Anyone would be offended by Abdullah Gül’s remarks the night of the coup d’état against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In a conversation with CNN TÜRK, the former Turkish President said, “What happened [the coup attempt] was a crime that will ultimately fail because Turkey is not an African country and is not located in Latin America.”
In that statement, regardless from what perspective one tries to take, chauvinism is heard. While democratic traditions are not that strong in Africa, Turkey has a history of cracking down on opposition members and media outlets, and an exceptionally polarized and volatile political environment.
Throughout the years, dozens of Turkish journalists were arrested for being critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the President, especially when they question Erdoğan’s campaigning for a referendum on constitutional changes to adopt a presidential system. It is also no big secret that Turkey has a rich history of coups followed by periods of financial instability and human rights abuses.
Theories about Africa have traditionally focused on ethno-religious conflicts, cold war struggles, and civil wars. There is also a whole literature on its political economy looking at the bad climate and maritime geography, the infrastructure difficulties such as in transportation and the borders that cut across ethnic lines and act as a recipe for conflict.
According to Gül’s viewpoint, Africa should not be doing well at all. Yet, Botswana, for example, has been one of the fastest growing countries in the world in the past few decades and one of the success stories in good, enabling institutions.
Take Ethiopia’s economic performance over the past ten years. The country, with a large population (the continent’s second largest after Nigeria) and significant land mass, has emerged as the fastest-growing non-oil producing country in the world with a real gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaging 10.9% between 2004 and 2014, leading to improved life expectancy and reduced child and infant mortality.
Moving on to Mauritius, economic growth seems to have stave-off potential internal conflict. Starting from a very low per capita income of $260 at independence in 1968, it is now more than $5,000. Regionally speaking, there is a sustained demand for African minerals and fossils fuels from the U.S., China, India, and other emerging economies, including Turkey. Moreover, trade between major commodity exporters (such as Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa) with Korea and Brazil remains significant.
Those are impressive figures for a continent that is ‘disappointing’ according to Gül. Actually, poverty reduction in the African continent is happening much faster than we think and is remarkably widespread (i.e. it cannot be explained by a large country, or even by a single set of countries possessing some beneficial geographical or historical characteristic).
Although there are still some issues within Africa’s growing economies such as high government spending, high unemployment, and perpetuating resource and foreign aid dependency, countries like Botswana turned a natural resource curse into a blessing by creating institutions to ensure responsible spending and pursuing growth-enhancing policies.
There is good benchmarking of countries’ performance across various dimensions at the national, regional, and continental levels. We can, for example, compare and contrast Turkey with Botswana, Mauritius, Cape Verde, South Africa, and Ethiopia.
In this manner, Gül’s conceptualization of who is ‘superior’ becomes rather naive. Indeed, There are some other good links to comprehensive datasets on the African governance. This one ranks the institutional quality of 54 African countries and provides an annual assessment based on 4 categories and an overall measurement of governance performance, with Mauritius ranking first, Cape Verde second, Botswana third, and South Africa fourth).
I hope that Gül’s statement about Africa and Latin America does not truly represent the way Turkish citizens look at the ‘Other.’ Chauvinism can become the regime’s own foe; a force that might eventually rock its own equilibrium.
Turkey’s political elites should re-evaluate their superiority outlook and avoid their humiliating remarks: that Turkey is unique, while Africa and Latin America are nothing but catastrophic examples of bad governance.