Ankara’s Mali Problem

Article Summary
Although Turkey has expressed its concern over the French military operation in Mali, Semih Idiz argues that Turkey’s grievances are meaningless in the face of widespread African support.

Ankara is not happy with the French military intervention in Mali. We don’t know whether this is related to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s harsh criticism of the former colonial ruler in Niger, without giving names. The colonial ruler of Niger was France, just like in neighboring Mali.

Also, the remarks of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the subject clearly reflect Ankara’s displeasure with the French intervention. Davutoglu said, “No country, whether unilaterally or with another country, should intervene,” and called for such efforts to come under the umbrella of the United Nations.

It is possible to detect from Davutoglu’s remarks that Ankara is not only disturbed by the French intervention, but also by the support it received from other countries. It is only natural for the man-in-the-street to identify Davutoglu’s targets as Western countries, such as the U.S. and Britain, who have been supporting Paris.

But for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rulers of Turkey, the most problematic development must be the support given to France not only by the West, but by the key countries of the continent. Ankara has been courting most  of theses countries within the context of Turkey’s “opening to Africa.”

Here we must pay special attention to Nigeria, a country that is sending its soldiers to Mali to support the French military in combating Islamist extremists who have taken over the north of the country and who are now trying to move to the south. We also must take note of neighboring Algeria’s decision to open its air space to French military planes.

Even more important is the fact that the African Union and the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) have supported the French action. Ankara was hoping that these two organizations would take the lead role in this crisis. In the meantime, the word in Turkey is that France is acting unilaterally with colonialist designs. But that is not the case at all.

Before anything else, France intervened upon the invitation of the Malian government. Naturally, Paris was thinking of protecting its own interests while doing so, but still it can’t be accused of acting unilaterally. Even the Secretary General of the UN expressed his satisfaction with the French response to the Malian government’s call for help.

Security Council Resolution 2085, adopted in December 2012 and supported by Turkey, calls for the recovery of northern Mali from Islamist extremists by international forces under African leadership. That means the objective is to restore the territorial integrity of Mali, as also demanded by Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

It is totally meaningless for Ankara to object on grounds that “it is not the African nations but France leading the action,” because no African countries are objecting.

To the contrary, African experts we have been listening to in recent days told us that many African countries are willing to cooperate with former colonial powers against Islamist extremists. This would also help improve the image of the West in Africa, they say.

With all this in the background, we detect from Davutoglu’s remarks a hope by Turkey to get itself a share of the Mali situation. However, since Ankara can’t fully divest itself of subjective interests and prejudices, it can’t really decide what its policy should be.

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Found in: turkish-french relations, turkey

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