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Short review - Ankara’s Africa Policy: An Overview

View Turkey in Africa : Turkey’s Strategic Involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa at:]


Turkey in Africa : Turkey’s strategic involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa / Federico Donelli. - London: I.B. Tauris, 2021. - vii, 217 p. - ISBN 978-0-7556-3697-6; 978-0-7556-3699-0 (pdf); 978-0-7556-3698-3 (ePub)

Since the beginning of the new millennium, sub-Saharan Africa has been gaining more and more relevance in the international arena. The increasing engagement with Africa of many extra-regional powers, emerging and traditional alike, has been accompanied by growing academic attention too, albeit with significant variation across countries. It is against this backdrop that a new book, Turkey in Africa, by Federico Donelli (postdoctoral researcher at the University of Genoa) aims to explain why one of these emerging powers in particular, Turkey, which has received far less scrutiny than others, has lately intensified its involvement in sub-Saharan Africa and how its engagement has been distinct from that of other external powers. In fact, until the late 1990s, Africa-Turkey’s scholars and policymakers used to deal almost exclusively with the Mediterranean area of the continent. By focusing specifically on Africa south of the Sahara, Donelli’s monograph addresses this gap in the literature and contributes to the ongoing debate about the artificiality of the divide between Africa and what lies to the east of the Red Sea in light of their growing multidimensional interactions, shared historical heritage and religious bonds.

The book is divided into seven chapters. After two introductory overviews, one on the post-Cold War global developments which gave new centrality to Africa and rekindled external powers’ interest in it, the other on the history of Turkey’s engagement with Africa until the 1990s, the rest of the book explores the new proactive and strategic approach that Turkey adopted after the rise to power of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2002. Through the lens of a sophisticated but convincing neo-classical realist framework, the author analyses the key developments and turning points of Turkey’s Africa policy in the past two decades, discussing the drivers, sectors and actors involved, as well as the features that differentiate Turkey’s alternative development model and discourse (defined “Ankara consensus” by the author) from those of other external powers.

Overall, the book succeeds in providing the most comprehensive view of Turkey’s Africa policy to date. Drawing on years of primary research and thorough knowledge of the literature on the topic, the author demonstrates great skill in unravelling its complex nature in great, rare detail, while sparing no criticism of its limits and weaknesses. A salutary warning against overestimating the Turkish potential in Africa also comes from the non-systematic yet insightful comparisons between Turkey’s and other external powers’ actions. In this respect and also with regard to intra-African subregional variations, the book could have perhaps benefitted from additional quantitative analysis of more geographically disaggregated data, even just in the form of descriptive statistics, not only to provide an even clearer illustration of the limits of Turkey-Africa ties and the pre-eminence of the Horn and Somalia in particular, but also to better appreciate the relative significance of other sub-Saharan subregions to which the book devotes less attention. Yet, altogether, Turkey in Africa remains a welcome breath of fresh air from the usual treatment Africa is given in most of the “new scramble” literature which, deliberately evoking the colonial powers’ 19th-century partition, still often views Africa as a mere commodity subject to extra-regional competition. While this book’s main focus is on Turkey, the so-called African agency – intended as African countries’ ability to resist or exploit Turkey’s actions according to their own preferences – also emerges throughout the chapters. As a result, the book’s primary readership includes the community of scholars and policymakers specifically interested in Turkey's foreign policy as well as those more broadly interested in the politics of sub-Saharan Africa and its complex interaction with extra-regional powers.

Tiziana Corda

PhD Candidate

University of Milan


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