A humanitarian aid volunteer we recently met with for an interview was beaming with joy and at the same time, although he was trying to hide it, we saw tears pouring down his face as he was speaking to us. He said that he had visited Africa for the first time about 15 years ago and that he brought aid many times to these poor people who have been struggling through hardships.
I have encountered many NGO and humanitarian aid volunteers during the seven years I have spent in Africa. All of them had the same excitement and the same passion. No matter what they say, bringing help and aid to the African people thousands of kilometers away from Turkey without expecting anything in return is something we all should appreciate. It shows how generous the Anatolian people are and their big hearts.
Turkey is now a country giving the highest amount of aid in proportion to its GDP. Wherever there is a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood, tsunami we see Turkey there. The drought in Mali, the earthquake in Indonesia, landslide in Sierra Leone, the famine in the refugee camps in Ethiopia; in all these disasters we see volunteers running to help those people wearing vests with the Turkish flag on.
The feeling we displayed of needing to come to the aid of others is so developed that it was never before seen anywhere else since no other country showed any similar initiative in Africa. You witness a neighborhood foundation from the district of Yeni Bosna helping a village which is hard to reach in Chad or a village foundation from Konya helping to establish a soup kitchen in Mauritania.
The perception of Africa in Turkey is also based on poverty. Whenever we see someone with black skin we immediately think of the “poor Africa.” When we see Africans selling watches here and there we get emotional and feel the need to buy a watch from them to help. Their smile gives us joy which is hard to describe, and we become thankful since they reminded us to be ourselves.
As long as wealth in Africa continues to stay in some groups’ hands, this aid is going to continue; even though we can’t find a permanent solution to the hardships of the poor and deprived Africans we are going to continue helping them.
However, taking care of the daily needs of the African people is not a solution, on the contrary, it increases the poverty problem. If we don’t switch to investment policies from aiding policies we are going to join the team kicked out of Africa within five years. The missionaries in particular tried these aiding policies and they caused the majority of the people to convert to other religions and led to an economic collapse. While the aid coming from Europe offered Christianity to the Africans, they took their lands, their minerals, and their governments from them in return. Since we didn’t expect anything in return, we will never be dealing with these kind of material issues. However, African people want to switch from these aiding policies to sustainable development policies.
The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in particular performed very well in this transition from aiding policies to development models. While TIKA gave aid to decrease poverty and prevent a humanitarian crisis in Africa, it also provided permanent solutions with sustainable development projects. Now, the Maarif Foundation is opening the way for a similar investment policy. Education, one of the most important problems of Africa, is turning into a field full of opportunities based on solutions thanks to the schools opened by the Maarif Foundation. The other institutions should also transform their policies to a more investment-oriented direction just as TIKA and the Maarif Foundation. There are some NGOs doing this right now. The IHH, Hudayi Foundation, and Sadakataşı are opening schools, establishing hospitals and youth centers and paving the way for investment policies.
The key to our transition to investment policies in Africa will be our businessmen. It will only be possible for us to switch to an extensive development model if our businessmen increase their investments, which will be beneficial both for Turkey and for Africa.
African countries are very suitable and fruitful in terms of investments. There are of course risks such as security, bad governance, ethnic and religious conflicts, and terror. However, the lack of investment plays an important role in the rise of these risks. One of the most important reasons why there is terror in the North of Nigeria and not in the South is the fact that the North has not sufficiently benefited from investments.
Africa needs investment in fields such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, communication and information technologies, textile, and agriculture. However, if Turkish construction firms are planning to build vertical cities in the region, they should stay out of it and not cause irregular urbanization in the region. If we establish textile factories in Burkina Faso, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique and Chad, then the unemployment problem of hundreds of thousands of Africans can be solved. Investments in healthcare can be made in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, and Angola. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana are countries available for investments in mining, while Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Ivory Coast are available for IT investments. Additionally, Ghana, Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania are available for agricultural investments.
The companies investing in Africa can also bring aid and provide solutions to many problems in the countries they are investing in.
We should turn our aid campaigns into an investment campaigns in Africa. The investments will both make aid more comprehensive and regular and also increase Turkey’s influence in those countries, in addition to providing solutions to the chronic problems of these countries including unemployment, while it will provide an increase in the incomes of both African countries and Turkey.
If the investments in Africa stay in the monopoly of the Chinese and Western companies just like today, the aid we give will only be under the shadow of those investments and they may bounce back as major problems. This investment campaign is necessary both for us and for the African people. Let’s make haste...