Turkey and Russia can strategically cooperate in sub-Saharan Africa?

Turkey and Russia can strategically cooperate in sub-Saharan Africa?

Grigoriy Trofimchuk Grigoriy Trofimchuk

 How feasible do you think these proposals are from the Russian side? 

 There is indeed a convergence of interest between Russia and Turkey in sub-Sahara Africa as both states try to leverage their unique strategic advantages to enter these promising non-Western markets and compete with the existing players there.

 Both states are relative late-comers to the ‘game’ in the sense that Turkey didn’t start focusing on this part of the world until recently, whereas Russia hadn’t even expressed any serious interests here for most of the past 25 years following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ankara’s benefits are that it is portraying itself as a beacon of "Islamic Democracy”which is becoming more attractive than ever to the Muslims of sub-Sahara Africa, whereas Moscow has an expansive Soviet-era legacy of partnerships that it could rely on in reentering the African space. Neither Great Power is strong enough in the hard or soft economic and diplomatic forms to compete with China and the West (especially the US-French alliance), and the imminent entrance of India and Japan into the continent through their joint "Asia-Africa Growth Corridor” (also known as the "Freedom Corridor”) is going to make it more difficult than ever for Russia and Turkey to individually make headway in promoting their respective interests in Africa.

 For this reason, a strong argument can be made that both sides should work together in the sub-Saharan space in order to tighten their redeveloping strategic relations with one another and symbolically demonstrate a civilizational partnership between Islam and Christianity. The coordination of each other’s economic investment assets, soft power, and religious appeal could help Russia and Turkey succeed in their joint African endeavors, and the best place for them to start is in Ethiopia. This landlocked country is the fastest-growing economy in the world and recently became more easily accessible because of the Chinese-built Djibouti-Addis Ababa railroad.

 This makes it much more convenient for Russia and Turkey to trade with Ethiopia because they can enter its marketplace through the southern reaches of the Red Sea. Turkish companies are known for their involvement in the commercial sectors, while Russia’s are generally best equipped to handle their partner’s energy and mineral extraction needs, so there’s a certain complementary between the two that could be applied in most efficiently proving that the concept of Russian-Turkish cooperation in sub-Sahara Africa can be economically worthwhile for each of them and the host country.

 In addition, Ethiopia is almost evenly split between Muslims and Christians, so each respective Great Power could apply the most attractive aspects of their civilizational-religious soft power in appealing to different demographics, which could collectively allow them to influence the entire population.

  For as promising as this possibility is, however, it thus far only exists on paper and might not ever materialize so long as Russian experts, businessmen, strategists, and decision makers aren’t even aware of this idea. That’s why a concerted effort must be undertaken to convince these relevant actors of the benefits inherent in promoting a Russian-Turkish partnership in sub-Saharan Africa.

 Unfortunately, Africa is probably the least prioritized region in the world nowadays for the expression of Russian foreign and economic policy, so it’ll be a difficult task to get the country to see the need in formulating a comprehensive strategy for the continent, let alone one which places enormous strategic trust in another partner like Turkey.

 Nevertheless, if Russians understood just how important this region of the world is slated to be in the coming future, as well as appreciated the significance of broadening their country’s partnership with Turkey, then they might give it a second thought and become more receptive to the idea.

Andrew Korybko / Political analyst 

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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