Tebboune’s visit to Ankara clears way for Turkey to widen influence in North Africa, Sahel

Ankara will have a free hand to play a similar role to the one Paris was contemplating in North and West Africa which was often opposed by Algiers on the grounds of anti-colonialist policies.

Algerian political analysts said that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s three-day visit to Turkey which ended Tuesday has paved the way for  Ankara to extend the scope of its influence in North Africa and the Sahel region.

According to the analysts, the wide-ranging agreements signed, which cover security and military fields of cooperation, will allow Turkey to use Algeria as a launchpad for activities in the wider African region and to exert a greater measure of influence in neighbouring Libya and Tunisia.

The same analysts say with the Algerian president's decisions, Ankara will have a free hand to play a similar role to the one Paris was contemplating in North and West Africa which was often opposed by Algiers on the grounds of anti-colonialist policies.

Erdogan, they say, has lured Algeria with a variety of business and investment projects although getting such projects off the ground may face huge challenges.

The oil-dependent but chronically ill-managed Algerian economy also risks being flooded with Turkish experts, the way next door Tunisia was since 2011, hence deepening Algeria’s predicament in terms of job-creation and ensuring domestic self-sufficiency.

The Algerian and Turkish governments signed 15 cooperation agreements covering various economic, commercial, cultural and diplomatic fields. This span a wide range of sectors including mining, industry, trade, the environment and even the establishment of a Turkish international school in Algeria, the opening of cultural centres in both nations and the combating of trans-border organised crime.

The two countries’ military cooperation seems at variance with old Algerian military strategy based on near total reliance on the Russian weaponry.

Seizing on Algeria’s underlying desire to diversify its sources of armament, Turkey will try to market its defence industry products, in the absence of any Algerian homemade weaponry. But this shift may lead to tensions with Russia, which will not accept any inconsistent policies on the part of Algeria, especially regarding weapons acquisition or gas supplies.

The bilateral agreement on combating trans-border organised crime will enable Algeria to request the extradition of opposition political activists wanted by the Turkish authorities, The Turks have not objected in the past to handing over of two activists who had sought refuge on its soil on its soil.

One of them, an Algerian military officer and close ally of the former army chief, extradited by Turkey to Algeria in 2020,  was sentenced to death earlier this month over charges of “high treason.

Guermit Bounouira, who was known to be close to late army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, appeared last week in front of an appeals court where he was found guilty of a roster of charges including disclosing classified information to third parties or states and harming the army’s interests.

In a joint press conference with Erdogan, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said he was confident the level of Turkish investments in his country would rise to $10 billion within the next few years and optimistic about building an economic partnership in the strategic areas between the two countries.

He said that signed agreements “are not limited in time or in value” and that Algeria “aspires to take important steps with Turkey in the field of industry, especially the navy, whether military or civilian”.

This visit was the first of its kind for the Algerian president since his election as president in 2019 and the first to Turkey by an Algerian president in 17 years. The agreements will help Algeria alleviate the isolation that his country has faced in recent years as a result of the political, economic and social policies and diplomatic setbacks linked to its management of the Western Sahara conflict.

The Turkish president said his country and Algeria "are determined to strengthen cooperation in the defence industries, especially that Turkey and Algeria, which play an important role in ensuring peace and stability on the African continent, are determined to strengthen their cooperation in the area of defence industries."

Erdogan pointed out that "the two countries have decided to establish a high-level cooperation council to upgrade relations between the two countries to a new level, and that economic and trade relations between the two countries have developed day by day, despite the pandemic. The volume of trade between the two countries increased by 35 percent compared to 2020, and reached a level of $4.2 billion.  The two countries have set a new target for the volume of trade exchange from $5 billion in 2020 to 10 for the next period.”

Erdogan described Algeria as one of the gateways to Africa and he said he was confident that the presence of 1,400 Turkish companies would be the “economic locomotives” to help diversify and strengthen the Algerian economy in the military, economic, commercial, cultural and tourism sectors.

Faithful to its tradition of using its heritage as a means to shore up its soft power, Turkey made sure the tourism and culture agreements concluded between the two countries included the restoration of Ottoman-era monuments in Algeria.

While Erdogan praised “the role played by the brotherly Algerians in all of Africa, especially the north of the continent and the Sahel region,” he stressed that “Turkey is working to strengthen cooperation with all brothers in Africa on the basis of partnership and mutual profit, and to promote economic development, peace and political and social stability in the continent.”

This article originally appeared in the Arab Weekly and has been republished here with permission.

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