ISTANBUL: Following the first visit by a Turkish head of state to Khartoum on Sunday, Turkey and Sudan have agreed to establish a strategic cooperation council to boost economic and political links.
During the official visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 12 agreements on economic, agricultural and military cooperation were signed. Erdogan also addressed the Sudanese Parliament on Sunday evening and attended a Sudanese-Turkish business forum.
During his joint press conference with his Sudanese counterpart, Omar Bashir, Erdogan said that the two countries intended to increase their bilateral trade links gradually to $10 billion a year from the current $500 million.
An arrangement that would allow Sudan to provide cheap meat to Turkey is also on the horizon.
Emphasizing Sudan’s economic potential, Erdogan called on Turkish businessmen to invest in the country. Turkey and Sudan also aim to finalize a military deal that would involve the armed forces of both countries.
Ibrahim Nassir, an Africa expert at ANKASAM, a think tank in Ankara, said that this had been a long-anticipated meeting for Sudan since early this year.
“Sudan, due to its strategic geographic location, is considered the gateway to eastern Africa. Recently Turkey took important steps for rapprochement with this part of the African continent, as shown with its military base in Somalia,” Nassir told Arab News.
Economically speaking, Nassir said, Sudan is the rising star of Africa in terms of agriculture, especially with the untapped potential of the Nile river passing through Sudanese territories.
“Sudan also has huge amounts of gold reserves, another avenue for cooperation between the two countries,” he said.
“The decades-long economic embargo that was imposed on Sudan by the US has recently been lifted so it was a good opportunity for Turkey to take part in this strategic competition in Sudan for being an influential actor in the region,” Nassir said.
According to Sedat Aybar, an expert in Turkey-Africa relations at Istanbul Aydin University, Sudan shares a common historic and cultural heritage, a firm basis for an opening into sub-Saharan Africa.
“Close cultural proximity can be traced in the institutional set-up of the Sudanese military and its administrative structures. Probably this is why they became even closer during the US-based embargo imposed upon Sudan,” Aybar told Arab News.
Aybar noted that recent Turkish involvement with Sudan was based on humanitarian aid provided via TIKA, a Turkish official aid and co-operation agency, with projects covering health care, infrastructure, water and sanitation works as well as educational help.
Considering significant investments by Turkish SMEs in Sudan, whose capital city Khartoum hosts nearly 5,000 Turks who live and and work there, Aybar thinks that the move to declare Sudan a strategic partner is overdue.
“Sudan one of the poorest countries on earth, is rich in oil, gold and natural resources. Lifting the American-imposed embargo opened up for the Sudanese a path to explore new opportunities, particularly in extractive industries but also in production and trade,” Aybar said.
“Sudan’s agricultural sector has large potential for food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, the recent visit by the Turkish president to Khartoum is an extremely important one that will further lead to cultivating mutual positive economic returns at this conjuncture of the world, as competition for Sudanese resources is more likely to intensify,” he said.
According to Aybar, Turkey’s interest in Eastern Africa is unlikely to fade and Turkey is there to stay.
“Not only in rhetoric but also in action, Turkey views Africa as an equal partner, and for a win-win situation it is prepared to explore sectoral complementarities of its economy with the Africans,” he said.