Ergin Soner has been the Turkish ambassador to The Gambia since October2013. In this edition of The Diplomat, Sainey Marenah discussed with him issues of cooperation with The Gambia, Turkish interest in Africa as well as relations with EU and the US?
What is the state of Banjul-Ankara relations?
The two countries have extended the ongoing dialogue and fruitful cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, tourism, sustainable development, education, health, military and security. On the margins of the state visit of President Jammeh in February, the two countries signed 5 agreements on health, culture, sports education, technology, taxation and security cooperation. During the first Turkey-Gambia joint economic commission meeting, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on various issues of bilateral cooperation, and a memorandum of understanding on energy. Another aspect of the bilateral relations is the training that the Turkish Armed Forces [Taf] have been providing for The Gambia since 1991. Taf has made important contributions to the security and stability of The Gambia. Taf still continues to support The Gambia Armed Forces in their endeavours for modernisation. Taf gives special training courses for Gambian officers in Turkey so that the Gambia Armed Forces can contribute to the UN peacekeeping operation in all over the world.
Those areas of cooperation are on the domestic front. How about international issues?
Turkey and The Gambia have had remarkable cooperation in international organisations, mainly at the UN and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Gambia has always supported Turkey at the international level. Turkey has been a staunch supporter of The Gambia’s interests in those platforms. As a reflection of these relations, Turkey took the role of the donor facilitator for The Gambia in the context of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2012. Regarding education, each year the Turkish government allocates higher education scholarships to Gambian students. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducts diplomatic training courses for Gambian diplomats. In terms of security cooperation, Turkish National Police organises training courses for the security personnel of The Gambia. In terms of development cooperation, aid and assistance projects have been provided by the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency [TIKA] and Red Crescent, as well as several Turkish non-governmental organisations in The Gambia.
So one can say the Ankara-Banjul ties are deepening.
Turkey has close ties with the brotherly and friendly Gambia. Despite the geographical distance, The Gambia has always been a staunch supporter of Turkey at all international platforms. Moreover, The Gambia’s stability and its status as an important centre in Africa and as a re-export gate to the continent adds importance to Turkey relations with The Gambia. Therefore, The Gambia will continue to be a strategic friend of Turkey and Turkey is willing to further strengthen the bilateral relations and cooperation in all areas. The Gambian president Yahya Jammeh paid a state visit to Turkey in February 2014, which was his first to Turkey after 17 years. Two ships of the Turkish Naval Forces Barbarosa Maritime Task Force conducted a historic port visit to Banjul in April 2014. The first Turkey-Gambia Joint Economic Commission Meeting was held in Banjul in May 2014. On this occasion, the Turkish health minister, Mehmet Muezzinoglu, co-chair of the Joint Economic Commission visited Banjul. This was the first visit from Turkey to The Gambia at ministerial level. The vice-president Isatou Njie Saidy visited Turkey with a high level delegation including the new foreign minister Balla Jahumpa.
The past few years have seen the intensification of the competition for influence in Africa between Turkey, China, India, and US which led to Turkey-Africa summit. Why is Turkey seeking to deepen ties with Africa?
Turkey has had longstanding historical and cultural relations with the African continent dating back centuries. The first state founded by the Turks in Africa was the Tulunids, which ruled today’s Egypt in the 9th and 10thcountries. In the subsequent period, in the 16th century, the Ottoman navy commanded by Admiral Seydi Ali Reis defended the people of the Zanzibar against the occupying forces. Good relations were also established with the Kingdom of Timbuktu which was located around today’s Mali. Likewise, relations were established with the Kanem Empire that once occupied the territories of today’s Niger, Chad, northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Historical relations with north and northeast Africa have an exclusive place in the memories of our people. Africa is now in an impressive surge of growth, urbanisation and modernisation. The natural and human resources are abundant and diverse. When we examine some basic indicators as follows, we see a re-emerging Africa with many promising developments.
The continent has recorded an annual growth rate of 5 percent over the last decade and is expected to continue this trend in the coming years. Six out of 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in now Africa. Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by 200 percent since 2000. Most part of this new wealth is because of economic reforms, increased productivity, urbanisation and good governance while only a small part of the revenue is derived from usual commodities. In the social arena as well, we see rapid development. In 1980, only about 28 percent of Africans lived in cities. Today, 40 percent dwell in urban areas. It is expected to rise to 47 percent by 2025. Over the past decade school enrolment in Africa has increased by 50 percent. The continent has made a remarkable progress in its efforts to deepen democracy. The last decade has witnessed a series of successful elections and peaceful transfers of power. African countries have recorded significant progress in the field of regional cooperation and integration in pursuit of conflict prevention and economic development. Therefore, relations with Africa constitute one of the prime orientations of Turkish foreign policy. Being an Afro-Eurasian state, Turkey’s policy of opening up to Africa is not just the reflection of a transient political and economic expectation. On the contrary, it is the product of a process with strong historical and cultural aspects. It is, foremost, the expression and natural result of the firm feelings of friendship and partnership between Turkish and African people.
What support has Turkey provided to The Gambia since the infusion of new energy into Turkey –Gambian ties?
The Turkish Gendarmerie Force Training Centre in Banjul assisted the training of a good number of Gambian military personnel between 1991 and 2005. Based on this tradition, Turkish gendarmerie forces give special training courses for the Gambian officers in Turkey so that The Gambia Armed Forces can contribute to the UN peacekeeping operations all over the world. The Turkish government funded the construction of the GTTI foundry in 1999 and further assisted GTTI to modernise the foundry in 2006. Turkey took the role of donor facilitator for the Gambia in the context of the Enhanced Integrated Framework [EIF] of the World Trade Organisation [WTO] in September 2012. We would like to continue this role in order to deepen the bilateral economic relations with The Gambia. Moreover, we have rendered development aid to The Gambia, as part of our support programmed for the LDCS. In this regard, Turkey initiated a health for all fund to develop health projects in the republic of The Gambia, along with other 39 African countries. In the framework, the Turkish government allocated a budget of US$50,000 to launch a health project in The Gambia in November 2013. On the occasion of Turkish naval ships visit to Banjul port in April, we distributed 500 food packages and 10 wheel chairs to the needy Gambia people. Turkey procured and installed electronic equipment for the video and translation systems of the new building of the Gambia parliament in May. The government of turkey granted 10,000 Qur’ans to the high Islamic council of the Republic of The Gambia in May. Turkish government has provided 24 higher education scholarships for Gambian students for 2014-2015. Our health ministry and TIKA procured protective materials to support the efforts of The Gambia to prevent the Ebola disease. Additionally, TIKA has been conducting two separate projects for the construction of the Gambian police academy and improvement of Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. Our religious affairs directorate is planning to build an Ottoman-style, high-capacity mosque in Banjul in the near future.
You have been in the Turkish diplomatic service for almost 25 years. What is your assessment of relations with EU and US?
The EU is one of the successful examples of freedom, equality, fraternity projects in history. The main aim of our foreign policy continues to be achieving full EU membership. If Turkey becomes a member of the EU, it will prove that the EU is not a Christian club. At the same time, it will also be proved that those fundamental principles of the French revolution are not only limited to some countries, and that those principles do not reflect romanticism at a local dimension. All nations in the world, along with Turkish people, would like to see this. The US is a super-power and has been a close ally of Turkey since 1952. We have strategic relations with the US. In this regard, we expect the US as a super power to further protect the interests of the nations that are faced with injustice. We appreciate the fact that the US has been interested in the solution of the African countries’ problems.
With the election of Erdogan, what does the future hold for Turkey-Africa relations?
Turkey-Africa relations have gained substantial momentum since the declaration of Turkey as a strategic partner of the continent by the African Union in January 2008. Turkey has given further boost to its Africa policy as of 2013. We may describe this period as one wherein relations have been transformed into a mutually reinforced political–economic partnership. In this context, Turkey pursues a comprehensive and multi-layered policy in Africa. This policy will continue to be strengthened during President Erdogan’s term of its duty.]]>