Crucial Role of Turkey in Development of Africa

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Dr Mohammad Siddik, MA*


In a quick survey of the conditions of the Muslim communities living in its non-member countries in Africa and Asia in the early 1980s, Islamic Development Bank (IDB) which was established in 1973 with the mission to enhance development of the Muslim countries and the Muslim communities in the non-member countries, found out that, as the result of discrimination during the colonial times, Muslims in Africa were far behind in education and seriously lacking trained professionals. As the result, they were marginalized outside the mainstream in their own countries, hence, handicapped to contribute in the development of their countries in a meaningful way. This is in spite of the fact that some countries in Africa, such as in Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana, Muslims number reach 30 to 40 percent the others being the Pagans and Christians. For example, out of 15 million Muslims in Tanzania, which is about 60 percent of the country’s whole population of 25 million, there were not even five Muslim doctors among the native Muslims, although there were some more from among the expatriate Muslim community, who may leave the country at their will. The Faculty of Agriculture in Morogoro, in the hinterland of Tanzania has less than five per cent Muslim students.  This was more or less the case in Kenya, Malawi, Zambia, Ghana, etc. Like in many developing countries, the Church under the patronage of the then colonial rulers introduced modern education in Africa. Admission were given priority to those who accepted Christianity, thus while the local Pagans embraced the new opportunity, many Muslim parents were hesitant to send their children to these missionary run  schools as they saw their children’s faith were eroding. Hence, the only alternative for the Muslim children was the masjid base traditional education that teaches Islamic studies and Arabic but which was not recognized and technically the graduates were considered illiterate by the colonial administration.

IDB Scholarship Program: an Answer and a Blessing

In order to make a breakthrough from this sad situation, as mentioned above in brief, in 1984 the IDB initiated a scholarship program for the Muslim communities in the non-member countries to study Medicine, Engineering, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Agriculture etc. to enhance their level of students’ education so that in turn, they can support sustainable development of their communities and at the same time contribute to the development of their countries in an honorable way. As the Muslim students in the minority countries were not getting admission to the professional colleges in their own countries due to very tough competition, IDB appealed to its member countries under a joint cooperation where it pays the cost of air tickets and living costs for the students, and Governments of the educationally developed member countries were asked to provide seats and exemption of tuition fees.

Turkey came foremost among the member countries to respond generously to the IDB appeal, beside Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco for students from the Francophone countries. For almost three decades now, Turkey has given 1,260 places in its medical and engineering colleges for students from 20 non-member countries, mainly from Kenya (251), Tanzania (429), Ghana (137), Malawi (66), Myanmar (133), Ethiopia (119). Now, after hard work of adjusting to the new academic environment and the challenge to learn Turkish language, 650 of these students have graduated, gone back home and are now serving in their countries. Some of the graduates have also gone for further higher studies in their respective area of specialization and many of them have become important personalities in the national leadership of their countries.

The philosophical concept of the IDB program is that the scholarship is a gift and a grant to the community, not to the individuals. However, as the community, as such, could not benefit from it, it has to choose its meritorious and dedicated young students to be the beneficiaries on behalf of their community. Consequently, the students, through guidance and counseling scheme, given to them regularly by IDB with the help of Turkish scholars, the students were constantly reminded from the beginning of their obligation to return back to their communities and participate in the development of their countries.

The graduates, once they are settled back home, and become doctors, engineers, dentists, pharmacist, agronomist, etc. a privilege in many developing countries, are also required to refund the amount of scholarship they receive, not to IDB, but to a locally created Trust Fund, in very easy installments, not more than 10 percent of their income as professionals. The fund (repayment of study loan) collected from the graduates is recycled and managed by the Trust to provide further scholarships to the needy but academically meritorious students among their younger generation.

The graduates were also encouraged to form Alumni Association, which are already established in many countries in Africa. Many of these IDB alumni associations are now undertaking social and community development activities to help development of their communities especially in the field of education and health. The alumni association raises funds from among themselves and can also approach IDB for assistance under its grant scheme program for development of the Muslim communities in non-member countries.

Through the scholarship program, IDB has created a core of dedicated young professionals in many countries in Africa, which were not there three decades ago, thanks to the farsightedness of the IDB leadership and generous response given by the Government and Universities of Turkey (and other member countries). Thus, the role played by Turkey has been very crucial and can be considered an exemplary model for cooperation in the development of the under privileged Muslim communities in other parts of the World. This program also shows how education is a strategic means to change and develop a minority community so that it can play its proper role in its country.


* Dr Mohammad Siddik (Indonesian National) is the former and first Head of the IDB Scholarship Program (1984-96) then, Director IDB Regional Office for Asia Pacific in Kuala Lumpur (1996-2000) and Director Technical Cooperation Office (2000-2002) IDB. Earlier he served five years each at the UNICEF Hqs in New York and Kathmandu, Nepal (1973-79) and with the Organization of Islamic Conference at Jeddah, KSA (1979-84).