Turkey is eyeing taking over management of the second most strategic port in the Horn of Africa, located in Djibouti, which has long played a central role in regional trading, according to a new agreement on maritime cooperation between the two countries. The deal establishes the legal basis for such Turkish investments in Djibouti. The growing ties with Djibouti are also in parallel with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitious Africa policy, which has seen Turkey increasingly assert itself in the Horn of Africa.
Turkey’s Albayrak Group, known to have close ties to President Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has been operating the Port of Mogadishu in Somalia in line with Turkey’s agenda since 2014. Recent regional developments and bilateral contacts have revealed that the Djiboutian government might soon transfer management of one of its strategic ports to Albayrak or another group linked to President Erdoğan.
The agreement, obtained by Nordic Monitor, covers such areas as the establishment of joint ventures for the operation and management of ports as well as international maritime transport, navigation services, ship and yacht building, application of modern technologies and training.
The agreement between Turkey and Djibouti on maritime cooperation was approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Turkish parliament the same day as Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf and Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan co-chaired a joint economic committee meeting in Ankara, on February 19, 2020. According to Turkey’s Milliyet daily, the parties agreed to strengthen bilateral trade and further develop relations in transportation including in the aviation, rail and maritime sectors, and to establish a free economic zone in Djibouti.
Turkey’s energy and maritime accords with Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti fit into Erdoğan’s aggressive foreign policy, which seeks to expand Turkey’s role in the Horn of Africa while raising Turkey’s overall profile on the continent.
The agreement was signed on January 24, 2015 in Djibouti by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Djiboutian Equipment and Transport Minister Moussa Ahmed Hassan during President Erdoğan’s state visit to countries in the Horn of Africa. The 18-article agreement, which sets out the framework for maritime cooperation, was submitted to the Turkish parliament for ratification on December 6, 2018 by President Erdoğan.
According to the first article, the aim of the agreement is “to promote co-ordination in the field of maritime trade and enhance safety and security of navigation” and “to contribute in general to the development of commercial and economic relations between the two States.”
Moreover, Article 4 underlines that the parties shall “encourage their own public and private maritime sectors to involve in this cooperation mechanism,” adding that they will assist each other in the “establishment of joint ventures for operation and/or management of ports” and “ship and yacht building, ship maintenance and repair, ship recycling and creation/application of modern technologies, construction and modernization of shipyards on both sides.”
The letter submitted to parliament seeking approval of the agreement with Djibouti:
The deal also covers the exchange of information and experience on maritime safety and security, prevention of maritime pollution, port and fleet management and shipbuilding, maintenance, repair and recycling services.
According to Article 6 of the framework agreement, the Turkish and Djiboutian governments will form an “Ad Hoc Working Group” to implement the agreement and “support the participation of vessels of both Parties in cargo transportation in bilateral trade and especially encourage the establishment of liner services in accordance with the principle of mutual benefit.”
Moreover, Article 14 aims to promote cooperation between commercial organizations and classification societies engaged in maritime transport and shipbuilding and their competent authorities.
The terms of the agreement will be executed by the transportation and infrastructure ministry on the Turkish side and the equipment and transport ministry for Djibouti. The deal is valid for five years with automatic renewal. According to the agreement, either party may notify the other of the intent to terminate at least six months in advance.
The maritime cooperation agreement is posted below:
In 2017, Djibouti launched three new ports (Doraleh Multipurpose Port, Port of Tadjourah and Port of Ghoubet) and a transnational railway linking Addis Ababa with the Port of Djibouti. A year later, it initiated the first phase of Africa’s biggest free-trade zone, seeking to capitalize on its strategic position on one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
In accordance with its Africa strategy, Turkey plans to create an economic zone close to the Doraleh Multipurpose Port. Holding a joint press conference with President lsmail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti in Ankara on December 17, 2017, President Erdoğan noted that the Turkish economic zone in Djibouti would carry to another level Turkey’s economic relations with not only Djibouti but also with the other countries in the region. “I believe that the 5,000 hectares of land being allocated there and our entrepreneurs assuming the role of investors will create strong ties between us,” he stated.
Turkey has built strong relationships with regional countries and has become an important actor in the Horn of Africa since 2011. In the last decade it has built a military base in the capital of Somalia, and Erdoğan-linked companies run both the Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu and the port.
The Albayrak Group, a conglomerate that has traditionally supported Turkey’s radical Islamist regime and has been a loyal ally of autocratic President Erdoğan, took over the port of Mogadishu in 2014, with the port functioning as the main gate of the corrupt system in Somalia.
Furthermore, it was announced in 2018 by the Guinean government that the Albayrak Group would operate the conventional section of the Autonomous Port of Conakry (PAC), which handles cargo excluding containers, for a period of 25 years. However, the concession for the PAC without following the proper procedures caused massive protests in the country.
Recent regional developments and bilateral contacts have revealed that the Djiboutian government might soon transfer management of one of its strategic ports to Albayrak or another group linked to President Erdoğan.