Erdogan eyes rail bid, Gulen schools on Tanzania visit

January 24, 2017 (5 weeks ago)
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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Tanzanian counterpart John Pombe Magufuli arrive at State House in Dar es Salaam on January 23, 2017/AFP

, DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Jan 24 – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a visit to Tanzania Monday focusing on a bid to build a $7.6 billion (7.1-billion-euro) railway and on concern over schools run by dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen.

A Tanzanian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a bid by a Turkish firm to build a railway linking Dar es Salaam to neighbouring countries would be a key issue under discussion with Erdogan.

The contract had initially been awarded to a consortium of Chinese companies.

But it was cancelled due to irregularities in the tender process shortly after President John Magufuli was elected.

The Turkish firm is the only remaining bidder, as the Chinese consortium was disqualified from re-entering the race.

It is thus set to win the tender but there are doubts whether China’s Exim bank, which finances external development projects, will still fund the railway’s construction.

Erdogan’s visit also comes as Tanzania looks to new sources for budgetary support and concessional loans, after several donor countries in 2015 withdrew their support over a high-level corruption scandal.

“The government is turning to Turkey as a possible source of concessional loans and investments,” the government official said.

The Tanzanian government said earlier this month it would have to turn to India and China to borrow $939 million in concessional loans.

For Erdogan, a priority will be to drum up support against charities and schools affiliated with a movement run by Gulen, a US-based cleric whom Ankara accuses of subversion.

“We will raise the issue of FETO’s activities in African countries like Tanzania, Mozambique and others,” Erdogan told reporters before the trip, referring to Gulen’s network which he dubs the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO).

The five-day tour will also take him to Mozambique and Madagascar.

Turkish officials accuse Gulen of using his vast private education network to build influence and of running a “parallel state” inside Turkey.

Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, vehemently denies the allegations. A reclusive figure, he has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.

His Hizmet movement describes itself as promoting Islam through charity efforts and educational work in countries stretching from Turkey to Africa and Central Asia to the United States.

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