Turkiye’s Ambassador to Senegal Ahmet Kavas expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the 3rd Turkiye-Africa Partnership Summit held in Istanbul on Dec. 16-18 last year.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Kavas reminded that Turkiye’s relations with Africa date back a millennium. He also foresees a bright future for Turkiye and Africa’s friendship.
Expressing his confidence in the growth of African economies in the coming years, he predicts that African countries will achieve financial independence by the middle of this century.
Welcoming the economic independence of Africa that is emerging, Kavas thinks the economic growth of Africa will make the continent more prominent in the world.
While noting that the development of agri-food activities is promising for the continent, he also called on Turkish businessmen to put the latest technologies at the service of Africans and the African economy.
Q: Do you think that the Turkiye-Africa Partnership Summit has achieved its goals, especially in terms of strengthening African-Turkish cooperation? As a result of Turkiye-Africa relations, the Africa Action Plan was created in 1998 and 2005 was declared “Africa Year” in Turkiye, while in 2008, the African Union declared Turkiye a “strategic partner.” How do you evaluate developments since then?
A: The Turkiye-Africa Partnership Summit is actually an indication that progress has been made in some areas before the target because the African public normally receives all kinds of communication from Western-based media agencies. News that can be considered anti-Turkiye actually does not affect policymakers and opinion leaders in Africa much anymore.
Relations, which were kept at a very low level, started based on diplomacy and opened serious areas for itself with serious economic moves. While non-governmental organizations provide services to all of the continent’s societies under the most difficult conditions, our organizations such as TIKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency), the Diyanet Foundation and Kizilay (Turkish Red Crescent) appeal to different segments of the continent, especially by going beyond the capitals.
In the field of education, Yunus Emre Institutes are now proving themselves alongside Maarif Schools. There will be tens of thousands of African students studying at universities in our country, most of them with their own means. It is too early to say that we have yet to open the necessary areas of activity for the media.
In 2005, some authorized diplomats at the Far East and Sub-Saharan Africa Desk at the Foreign Ministry could call this process a dream. The most common expression did not go beyond saying what we have to do in Africa. In fact, this determination was the expression of a fact. So we don’t have anything yet. Brave entrepreneurs of our unrivaled business and trade world say that there is so much to do in Africa and we will be here for sure.
Some European countries such as Portugal struggled for centuries to penetrate Africa. Processes are going back one and a half to two centuries for France and England. As of the end of 2021, Turkiye exceeded its targets in its contacts with African countries. At the end of 2007, an experienced diplomat who spent his life at different levels of foreign affairs, including the embassy, said we do not have enough diplomats to open a new embassy in the world, not on this continent. However, we opened 32 embassies alone in Africa in 12 years.
Q: What do the success of this summit and the creation of an action plan between Africa and Turkiye for the period 2022-2026 mean in strengthening this cooperation? What does this promise for the future? Which areas and fields of activity will become privileged in the coming years?
A: Of course, it is said that the target set for 2022-2026 mutual trade is to exceed $50 billion. I anticipate that it will go beyond this. We came to $30 billion from $3-$5 billion. I think it would be much easier to double $30 billion. The first goal in diplomacy was to increase our representation from 12 to 20 embassies. We had only eight embassies. Actually, at the time, I believed that it should be 32 with 20 additions. For years, there has been a development beyond my knowledge of Africa. Africa is a fertile continent that does not turn someone away empty-handed. It’s a very generous continent.
However, the greed to exploit the continent is causing many outsiders to be ungrateful. No other country can implement Turkiye’s approach even if they want to. Because, as in history, it comes first to bring in, then to earn due to the conditions of the natural process. Win-win politics is the general rhetoric. That’s welcome to everyone. However, a strong state and a newly strengthened state cannot win at the same rate.
Africa is forced into an arrangement that has always been a continent of consumption and has been compelled to follow the developments required by the modern age, decades behind the developed states. Africa is not just consuming anymore. It is producing while consuming. It has started to market what it produces to the foreign market not as much as the domestic market. As the gap between the two decreases, that is, as Africa’s exports of manufactured goods increase, the continent will become self-sufficient in the middle of the 21st century and remove the pressures on it.
The goals for the most viable future for us and the world are to be a pioneer in technology and to be the main supplier of investments in Africa, like all continents, with the technology of the day. The food industry will be an unstoppable area for Africa. The whole world will no longer receive African products like additives but as manufactured substances. If anyone dares to invest in agriculture and animal husbandry on the continent, it means that they have made the most logical investments soon.
Again, Africa stepped into the fourth industrial revolution, the last of the industrial revolutions, in which it was excluded from the developments in the world in the first three. There are very rapid developments. In the near future, African investors will take their place as serious product suppliers to the world — not as a customer, but as a marketer.
Q: In the European press, including Turkish media, Turkiye is often presented as a newcomer to the continent, in contrast to the former colonial powers located in Africa. What is the accuracy of this? Didn’t Turkiye develop relations with Africa in its more distant past?
A: Unfortunately, few educated people in Turkiye know and promote themselves properly and have comprehensive knowledge in the field of media. They have little to no accumulation. Theses which still perceive the continent as Japanese, Chinese, or Russian and even describe it according to the approaches of these states are among the most weighty subjects of academic studies.
All the Mediterranean and the Red Sea coasts of Africa, starting from Egypt and extending to the coasts of South Africa in the east, to the coasts of Mauritania in the west, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the middle, and even the west of the Indian Ocean were the areas that the navies of the Ottoman sailors ruled.
Now, when we look at these seas from an airplane, we cannot believe it. How they got here with oars and sails. Neither our African friends nor those who are curious from other continents are aware of the historical ties, of our familiarity with this continent unless we understand it well enough.
Imagine, in the 1850s, our officers were given military training in the local Wadai Empire in today’s Chad. Is it the same today? Except for Somalia. Our trade caravans from Tripoli to Nigeria were in contact with the communities of the Lake Chad Basin every year. Contacts were being made from the Red Sea coast to Darfur, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
When we consider Turkiye in the 20th century, unfortunately, except for the contacts established with Ethiopia after the Tripoli War, we had embassies in the former Ottoman states that gained independence in the 1950s like Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, apart from the Kingdom of Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of South Africa. We had short-term embassies in Tanzania, Ghana and Somalia. Representationally, they were not bad, but a total of 11 or 12 embassies for 54 countries were very few.
Turkiye must have something to say for every region of Africa, a bond to be established. It would be very beneficial to have embassies in the Central African Republic, Malawi, Liberia, which has a large Muslim population, and in Malawi, whose population is all Muslim, and on the island of Mauritius, which is one-third Muslim.
Q: As an academician and Turkiye’s ambassador to Senegal, what can you tell us about the history of the relations between the two countries, the current situation and future developments of the relations between the two countries?
A: First of all, both sides, namely Turkiye and its interlocutor, each African country, should review their historical ties with the Turks. Even if there is a clue, it will definitely be a starting point in these bilateral relations. Maybe today it will not be possible for Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana and Sao Tome and Cape Verde and Seychelles, but we have a history that will definitely establish historical ties with 45 countries.
As for Senegal specifically, the formation of this state within its current borders belongs to the colonial period, so the 19th century. The local communities of the country mostly lived in the Senegal Basin, which is the common natural border with Mauritania and Mali, and suitable for the living conditions of the past centuries.
Since they became Muslims in the 11th century, like all Sub-Saharan African Muslims, Senegalese people always had contacts with the Ottomans due to both pilgrimage expeditions and trade caravans, especially in the 16th century on their way to the Hejaz as part of the administrative presence of the Turks in Egypt, which started with the Tolunogullari (Tulunids) in 860. It is almost impossible for us to illuminate these periods.
The second important contact begins in the colonial period. Especially the French brought many professional Ottomans to Senegal and West Africa from the cities of Beirut and Syria, which were still Ottoman provinces in the 19th century. Although there were few with Turkish ancestries among them, they all came with Ottoman passports, and most of them had Arab origins.
An honorary consulate was opened in Dakar in the early 1900s to continue its contacts with Istanbul. One of our first embassies that was opened in Sub-Saharan Africa after independence is in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and it has been nearly 60 years since our first embassy began to operate in 1963. I started my duty in June 2020 as the 18th ambassador of the Republic of Turkiye to Dakar. When I came to Dakar as a doctoral student in 1993, our embassy building here was bought by President Turgut Ozal a year earlier in 1992.
Only one Turkish family lived in Dakar. A second permanent Turkish family had not yet arrived here. With the African Initiative Action Plan, Dakar became a center of attraction. Our traders and investors showed interest by coming here in the mid-2000s. Today, after Somalia and Nigeria, our most modern large embassy building in Africa is being built in Dakar. It will be put into service on Feb. 22.
Our bilateral trade volume exceeded $500 million for the first time in 2021. The number of Senegalese students studying in Turkiye is moving towards 1,500. About 1,000 Senegalese students study in Maarif Foundation schools. Turkish Airlines (THY) has increased the number of flights from seven to 10 per week. Our companies, which have signed major projects, including airport construction, also undertake their operations.
In the food industry, we have the country’s largest producer of flour, animal feed, biscuits, wafers and creams. More than 20% of Senegal’s daily energy production is produced by a ship anchored in the port. Many of our construction companies and representatives from different sectors of our country are marketing products that appeal to the Senegalese market. Our institutions such as TIKA, the Maarif Foundation, the Yunus Emre Institute, Turkish Red Crescent delegation and THY also serve Senegalese.
*Writing by Gozde Bayar
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