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Turkey Upbeat About Bid to Take Over Top Gulen Schools in Kenya

Chairperson of Turkish Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Mr. Taha Ozhan (left) meets Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro on Tuesday in Nairobi. He was accompanied by Turkish envoy to Kenya Deniz Eke.

Turkey is optimistic that the Kenya government will soon allow a Turkish government foundation to take over ownership of educational institutions in the country linked to Turkish exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Turkey wants the schools named Light Academy and Light International School in Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi to be taken over by Maarif Educational Foundation and wrestled from the hands of Gulen, whom it accuses of plotting the failed coup in Turkey last year.

Despite lobbying for months by Turkey, including by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kenya is yet to act regarding the Gulen schools.

Visiting Chairperson of Turkish Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Mr. Taha Ozhan said among his top priorities was urging Kenyan authorities to allow Turkey to take over the Gulen schools.

“We raised that issue with Kenyan authorities and they are taking steps against the Gulen organisation. We look forward to seeing results soon. Our Kenyan counterparts share the same feelings with us on the issue,” he said in an interview at the Turkish Embassy during his 4-day visit that ended Thursday.

He added: “We advise our friends in Kenya and elsewhere to be aware of this group, and their institutions and organisations. They always have a hidden agenda. They are not in Kenya with good intentions. Their front-face is very much humanitarian and educational but behind the scenes, they infiltrate the state.”

During his visit, Mr Ozhan met Speakers of both houses of Parliament, chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees for security and foreign relations among other personalities where he made the case against Gulen activities in Kenya including running schools.

Turkish envoy to Kenya Deniz Eke said the transfer of the educational institutions to Maarif Foundation will be done without disruption of learning, while maintaining education quality, preserving jobs for teaching and non-teaching staff.

“The issue is being discussed in close cooperation between Turkey and Kenya. Our approach in dealing with the Gulen institutions varies in different countries in line with their priorities. So our approach is country-specific,” she said.

Since last year’s July failed coup, the Turkish government has mounted a global campaign against institutions linked to Gulen. In some countries, the schools have been closed down or taken-over by Maarif Foundation.

Through the Hizmet movement, Gulen operates hundreds of schools in at least 170 countries, including 1,043 private schools, 1,229 foundations and associations, 35 medical institutions, 19 unions and 15 universities.

Mr Ozhan also said Turkey and Kenya need to deepen their cooperation in tackling similar challenges facing them such as terrorism, refugees as well boost trade volumes.

He said Turkey’s activities in Somalia such as training of Somalia’s security forces, rebuilding roads, schools and hospitals will directly benefit Kenya by reducing the threat posed by Al Shabaab to the region.

He also called for enhanced Kenya-Turkish cooperation in handling the refugee crisis in the globe with a view of developing a joint roadmap of addressing the issue.

Turkey is hosting more than 3 million refugees mostly from Syria and spends at least Sh2 trillion a year (US$20 billion) to provide services to them. Kenya has been hosting more than 600,000 refugees from Somalia for decades.

The MP expressed concern about the trade between Turkey and Kenya which is a paltry Sh30 billion (US$300 million). He said the volume can be quickly boosted to more than Sh100 billion (US$ 1 billion) when cooperation is enhanced.   

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