa, and more importantly, without seeing a land in Africa. And again, their scope is limited only to Turkey’s relations with Africa states, which of course forces the scope of African studies in Turkey to again Turkey’s relations with African states. I do not know how many times I heard from my African colleagues that the Turkish academicians they listened to all talked about Africa as a country but not a continent.

 I myself witnessed a MS Powerpoint presentation in which a Turkish academician painted the whole African continent to the Turkish flag. What do you mean with is flag? That Africa is Turkish? All these ludicrous images show how a majority of academicians who write on Turkey-African relations are unconscious on Africa. A quality increase at the level of African studies in Turkey is really seriously and urgently needed.

- What is this new Marshall Plan that Germany tries to implement? Germany in the final analysis, started to be interested more and more in Africa. How do you explain this situation?

-The new Marshall Plan of Germany is aiming at constructing a development level in the fields of education, trade, energy in SSA I suppose.  It is quite new, not more than a year old. It is a Project of the German Development Ministry. Accordingly, the Ministry would form a special budget for SAA, 20 % of the annual GDP I guess, and send it to SSA. At the end, it is aimed that the number of German corporations in SSA today, which is 1000, would be raised. Even though it seems an important Project for SSA, I think we need to see the next few years that will maturate it. It is not an original Project, France did the same in the 1970s. And I think one must discuss the Africa perception of Germany. Two years before the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference, we know that the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was against colonialism in Africa. He even said: "I do not want a colony in Africa”. Bismarck who said this, who was an anti-colonialist, all of a sudden, changed his mind and led to a Germany that colonialistly ruled Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Namibia. What the Germans did in Namibia for instance is quite sad. On October 1904, General Lothar von Trotha issued the extermination order to wipe out the Herero tribe in Namibia, as the Economist writes.

 Today, for instance, the Turkish President Erdogan is talking about Africa with an anticolonial discourse because he, I, you, we all know that Turks did not colonize Africa which makes the Turkish statements about Africa quite honest. But what about Germany? Or France? Or Britain? Or even China? As an Africanist myself, or trying to be one, I do not really believe that such development projects to Africa of the countries that implied colonialist policies in Africa in the past are honest. And also, one must ask this: Why then the Marshall Plan was not prepared and declared before but now when people are discussing Frexit, Grexit and Brexit. Africa needed this fund ten, twenty, thirty and forty years ago as well. All in all, I think that this Marshall Plan is aimed at fostering the German power in Europe when the exit scenarios of the European Union members are highly on the screen.

-How would you consider the behaviors of SSA countries in the recent Qatar crisis?

-Before all, I believe that Qatar crisis is an operation of stepping down a rising power in the Middle East. The liquefied gas that Qatar has, when to remind the decreasing amount of oil and the price of oil, is a big advantage in energy market. This is a direct threat to the United States that actually prefers to make a business with Saudi Arabia when it comes to petrol, which means energy. Second, Qatar recently captures the tourism advantage of United Arab Emirates as well. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar would definitely give a tourism monopoly in Qatar’s hands, which disturbs United Arab Emirates a lot. So this Qatar Operation was to prevent the rising of Qatar in the region.

 On the other hand, it is academically very interesting to see the support of African states to the anti-Qatar group led by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt. It shows how the far neighborhood could be influentive on local foreign policy problems. Until now, as far as I followed the news, eight SSA countries joined the group. Among them, for instance, Senegal recalled its ambassador to Qatar and said it would give full support to Saudi Arabia. Senegal also sided Saudi Arabia in 2015 by sending a significant number of troops to fight the Houthis in Yemen, as Al Jazeera says. Djibouti and Eritrea, where the United Arab Emirates has a military basis, also froze their relationships with Qatar, in addition to Cameroon, Gabon, Niger, Chad, Mauritania and Mauritius that did the same. Of course, the Saudi investments in these countries pushed them to act in the way Saudi Arabia wanted.

 For instance, we know that United Arab Emirates is also investing a lot in Kenya. The tallest buildings of Africa are being built by the companies from the United Arab Emirates companies. It would not surprise me if Kenya also decides cutting relations with Qatar. The Qatar conflict, all in all, has already launched problems in SSA. The withdrawal of Qatari peacekeeping forces between the Eritrea and Djibouti border causes tension, for example, that actually has been there since 2008. In total, SSA countries are paying back to Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates’ investments by sharing their Qatar policy.  

Asst.Prof Volkan IPEK - Yeditepe University 

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