Erdogan aims to use Ethiopia as stepping stone & the Horn to foster allies to revive Ottoman legacies as vehicle for Ankara’s influences

23 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

TEO understands that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accomplished a great deal for Turkey, especially in terms of its economic growth and national development. His contribution is equally notable in generating strong Turkish national confidence.

This becomes evident, when seen against the backdrop of Turkey’s application for membership in the European Union (EU), which for a long while now has fallen into the diplomatic cracks – the EU choosing to systematically keep Ankara’s request in an indefinite abeyance.

As time passed, however, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party, from its Turkish name) engagement with the Turkish people got tainted by a mix of politics dazed by greed for political power, which subtly prioritized religion. This brought broader society into stiffer resistance of the AK party. It has been accused of rejecting of abiding the principles of political plurality, freedom of thoughts and expression, becoming obstacle to vibrant national media serving as source of information and education.

No sooner than this happened, some citizens more than others noticed that Mr. Erdogan’s vision and persuasion has increasingly become Ottoman-esque. It means that, the party’s vision and lust is about glories of a distant era; which instead has begun to undermine Turkey’s secular state.

That said, unfortunately like many other successful politicians today or in history, the Turkish president appears to have forgotten one thing. That is, there always exists cut off point beyond which politicians cannot and should not try to extend their visions, lest their actions become impositions on society.

One such venture beyond the limit has likened President Erdogan as twin brother of Ethiopia’s dictator, the sly Meles Zenawi. This has manifested itself in the president’s attack against Turkey’s independent media, environmentalists and how he has been trying to silence his opponents. Consequently, TEO strongly believes that Mr. Erdogan has time and again overplayed his hand.
Turkish authoritarianism

President Erdogan at AAU after receiving honorary degree Thursday (Credit: TurkishPress)

President Erdogan at AAU Thursday after receiving honorary degree (Credit: TurkishPress)

While it is alien to Ethiopian tradition to offend or confront a visitor when he is our nation’s guest, nonetheless, it would be dishonest of us not to inform our distinguished visitor that alliance with Turkey under his leadership is becoming cause for concern. This is simply because Mr. Erdogan has proved to be irredeemably authoritarian. Ethiopians see it and recognize it from a distance, since they have been living under the clutches of the most brutal of repressive regimes.

In other words, Ethiopians are convinced there hardly is good counsel he could impart to ensure mutuality of relations between our two nations; nor is any example he could set to our country or benefits to be had from Turkey in that regard at this point.

To put it differently, Ethiopia being a country with 45 percent of its population under 45 years of age and over 20 percent between 15-24 years, there is so much to hope for, look forward to and endeavor to earn better future than the present deprivations, instead of allowing fresh impositions to be shoved down citizens’ throats with help and encouragement of outsiders.

In that connection, if the reality happens to be different, TEO would stand to be corrected. It means that the Turkish president would have to tell Ethiopians, indeed the rest of the world, what place he would give to plurality in Turkey these days; he should also state if qualitative improvements have ever occurred in Turkish press freedom in recent years.

We might mention here that we have also taken note that these days in Turkey, even the slight improvements attained since the early 2000s in respect of freedoms, democratic rights and legal guarantees secured on account of preparations for EU membership have all now dissipated.

With these regression in Turkey, Ethiopians expect President Erdogan to realize why we say Ethiopia’s alliance with another dictatorial regime would only make matters worse and dangerous for them. Primarily, it would be inimical to their interests. We have an arduous journey in pursuit of the dreams of the young and the old for betterment, equality and unity in greater freedoms, premised on economic growths, characterize

d by national development that should transform the lives of each and everyone of our citizens!

Erdogan: Close Turkish schools in Ethiopia; my political opponent is running them

If President Erdogan’s mission to Ethiopia, indeed Africa, is to establish mutually beneficial relations, it would be in order for us also to inquire, for instance, why he has chosen to bring his internal struggles for power to Africa. Reuters Thursday reported that he had announced in Ethiopia, “he would seek the closure of schools in Africa linked to his ally-turned-foe Fethullah Gulen, opening a new front in his battle with the U.S.-based Muslim cleric.”

The concern here is not about the closure of these schools or their importance to Ethiopia. Those who read our blog realize that already TEO had raised our concerns at the latest in early December 2014 and before.


Further clarity has come from Davos, with Reuters quoting the president’s ally Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who said Thursday: “Gulen-linked schools around the world were being used to tarnish Turkey’s image, and the government planned to take action.”

To the dismay of Ethiopians, our cash-strapped dictators thereupon shamefully caved in to President Erdogan’s request thus becoming party to the attack against his domestic opposition. It pains us to see our dictators behaving like doormats to visiting dignitaries and so-called investors, their calculations absorbed by derivative pecuniary benefits.


Consequently, in response to Mr. Erdogan’s request to close Turkish schools in Ethiopia, the Man in the Prime Minister’s Office* supinely confirmed Ethiopia’s compliance, according to Reuters, stating: “[We] would follow Ankara’s advice on the issue having worked with Gulen-linked schools in the past.”


As if a message arriving, in the diplomatic expression from red hotline, the TPLF regime instantly gave amplification: “We will follow the guidance of the government [of Turkey] because we had never worked with these organizations without the approval of the government”.

If this is one of the purposes of Mr. Erdogan’s visit, Ethiopians would be better off with our own achy sores. To further make matters clear, TEO would state that Ankara would be welcomed with warm embrace in Ethiopia and in Africa, if Turkey recognizes the aspirations of Africans for greater freedoms and independence along with economic development. Nevertheless, if the president has come to bring added intolerance in an already intolerant region prone to conflicts, history would severely judge him.

In the circumstances, it would come as no surprise if Africans, indeed a rational world, should see credibility in what the president’s opposition in Turkey accuse him of.

UNESCO protected heritage site is noted, among others for walls surrounding the city of Harar built in the 12 century houses 110 mosques (Photo credit: Ethiopia, via Wikipedia)

UNESCO protected heritage site is noted, among others for walls surrounding the city of Harar built in the 12 century houses 110 mosques (Photo credit: Ethiopia, via Wikipedia)

In search of allies, alliances and even something more

If President Erdogan’s visit to Africa is driven by his desire to find allies for Turkey in its competition and rivalry with other regional powers in the Middle East, as adduced recently by Nasuhi Gungorin an article on Al Monitor, TEO is of the view that it is unlikely that would interest Africa.

After all, when the question of allies and alliances arise Africa is a region from whose destructions in history it has hardly recovered. History itself in Africa is more dotted by the grievous consequences of unholy and unhealthy alliances. Those that referred themselves as Africa’s allies found their ways because of economic reasons; in most instances, they forced themselves upon Africa by military means. The outcome is that these led to exploitation and mistreatment of Africans, denial of their freedoms, sense of equality and finally their freedoms and independence.

The list may be longer, but suffice to mention that everyone is looking to Africa these days, with China leading the way, Turkey and India following, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, Israel, Iran, the West, Russia, etc., aflame with their respective interests. With some investments that are reaping them huge profits, those competitions and rivalries are only distracting population of the region from benefiting in their own right from economic growths and national development.

We would be hard put to convince ourselves otherwise, i.e., that Mr. Erdogan’s interests at the moment are above this. Turkey tried to smoothen its ways engaging itself in efforts to rebuild Harar. In March 2014, in an article on this blog we wondered whether Turkey was not in heat with nostalgia of history and religion in the context of the town and its surrounding the Ottomans (Egypt) seized in 1875.

Similarly, in July 2012 this blog in an article from Today’s Zaman, we wondered through its title why Turkey [was] busy quietly restoring Ottoman relics in Ethiopia: What would we learn next? The article noted what activities interest Turkey in Ethiopia today. Accordingly, the article stated:

“Ruler Abjar, also known as al-Najashi of Aksum, who lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, gave refuge to several Muslims in the Kingdom of Aksum. “Turkey will restore the tombs of al-Najashi, who received Muslims with open arms, and the companions of the Prophet. Turkey is working to protect not only artifacts dating from the times of its ancestors, but also artifacts that are of great importance for the Muslim community. This is a sign of Turkey’s greatness,” Bozdağ stated.”

Riyadh to Mogadishu soon

Were it not for the interruptions by the funeral of the aged Saudi Arabia’s monarch Abdullah, President Erdogan was scheduled to visit Somalia on January 24, notwithstanding that a bomb had just targeted the advance 70-member Turkish delegation in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, on Thursday. He would also visit Djibouti on his current leg of his Africa tour.

Turkey had played an important role in the wake of the 2011 drought in East Africa, having supplied humanitarian assistance worth $201 million and reopening its embassy in Somalia at a difficult moment. Already in 2010, Ankara had signed military training agreement with the Transitional Government in Somalia, which came into force in 2012. Its purpose was to give effect to the Djibouti Peace Process through military training of Somalia soldiers to strengthen by then the interim administration in that country.

Not only that Mr. Erdogan himself visited Somalia in 2011 at the height of the drought. But also Turkish Airlines in 2012 became the first international long distance carrier to fly to Mogadishu and since then servicing that country.

In fact, Kenyan writer and photojournalist Rasna Warah considers the Turkish effort in Mogadishu as the most potent development aid paradigm, whose effectiveness has enormously contributed to the ongoing revival of Somalia.

The interesting part of this here is the unanswered question. Somalia is known to the West for several decades, especially after the mid-1970s. Why is it that Turkey alone has sought to undertake selfless efforts and sacrifices in behalf of that country?

The simple answer is that there is Turkish footprint in history since the Middle Ages, the Ottomans dealing with Somali ethnic groups; it appears that has remained reason for modern Turkey to explore itself and enjoy Romance of the past to benefit from its influences.

In Ethiopia, according to Bahru Zewdie (A History of Modern Ethiopia 1855-1991), the occupation of Harar in 1875 was carried out under the guise of scientific expedition led by Muhammed Rauf Pasha. Not surprisingly, that effort was spearheaded by Ottoman attack that year through the Somaliland coast, according to Sylvia Pankhurst (Harar Under Egyptian Rule), and then seizing Zeila and Berbera, which finally enabled the Turks to march in inland.

It is not our intention to imply that this would be replicated again. However, Turkey’s focus, beyond manufacturing (350 companies), seems to focus on spreading Turkish language in Ethiopia. It is now being offered at Addis Abeba University (AAU). In early December, this blog expressed concern that while native languages are being discarded, as are the essential foreign ones such as Arabic, English and French, we expressed concern that no one seems to question or understand what is taking place, especially what Turkey actually is interested in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

Agreement on science and technology being signed between Ethiopia and Turkey Thursday. (Credit: FBC)

Agreement on science and technology being signed between Ethiopia and Turkey Thursday. (Credit: FBC)

Turkey has economic interests in Ethiopia, manufacturing being the most dominant. Amazingly, the TPLF regime calculates Turkey’s investments in Ethiopia and the volume of trade between the two countries on the basis of data Turkey provides! Already there is something unsettling about the economic relations between Ethiopia and Turkey.

For instance, the TPLF regime has been well aware that Turkish business have been buying Ethiopian exports (sesame and other agricultural products) with higher prices from Dubai, instead of directly importing from Ethiopia! Why does this happen? Are there other exporters than the TPLF companies, MIDROC subsidiaries and a few individual entrepreneurs who export from Ethiopia to Dubai? What are the arrangements?

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry on its web page addresses the visit of the Turkish president. However, it uses Turkish data to tell the world that the nature and level of Ethiopian and Turkish economic engagements, especially Turkish investment, which has been pointed out to have reached $3 billion. At the same time, this figure nearly doubles in the reporting by Fana broadcast, the TPLF’s news agency has put it at $5 billion.

The latest agreement reached between Ethiopia and Turkey regarding trade volume is to raise it to $500 million immediately. In 2013, it was reported by the foreign ministry that trade volume had already reached $422 million.

This then raises the question that Ethiopia and Turkey are working to increase the trade volume by $78 million!

How could a nation depend for its policy on data provided by trade counterpart?


*Readers would recall that as of December 23, 2014, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO) has decided not to mention the name of the Man in the Office of the Prime Minister for his rude and vulgar attacks against Ethiopian maids working in the Middle East and the Ethiopian diaspora in general. Hopefully, the reference here is clear.

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