Turks are beginning to turn their minds to who they can count on, Martin Jay writes.
With more countries in the world leaving the western sphere of influence, it is hardly surprising that other regional powers are taking them off America’s hands. Nowhere is this more evident than in the African continent recently visited by Emmanuel Macron who was trying to shore up support for the Elysee. Some of these African countries are seeking multiple partners as they leave the clutches of Washington, with some even looking to Turkey whose links to Africa go back further.
The tragic news that Ghanian footballer Christian Atsu was found in the rubble in Turkey’s earthquake was disturbing to many Turks.
Atsu was contracted to Turkish side Hatayspor and scored a stunning 97th-minute free kick in their 1-0 win over Kasimpasa in the Turkish Super Lig on 5 February.
Recently it revealed that he was set to leave the country but changed his mind after that victory, perhaps wanting to celebrate with team mates. We may never know.
But the Atsu story resonates with Turkish people as it underlines that the earthquake connects Turkey with the rest of the world and focuses minds on old and new friendships. It is often said that when you face hard times, you begin to appreciate who your real friends are and now Turks are beginning to turn their minds to who they can count on.
And many will look to the African continent.
In fact, it was Algeria which was the first African country to send a rescue team to both Turkey and Syria. A team of 89 civil protection experts was dispatched to Turkey, while 85 were deployed to Syria.
They also sent 210 tons of humanitarian aid for both countries.
In the North Africa region, Tunisia, a country experiencing crippling economic conditions, sent a team with 15 tons of blankets and food, while Sudan also sent a 40-member police team, along with 250 tents, 1 000 blankets and food. From Libya, Prime Minister Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba ordered the “immediate” dispatch of 55 civil protection and military engineering rescuers with five dogs.
But it is in sub-Saharan Africa, arguably in the poorer part of the continent, where the kindness has really touched the hearts of many Turks. Turkey is one of the top 10 nations in the world for providing development assistance to Africa going back to the mid 80s. It has also hosted three African Summits, with the last being in December 2021, as part of neo-Ottomanism foreign policy and marked 2005 “the year of Africa”.
And so its own influence in the region has been felt by many Africans, both the elites and common people. Perhaps this has explained the emotional response from many in this part of the world.
Burundi, for example, sent “a specialised natural disaster intervention team in solidarity with the brotherly people of Turkey”, Albert Shingiro, the foreign affairs minister, said in a tweet. In other cases, it was individuals who gave up their time. Afzal Motiwala, who runs an NGO called Nosh Foundation in Zimbabwe, along with his son, Zain, sought clearance in Zimbabwe to join rescue teams in Turkey.
Turkey has around 44 embassies across Africa and so is no stranger to the continent.
In January, the foreign minister went ahead with a five-nation visit to Africa, which took him to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe, where he reassured support for the continent. South Africa was in the news recently with regard to the earthquake. The spokesperson for the South African Police Service (SAPS), Colonel Athlenda Mathe, said a team in Turkey carried out successful rescue missions, including saving an 80-year-old woman found alive in a collapsed building. South African people have also donated generously to help the victims in southern Turkey, Ankara’s ambassador to Pretoria, Aysegul Kandas said recently.
Kandas explained that South Africans have been sending items such as winter tents, generators, and sleeping bags, transported to Turkey on national carrier Turkish Airlines with more donations still being collected.
Other African countries who have reached out and helped with the earthquake rescue or simply showed their empathy towards Turkey are Cameroon, Togo, Uganda and Central African Republic. Of course the sympathy doesn’t always come in the form of money, as we should always remember how poor some of these countries are and how they are struggling themselves, like Uganda for example. The “pearl of Africa” as Churchill called this land-locked gem, is a country which knows about suffering. Most of the 60s, 70s and 80s the country was ripped apart by civil war, only for the 90s to kick it when it was down with the plight of AIDS which left entire villages in the country at one point bereft of adults. So who could hold back the tears when Masaka Kids Africana – a Ugandan kids’ choir – made a song for Turkey?