Senegal Becomes New Focus of UAE-Turkey Rivalry in Africa

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s international port operator DP World signed an accord on December 23 to develop a new deep-water port in Senegal. The investment by the government-owned firm is seen as the latest bid by the Gulf state to counter arch-rival Turkey’s rising influence in the West African nation.

Details of the New Deep-Water Port Agreement

The leading company said it will invest $837 billion in the first phase to build the port in Ndayane, Senegal, which is located about two hours’ drive southeast of the capital of Dakar. This is the single largest private sector investment in the history of Senegal. This investment will be followed by another $290 million.

The first phase of the project will include a new container terminal with 840 meters of quay and a new 5 km marine channel designed to handle up to 366-meter vessels and capable of accommodating the largest container vessels in the world. Phase 2 will include the creation of 410 meters of additional container quay and a further dredging of the marine channel to handle even larger 400-meter vessels.

DP World said the new port “will further reinforce Dakar’s role as a major logistics hub and gateway to West and North West Africa”. The Emirati firm also plans to develop a special economic zone next to the Ndayane port to further strengthen the attractiveness of Senegal to foreign investors.

Why is the UAE Investing in Senegal?

The mega investment in Senegal was the latest move by the UAE to seek a strategic foothold in Africa. The Gulf state has used its global port operator to win concessions to develop commercial ports and logistics hubs at several sites across the continent, including Somaliland, Algeria, Mozambique and Djibouti.

Abu Dhabi has also built a series of military bases in the Horn of Africa that allow it to project power far beyond its borders, particularly into the Red Sea and the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

Analysts view the latest Emirati move to pour investments into Senegal as part of its effort to counter Turkey’s rising role in Senegal and across the African continent. Turkey has been seeking to bolster its relations with Senegal in recent years within Ankara’s efforts to gain economic, political and cultural clout in Africa.

Turkey Has Been Busy Boosting Economic Relations with Senegal

In January 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Dakar for talks with Senegalese officials to enhance bilateral relations. A business forum was held during the visit.

Trade volume between Turkey and Senegal has doubled sixteen-fold in the last decade, with leading Turkish firms undertaking significant infrastructure projects, including an international airport and a 50,000‑seat stadium. As of 2020, there were 29 projects worth $775-million that have been contracted to Turkish firms in the country.

Turkey’s education body, Maarif Foundation, has also opened a series of schools in Senegal as part of its charm campaign to enhance Ankara’s cultural influence in the West African nation. As part of this, the Turkish Development and Cooperation Agency (TIKA) also opened its first office in Western Africa in Dakar in April 2007. Ankara has also been offering scholarships to Senegalese students to study in Turkey since 1992.

Spotlight: UAE vs. Turkey

The UAE and Turkey are regional rivals and are engaged in several proxy conflicts across the Middle East region, including Libya, Syria, Yemen and the eastern Mediterranean.

In Libya, Turkey backs the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), while the UAE supports eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army is seeking to oust the GNA.

In Syria, the UAE backs the normalization of relations with the regime of Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have been fighting opposition forces in a deadly civil war since 2011. Ankara, meanwhile, supports opposition forces fighting to remove Assad from power. In Yemen, the UAE is part of a Saudi-led coalition that has launched a massive air campaign against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, which overran much of northern Yemen — including the capital Sanaa — in 2014.

In the eastern Mediterranean, the UAE has joined Greece, Cyprus, France and Egypt is opposing Turkish attempts to drill for energy resources in disputed waters in the region. Turkey sees the alliance as an attempt to exclude it from the gas equation in the Mediterranean.

While Turkey claims that the UAE was sowing chaos in the Middle East and Africa, Abu Dhabi accuses Ankara of pursuing neo-Ottoman imperial policies in the region.

The main cause of animosity between the two rivals is related to support for political Islam. Whereas Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK) is ideologically related to the Islamist movement of the Muslim Brotherhood, the UAE and its allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt see the group as an extremist and terrorist threat, which Abu Dhabi has been determined to crush across the greater Arab region since 2011.