Pitched battles between anti-government demonstrators and Turkish police over several days at Istanbul’s Taksim Square constitute a national uprising against Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s incipient Islamist dictatorship. As of this writing on June 2, tens of thousands of regime opponents are in control of the heart of Istanbul while police have withdrawn. The economic distress of Turkish households is an important factor in the country’s political upheaval.
News media have already dubbed the demonstrations a “Turkish Spring”. That is a turnabout, for the “Turkish model” was touted two years ago as the solution to the economic and social problems of the failing police states of Arab nationalism. Erdogan’s supposedly moderate Islamism and dynamic economic management supposedly offered a way out for Egypt and other failed economies of the Middle East.
Erdogan had declared himself a “servant of Sharia” during his 1994 mayoral campaign in Istanbul, but most Western observers chose to take the would-be Turkish dictator at his subsequent word that he would respect the secular character of the Turkish state.
It was never to be. Erdogan did not preside over an economic miracle – contrary to the credulous estimates of many Western observes – but arranged, rather the usual sort of Third World credit bubble, which has left Turkish consumers to tighten their belts in response to a devastating debt burden. “Economic troubles will dominate the political agenda, and Erdogan’s claim to leadership of the Islamic world – let alone his own country – will look far less credible,” I warned in this space April 23 (see Turkey’s ticking debt time-bomb, Asia Times Online), just before Moody’s assigned Turkey an investment-grade rating, perhaps the poorest judgment by the rating agency since it put a “AAA” stamp on securities backed by subprime mortgages.
Turkey’s problems can’t really be compared to the 2011 revolts in Muslim North Africa, to be sure: the country’s economy will keep functioning, although far below the expectations of ordinary Turks, and its political system is robust. But the anti-government demonstrations denote a turning point in the fortunes of Turkish Islamism.
The demonstrators’ anger, to be sure, centers on Erdogan’s creeping dictatorship: the gradual imposition of Islamic law in a Turkish state founded on secular principles, the jailing of hundreds of regime opponents, and the assimilation of enormous economic power into corrupt monopolies controlled by Erdogan’s party. Leaked US diplomatic cables claimed in 2010 that Erdogan amassed a huge personal fortune through bribery during his term and commissions on the sale of Turkish assets to foreign investors.  Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the secular opposition party CHP, compared Erdogan to Hitler.
Syria’s civil war, moreover, sharpens Turkey’s sectarian and ethnic divisions. Perhaps a fifth of Turks adhere to the Alevi sect, a branch of Islam that fairly could be described as moderate, and which votes mainly for the secular parties. Erdogan’s emergence as the leader of militant Sunnism in Syria as well as Gaza, where he patronizes Hamas, worries the Alevis, who have a long memory of Sunni persecution. The Alevis have little to do with Syria’s Alawites, the Assad family’s minority sect, but the Alevis have some sympathy for the Assad government because the Turkish Sunnis are so determined to destroy it.
The Kurdish minority comprises more than a fifth of Turkey, and its fertility rate is double or triple that of Turkish-speakers. Ethnic Turkish Sunnis – the population segment to which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) appeals – barely make up a majority of the Turkish population, and the demographic trend will make them a minority in 20 years or less. Syria’s two million Kurds have become an independent factor as a result of their country’s civil war, with their own municipal administrations and militias. They view Arab jihadists who dominate the rebel forces with justifiable fear and distrust. Again, Erdogan’s backing of the Sunni rebels upsets Turkey’s Kurds.
Only a small minority of the AKP base, moreover, favors its Islamist agenda. Only 12% of Turks want Sharia to be the law of the land, according to an April 2013 Pew Institute survey, compared to 84% of Muslims in South Asia, 77% in Southeast Asia, and 74% in the Middle East and North Africa.
That is why Erdogan’s mandate rested on economic performance. His Sunni fundamentalist agenda does not appeal to the Turkish majority. But he drew votes from secular Turks on the putative strength of his economic management. The analogy to Hitler is in some respects odious, but it holds in characterizing Erdogan’s covert agenda to impose an ideological dictatorship. The Turkish public correctly views as creeping Sharia the government’s new laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol after 10 pm and ban any portrayal of alcohol consumption in public media.
In his 2011 presidential campaign, Erdogan emulated an earlier Anatolian, namely St Nicholas. As I wrote in a 2012 study for Middle East Quarterly,
Erdogan’s bubble recalls the experiences of Argentina in 2000 and Mexico in 1994 where surging external debt produced short-lived bubbles of prosperity, followed by currency devaluations and deep slumps. Both Latin American governments bought popularity by providing cheap consumer credit as did Erdogan in the months leading up to the June 2011 national election. 
Erdogan’s politically directed generosity has come back to bite Turkish consumers. Personal consumption is falling in real terms. GDP growth is close to zero, propped by a 20% rate of growth in government consumption. With government spending dominating economic activity at the margin, it is not surprising that Turkey’s inflation rate stands at 7%.
The aggregate economic data disguise growing distress in the Turkish economy. Government data distinguish salaried employment in the formal sector from “unpaid family employment” and “self-employment”. During the past year, employment in the formal sector-has shrunk by 5%, while “unpaid family employment” has risen by 5%. That means simply that manufacturing and service workers with real jobs were laid off and took the bus back to hard-scrabble farms in central Anatolia or sponged on small family businesses. This is disguised unemployment. A 5% shrinkage in the formal economy workforce is a devastating result.
Turkey’s economy, oddly vaunted as the next China, relies on low- and medium-tech exports to Europe, the Arab world, and the former Soviet Union. It grew as a cheap-labor outlet for European and some Asian manufacturers and sank as the European economic crisis, Russian economic stagnation and disarray among Muslim trading partners shrank its markets. It has a lower rate of high-school graduation than Mexico and an enormous informal economy. A few Turkish universities teach to world standards, but Turkey has nothing to compare to the talent pool of China, Taiwan or Korea.
To sustain the consumer bubble, Turkey ran a current account deficit that reached 10% in 2012, financed overwhelmingly with short-term debt-provided in large measure, according to anecdotal evidence, by the Sunni Gulf States who view Turkey as a bulwark against Iran.
Turkey’s short-term foreign debt is still growing at a 30% annual rate year on year (and at a 70% annual rate during the first three months of 2013). The economic slowdown was supposed to have reduced Turkey’s foreign borrowing; instead, it has accelerated. The patience of Turkey’s funders in the Persian Gulf is long but not unlimited.
Consumer debt outstanding has risen nearly 10-fold since 2006, and jumped by 40% during the past year. As I noted in my April 23 essay, it is hard to reconcile a 40% annual increase in consumer debt with a 5% annual increase in nominal consumer spending (inflation is running at 7%, so real spending is down by 2%). The data imply that Turkish consumers are borrowing enormous amounts to refinance the interest they owe on their existing debt.
Erdogan’s spending spree of 2011 has left Turks with a horrendous hangover. Banks cannot balloon their consumer loan book by 40% a year indefinitely; when the music stops, Turkish households will have to reduce their consumption sharply. Debt-burdened consumers know that this must happen sooner rather than later, and this presentiment probably helps sour the national mood.
“Turkey’s longer-term risks are even more daunting,” I wrote in the cited essay for Middle East Quarterly. “A developing country cannot sustain a fertility rate that leads to a rapid increase in elderly dependents, yet the fertility rate of Turks for whom Turkish is a first language has been in steady decline over the past fifteen years, falling to only 1.5-equal to that of Europe-while its population is aging almost as fast as Iran’s, leaving the country’s social security system with a deficit of close to 5 percent of GDP. “If we continue the existing [fertility] trend, 2038 will mark disaster for us,” Erdogan warned in a May 2010 speech.” Within a generation, half of Turkey’s military age men will come from Kurdish-speaking homes if the present trend continues.
In retrospect, analysts of Turkish politics may conclude, Erdogan’s Islamism was not a fresh start for Turkey but rather a belated attempt to pour Islamic glue into the cracks that threaten to fracture Turkish society. He may already have failed. A growing proportion of Turkish voters has concluded that they made a deal with the devil, and that the devil hasn’t kept his side of the bargain.
 US cables claim Turkish PM Erdogan has eight Swiss bank accounts, Hurriyet Daily News, November 29, 2010.
 The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life, April 30, 2013.
 Ankara’s ‘Economic Miracle’ Collapses, The Middle East Quarterly, Volume XIX, Number 1, Winter, 2012.
Russians Need to Strategise Trade with Africa
Russian business lobbying groups, together with about 40 business and industry heads, have shown interest in exporting their products to markets in Africa but found it difficult to access facilitation procedures in some of the countries.
To understand some of the processes and procedures, Nonna Kagramanya, the Vice President of Delovaya Rossia (Business Russia), moderated a special seminar to constructively discuss emerging issues and possible solutions on various foreign economic tracks. Representatives of governments, development institutions, private businesses as well as Southern and Eastern African diplomats attended the event.
She said despite the relatively small trade turnover with African countries, Russian companies were very interested in establishing stable long-term contacts with African partners.
As a first step, Ms. Kagramanya proposed the creation of a permanent discussion-line for all interested participants of the seminar to discuss a set of priority problems and barriers when working with Africa.
Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), questioned whether Russia has a broader Africa policy or long-term strategy in there.
“Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa,” she underscored.
While meetings organised between Russia and Africa have to be used to discuss thoroughly how to trade, efforts should be made to remove or lessen some of the barriers for mutual benefits. Now Russia’s main goal is to decide what it can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market.
Contributing to the discussion, the General Director of Intelnexus, Anatoly Yakimenko, introduced the participants to the opportunities for the development of Russian-African business cooperation, noting the favourable and hindering factors in the African market.
He stressed the need for potential exporters of Russia to adopt high-tech production and solutions to expand initiatives for more effective positioning of high-tech companies in Africa.
The Deputy Director of the Department of Asia, Africa and Latin America of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, Alexander Dianov, spoke about the non-financial support measures for Russian companies operating within the department.
“Currently, there are 10 intergovernmental commissions between the Russian Federation and African countries,” he said.
At the same time, he said: “There are trade missions only in four African countries, and if you take sub-Saharan African countries, the trade mission operates effectively only in South Africa. It is obvious that there is something to work on in terms of developing the infrastructure to support Russian businesses. If there is a serious request from the business community, we are ready to expand the geography of our presence.”
A representative of the Russian Export Centre (REC) in Africa, Dmitry Suchkov, drew the attention of companies to the need for in-depth analysis of national programmes of economic and investment development of African countries.
He spoke about the initiatives of the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa.
Natalia Zaiser, the Chairperson of the Board of the African Business Initiative, pointed to the problems of ensuring security and stable “rules of the game,” as well as the need to identify five priority areas of business cooperation on the medium and long term perspectives for individual countries.
Representatives of the embassies of Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa spoke about the integration processes on the African Continent, the potential of regional markets and national development initiatives.
Members of diplomatic missions also noted the greatly unrealised potential of cooperation between Russia and African countries, and interest in attracting investments in infrastructure, education and many other sectors.
They called for a wider interaction between African business circles and Russian businesses.
During the discussion, the participants mentioned high import duties, complicated certification procedure, high cost of products, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and information vacuum as some of the barriers to Russian-African trade and economic cooperation. However, the participants agreed on the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for Russia to work with Africa.
Curating a Vision with Young African Entrepreneurs
How can young people be involved in creating a future of work that is decent, equitable and bright? This November I was fortunate enough to take part in an event with this mandate at its heart.
The Youth Entrepreneurship and Self-Employment Forum (YES Forum) in Dakar, Senegal was co-organised by the ILO and our partners in the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth. It was a collaborative effort supporting young entrepreneurs in the region, and it was a joy to see this vision becoming real during the two-day event – with young entrepreneurs shining at different stages of the YES Forum.
More than 30 young entrepreneurs took on active speaking roles across the discussion sessions, a “Dragon’s Den” style pitching competition, and the Marketplace. This Marketplace offered participants the opportunity to float in between booths and to have one-on-one interactions with the presenting entrepreneurs and organisations.
The vibrant tone was set at the very start, with all participants given hand-made, customised notebooks, the product of an all-female team led by entrepreneur Ndey Fatou Njie for her business TIGA Gambia. TIGA Gambia is now an all-around fashion and accessories retailer, but originally zoomed in on providing locally-inspired swimwear – a large market gap that Ndey spotted and filled!
Not only were the TIGA Gambia notebooks a showstopper, they were also a colourful and popular extension of the empowering message of the YES Forum.
The innovative and vibrant spirit of entrepreneurs in their element was palpable all through the Forum, but shone particularly during the networking lunch and the Marketplace. It was difficult to lure the participants back into the plenary after these events, because they were so busy talking, forging synergies and building contacts.
While the young entrepreneurs embraced their speaking opportunities to the fullest, they also created a wonderfully inclusive setting that allowed everyone’s successes to be seen and recognised. I was particularly touched when the pitching competition winner, Malick Diouf, CEO of LAfricaMobile, immediately called his three competitors onto the stage to congratulate them on their incredible work.
Malick was humble about his win but his company deserves a special shout-out. LAfricaMobile serves as a digital bridge between African media publishers and organizations wanting to disseminate their content to the African diaspora. As a comms aficionado I was particularly impressed by how effortless their SMS service is in helping the African diaspora connect to what is going on in their home countries.
All in all, the YES Forum left a lasting impression on me for two reasons: Firstly because of the level of mutual support and cooperation that the young entrepreneurs showed, and secondly because the Forum truly catered for these young entrepreneurs and allowed them to share their stories and to explore collaboration. I believe it will leave a lasting result – of stronger alliances and greater empowerment.
Mariama Johm, founder of Afri Taste, a Banjul health joint that combats fruit and vegetable waste, summed up the atmosphere in her remarks during the Young Global Entrepreneurs panel: “I am glad we have the youth actually speaking here. We, young entrepreneurs, want to speak and let policymakers hear from us – not only here, but we want to make governments take into consideration what we are saying and that they should not make decisions on our behalf.”
Easing US-China trade tensions could save millions of jobs
Millions of jobs in the Asia and Pacific region have been put at risk by conflicts over trade, despite a recent agreement not to escalate tit-for-tat tariffs by the United States and China, according to a new regional UN report.
The 2018 Asia-Pacific Trade and Investment Report, issued by the UN’s development arm in the region, ESCAP, suggests that an escalating “tariff war” and resulting drop in confidence next year, could cut nearly $400 billion from the global gross domestic product, drive regional GDP down by $117 billion.
“As production shifts take place and resources are reallocated across sectors and borders due to the trade conflicts, tens of millions of workers may see their jobs displaced and be forced to seek new employment,” said Mia Mikic, the head of Trade, Investment and Innovation Division at ESCAP.
That said, the report also noted trade tensions have already had had a major impact, resulting in disruptions to existing supply chains and dampening investment. Trade growth slowed after the first half of 2018, and foreign direct investment (FDI) flows to the region are also expected to continue on a downward trend next year, following a 4 per cent drop overall this year.
In such a scenario, regional investment will be key to creating new economic opportunities, says Ms. Mikic, adding that “complementary policies” such as labour, education and retraining, and social protection measures must be placed high on the policymaking agenda.
This is also critical for ensuring progress on implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she said.
ESCAP has also called on countries to take full advantage of all existing initiatives to strengthen regional cooperation, including a new UN treaty on digitalizing trade procedures and enabling cross-border paperless trade in the zone.
‘Trade war’ has no winners
The report has also underscored that neither China nor the US can win a “trade war”, explaining that “both will see significant economic losses from continuing conflict.”
It also finds that implementation of mega-regional trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, among the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its six partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea – could offset much of the economic losses from trade tensions.
The 2018 report estimates that implementation of such agreements could boost exports by 1.3 to 2.9 per cent and add 3.5 to 12.5 million jobs in the Asia-Pacific.
ESCAP, or the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific is largest among UN regional commissions. Its 53 member States and 9 associate members span a geographic area from the Pacific island of Tuvalu in the east to Turkey in the west, and Russia in the north to New Zealand in the south. The region is home to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population.
In addition to countries in the Asia-Pacific region, ESCAP’s membership also includes France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the US.
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