Why are African leaders clamouring for drones of war instead of COVID-19 vaccines?


A few days ago a two-day Turkey-Africa Summit that was held in Istanbul concluded with reports of several African leaders clamouring purchase the Turkish drones of war. It was a disappointing end to a gathering taking place at the height of a marauding Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than five million lives globally since its outbreak two years ago.

Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fashioned himself as the Big Man of politics in the developing world. Since a foiled attempted coup to oust him from power several years ago, Erdogan has grown in his disdain for dissenting views in Turkey’s body politic. His country is literally under sustained authoritarianism and scores of political opponents are either in jail, missing, dead and others live silently in constant fear of a man who is a martial law unto himself. He amended the Constitution in 2017 to abolish the powerful office of the Prime Minister and swiftly vested the Presidency with full executive powers.

As for the African leaders who attended the Turkey-Africa summit, it leaves a bad taste that at a time when vaccine discrimination is at its horrendous rate, leaders should focus much of their attention focussing on acquiring Turkish combat drones of war that has caused a lot of human suffering and destruction wherever they have been unleashed.

Erdogan boasted after the summit that interest in Turkish weaponry is on the rise. “Everywhere I go in Africa, everyone asks about the UAV’s,” Erdogan spoke about the drones after concluding visits to Angola, Nigeria and Togo in October.

The UN is on record having questioned the morality of Turkey’s enthusiasm to supply Ethiopia with its harmful drones amid a brutal conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions of men, women and children and driven millions others into famine. 

The Bayraktar TB2 model is currently Turkey’s most prized asset being profusely marketed after it was credited with swinging the direction of conflicts in places such as Libya and Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagomo-Karabakh in recent years of military conflict.

Turkey’s much-heralded drones are manufactured by a private Baykar company, which is run by one Haluk Bayraktar. He is one of the most influential Erdogan’s sons-in-law and an integral member of Turkey’s political elite.

Of the 39 African governments that responded positively to participate in the Turkey-Africa summit, there is no word on anyone of them placing emphasis on economic development and vaccine manufacturing cooperation. 

It is a damning indictment on the collective African leadership that in the 21st century the development of economies and human capital still play second fiddle to a clamour for war toys in a continent where military overthrow of States is a continuous and ever-present real threat.

The African child needs food security and not drones that maim and take away innocent lives. Africa needs to participate in summits where development of the continent’s human race and infrastructure is advanced ahead of conflict and wars.

The African continent deserves partnerships that are built on the backbone of human advancement instead of self-serving leaders who suffer from Big Man syndrome.

Instead of spreading economic cooperation between Africa and Turkey, African leaders from mostly impoverished nations walked away from Istanbul with undertakings of being sold Turkish drones on the cheap and with little or no strings attached.

Ankara has already developed a military base in Somalia, one of Africa’s most unstable destinations. This is an outcome of a morally-bankrupt foreign policy that is premised on making money out of wars instead of building peaceful and stable communities.

Africa does not need and deserves no such partnerships. The continent’s most urgent challenge is to push back the frontiers of hunger, starvation and wars. The AU need to be at the forefront of being a true voice of reason under circumstances such as these. Surely Mother Africa should not be on auto-pilot when nation-states pump in millions of their national budgets to breathe life into the AU operations in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. History is watching the current crop of African leadership with hawkish eyes and methinks the judgement with being harsh. The continent needs to urgently reassess its common interests and emulate nations that have elected to prioritise economic growth and stability over foolish desires to ferment destructive conflicts that holds back the African child from rising to compete as an equal among nations of the world. This is achievable only when leaders do not overstay their welcome to public office.

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