In the past decade, Turkey has significantly expanded its engagement in Africa, leading to concerns within the European Union (EU) that this influence might be used to undermine EU policy and member states. This policy brief analyses the strategic motives and evolution of Turkish involvement in the Sahel region, focusing specifically on Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Drawing from interviews conducted with Sahelian and Turkish political, business, diplomatic and educational stakeholders between October and December 2022, the authors contend that Turkey’s foreign policy in the Sahel demonstrates a multifaceted approach that aims to strengthen its presence across economic, cultural, defence and development spheres. However, it is also emphasised that Turkey’s engagement in the Sahel remains relatively limited when compared to its activities in other African countries, for example Libya, Somalia and Algeria. In light of these findings, this policy brief recommends that the EU adopt a pragmatic approach, drawing lessons from Turkey’s strategy while trying to manage, and where possible benefit from, the impact of Turkish security assistance and to foster opportunities for Sahelian populations in Europe through scholarships and employment initiatives.
As a disclaimer, this research was carried out shortly before political unrest rose in Niger in late July 2023, including the conducting of all interviews. Therefore, the information related to Niger in this work is based on the previous period.
Andrew Lebovich, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute
Nienke van Heukelingen, Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute