The Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) lead by the US based kingpin Fethullah Gulen is one part traditional terror group and one party cult like indoctrination organisation. While FETO’s acts of terror include staging the attempted July 2016 coup against the legitimate government of Turkey, downing a Russian Su-25 on the Syrian border in 2015 and assassinating a Russian Ambassador to Ankara – Andrey Karlov in late 2016, the group also works to spread its influence throughout the world by building and funding a network of schools designed to indoctrinate the young with the poisonous cult like Gulenist ideology.
At present, FETO run schools have appeared throughout the Balkans including in Albania and Bosnia while the network also runs schools in parts of Asia that are designed to counter Turkey’s historically good relations with countries as diverse as Pakistan and Malaysia.
Now though, FETO has begun an ambitious programme of constructing schools throughout the world’s least politically stable continent, Africa. This has wide ranging implications as it comes at a time when Turkey’s legitimate influence in Africa continues to grow as Ankara signs ever more trade and investment deals across the continent with a project to rebuild the old Ottoman port at Suakin on Sudan’s Red Sea coast being emblematic of this new era in Turko-pan-African relations.
This also comes at a time when the US is attempting to counter China’s increased economic influence in Africa and Russia’s re-assertion of African partnerships previously abandoned at the end of the Cold War. The US is operating a seemingly contradictory strategy in Africa designed to counter the influence of the eastern powers which incorporates a combination of fomenting religious/political extremism and secessionist movements on the one hand while on the other waging a soft-power infowar designed to discredit the achievements that China in particular has made in helping to accelerate the development of African economies.
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko summed up America’s new Africa strategy in the following way:
“Short for Africa Command, AFRICOM is “Pentagon-speak” for the US military’s operations all across that landmass, and thousands of American troops are already active in dozens of countries and several combat missions at any given time despite there only officially being one US base on the continent in Djibouti. Along with the Sahel region and especially the portion near the Malian–Nigerien border, the Horn of Africa and specifically Somalia occupy the center of the Pentagon’s focus because of the prevalence of terrorist groups there, though the situation in the latter shouldn’t be completely compared to the former. Daesh openly operates in West Africa, whereas it has yet to officially enter into the Somalian battlespace even though its reported Al Shabaab partner is equally as extreme as they are…
AFRICOM’s flexible use of anti-Silk Road Hybrid War instruments all throughout the continent is why the US has surreptitiously deployed its forces in Somalia and many other countries on the landmass, with these soldiers never actually being used so much for strengthening their host governments as they are for keeping them in a weak and dependent relationship on their American overlords. “Anti-terrorist cooperation” is the cover for this vassal-lord relationship, the narrative of which is exploited through decontextualized “victories” from time to time and an over-exaggeration of any given threat’s relevance to the US’ direct national security interests, as is the case in both instances with Somalia. The American who just sacrificed his life for AFRICOM in Somalia didn’t do it save his homeland from an “imminent terrorist plot” or even to prevent a terrorist victory sometime far off in the future that could set off another Migrant Crisis in Europe, but to give his country better Unconventional Warfare leverage against China in the New Cold War”.
As FETO derives much of its funding from corporations registered and in many cases openly trading in the United States, Washington’s role in utilising FETO as a tool of anti-multipolar hybrid war in Africa should not only be examined but can be safely assumed.
FETO schools and terror cells have a tendency to appear in unstable nations or developing nations where there is either a history of a cultural/political Turkish influence or in countries with a Muslim majority population where Turkish President Erdogan’s popularity looks to enshrine him as a leader of moderate-multipolar Islamic political thought.
Thus, in Muslim majority regions of the Balkans whether in Bosnia, Albania, parts of Serbia or parts of Macedonia, FETO schools and terror cells have appeared and continue to expand. Now, FETO is looking to use similar methods in Africa only here the target is not only Turkey whose positive influence in Africa is expanding, but the target is also Turkey’s valued Chinese and Russian partners whose economic activities in the continent have been a motivating factor for the accelerated AFRICOM strategy of manifold hybrid war.
According to a lengthy report from Turkey’s Daily Sabah, the following models have been used by FETO to gain a foothold among the elite political and financial oligarch classes of African nations. This represents a slight departure from FETO’s Balkan strategy which traditionally relies on weaponising the masses through a pseudo “scholastic” infowar designed to turn historically Turkish friendly Muslim populations against Ankara. The report states:
“Business circles close to the now-defunct Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), whose chairman and members were found to have strong and close ties to FETÖ by Turkish investigators, heavily engaged in trade and investment promotion in Africa.
The economic and financial operations of FETÖ in African countries are organized by business associations like TUSKON. By getting in touch with Turkish businesspeople who want to invest and trade in Africa, they provide consultation services on how to start and run businesses in the continent and facilitate their operations through bureaucratic influence secured at high levels.
In return for consulting services, FETÖ members demand donations from the businesspeople’s commercial and other operations.
Aside from investigation reports and indictments prepared by Turkish prosecutors, TUSKON’s relationship with FETÖ has also been written about by David Shinn, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia and adjunct professor of International Relations at Georgetown University, in his book titled, “Hizmet” in Africa. Hizmet, meaning service, is what the Gülenists call their group.
In the book, which was commissioned by the FETÖ-linked, U.S.-based Rumi Forum, Shinn specifically explains TUSKON’s affiliation with the group.
In a speech he delivered at a FETÖ conference in Sao Paolo, Shinn emphasized that “Hizmet’s business model in Africa relies primarily on financial backing from supporters in the Turkish business community.” He added that the business organizations of the group continue to exist in the continent in the aftermath of the TUSKON’s closure.
TUSKON was raided by the police in November 2015 in an operation against the financiers of FETO. In October, the TUSKON trial began in Istanbul and 86 defendants, mostly prominent businesspeople, appeared before court and the organization’s chair Rızanur Meral was tried in absentia along with its honorary chair Fetullah Gülen, a cleric who has been living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, U.S.
In a research report, titled ‘Turkey’s Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa Shifting Alliances and Strategic Diversification,’ David Shinn also writes that there are close ties between the schools and Turkish sponsors doing business in the countries where they are located.
‘A key to their [the schools’] success is the network that they provide. Graduates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, often speak Turkish and help drive Turkey’s commercial interests,’ he said.
‘Hizmet-supporting businesspersons also operate a number of independent and informal business associations in separate African countries. Examples include the South African Turkish Business Association, the Association of Businessmen and Investors of Nigeria and Turkey, and the Ethio-Turkish Entrepreneur Association. Their primary task is to organize African business delegations to visit Turkey and to host visiting Turkish business delegations,’ Shinn explained.
Akemel Negash, who is an Ethiopian activist and freelance journalist for Deutsche Welle, stressed that FETÖ-linked business operations enter the African market by initially starting schools where they educate the children of the ruling oligarchy.
‘Establishing a network of political and economic alliance, FETÖ members rely on good relations with the high-ranking ruling elite like the members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to run their businesses in the country,’ Negash told Daily Sabah.
The schools that offer free education for the children of the political, military and bureaucratic elite are way of offering privileges and favors in the country, Negash emphatically stated. They provide an excellent ground to understand the country’s politics and access to the policy-makers, he later added, emphasizing the vulnerability of African countries to such favors given their relatively less law-abiding governance structures.
Another way FETÖ tries to solidify their network is by organizing trips to Turkey and bringing African politicians and bureaucrats together with FETÖ-affiliated businesspeople. “These trips have been a useful way of pampering politicians and making them acquainted with FETÖ-run non-governmental organizations and corporations,” he said.
Negash also emphasized that the FETÖ-linked companies have expansive operations in the textile sector in Ethiopia. Some of these companies are run in the form of a joint venture in partnership with the close relatives of the highest-ranking politicians in the country’s TPLF.
He also strongly emphasized that Gülen schools only serve very rich families given their sky-high tuition. He explained that even upper-middle income groups can’t afford the prices, adding that more than 90 percent of the Ethiopian population doesn’t have enough money to send their children to Gülen schools.
In some cases, Gülenists change the ownership of the local schools in attempts to disguise its links to FETÖ. For instance, in March 2017, the Nejashi Ethio-Turkish International Schools were sold to a group of educators from Germany, whose identities have not been revealed. Prior to the sale of the schools, Ethiopian government announced that the schools, which elite Ethiopian families send their children to, would be handed over to Turkey’s Maarif Foundation.
Officials have said that the FETÖ sold the institution to try to evade the handover. The sale of the school network to a group of educators from Germany was a ‘business decision,’ Celil Aydin, a coordinator at the schools in Ethiopia, previously claimed.
The Turkish Maarif Foundation’s chairman also highlighted that fraudulent sales of FETÖ-linked schools in Africa or changing their partnership structures are among the cult’s latest operations”.
These schools represent a direct threat not only to the relations of Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa with Turkey and its eastern partners, but fragile internal situations that could easily lead to secessionist movements or even state-on-state violence that could be easily provoked by FETO “educators” who are able to influence young African elites by virtue of FETO’s substantial economic network which ploughs money into free indoctrination facilities throughout Africa.
Making matters more worrying, because little is discussed about FETO outside of Turkey, the terror group’s uniquely branded facilities in Africa do not yet carry the stigma of organisations like al-Qaeda, Daesh and Boko Haram who are generally less sophisticated in their propaganda and indoctrination vis-a-vis FETO. This makes FETO’s influence all the more worrying as the US may well be using (if they are not doing so already) the advanced propaganda techniques of FETO to disguise anti-Belt and Road neo-colonial machinations in Africa under the guise of a putatively Islamic educational and investment schemes under the auspices of FETO. To put it bluntly, it is US economic imperialism hiding under the ideology of a crypto-Islamist terror cult.
Because the often turbulent political and economic situation in Africa, FETO has been able to target the business sector, political sector and even future military leaders in a far more effective manner than in the Balkans, where FETO’s role is largely designed to obstruct good relations of individual states with Turkey. By contrast, FETO in Africa is itself acting as a hybrid neo-colonial force whose goals are the penultimate subjugation of entire African nations to FETO’s whims by creating a class of new oligarchs and political leaders whose loyalty is to the cult of Gulen rather than to the fundamental national interests of a given African nation.
This is all the more reason for the existing partnership between Turkey, China, Russia and Pakistan to double-down on providing Africa with a clear alternative to America’s latest proxy group in the continent. While China can provide economic stimulus to African nations, Russia can provide expertise and security assurances and Turkey and Pakistan can provide a combination of both – having modern nations with Islamic characteristics like Turkey and Pakistan increase their influence in Africa can help to do two crucial things.
First of all, in Muslim majority African states or those with a sizeable Muslim population, a Turkish or for that matter a Pakistani presence can help to insure local people that there is no anti-Islamic pseudo-colonial conspiracy afoot. This because crucial as the US has a tendency to cynically manipulate Muslim populations in economically poor nations when they begin to do business with non-Muslim eastern partners including China and Russia. Secondly, by expanding economic relations with African states on a win-win model, the Turkish economy can both help to diversify their existing economic relations all the while becoming integral to the New Silk Road corridors of Africa whose potential still remains largely untapped – the same is true for China’s Russian and Pakistani partners. This would help to expand the geo-economic prestige Turkey and its partners while fighting back against US hybrid warfare techniques currently targeting Ankara and Islamabad by showing the US that it is possible to counter the American weaponisation of religion with a positive socio-economic model extending far beyond one’s traditional sphere of influence.
The presence of FETO is a clear and present danger not only to the stability of Africa but it is a further sign that the US seeks to fight the burgeoning One Belt–One Road Russo-Sino-Pak-Turkish alliance in its most vulnerable location. Therefore it is essential for the leaders in Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad and most importantly Ankara to pay close attention to the expansion of FETO in Africa. Time is most certainly of the essence in this respect.