Relations between Turkey and The Gambia have reached such a level that Ankara’s support can be seen in every sector of the West African nation.
The two countries enjoy strong ties in many fields, including education, internal security, healthcare and infrastructural development, according to Turkish Ambassador to The Gambia Ismail Sefa Yuceer.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency in the Gambian capital Banjul, Yuceer highlighted Turkey’s activities in the country, pointing to the “very warm relations” that were established in 1965, when Gambia gained independence from British colonial rule.
Yet it took 45 years to open Gambia’s diplomatic mission in Ankara. Gambia opened its embassy in Turkey in 2010 while Turkey opened its mission in Banjul in 2011.
Relations in education, health sectors
Yuceer underscored that Turkish-Gambian cooperation in military training and security sectors has expanded over time to other areas.
For example, along with the state-run Turkiye Scholarships programme, many public and private universities offer scholarships for Gambian students, he said.
More than 150 Gambian students are currently studying in Turkey, most of whom are scholarship holders, he noted.
In addition, many students are currently studying in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, he said.
In the health sector, 25 Gambian patients with irreversible diseases like severe heart disease, liver malfunctions and other serious disorders are treated in Turkey every year under an agreement between the two countries’ health ministries.
These patients are being treated in hospitals in Turkey under full financial support from the Turkish government, Yuceer said.
Training for police, protocol officers
Yuceer also highlighted the strong ties in military cooperation and training.
“A lot of Gambian police officers graduated from the Turkish Police Academy in recent years. There are many Gambian police officers currently studying at our police academy,” he said.
The Turkish Police Department also organised six special training programmes this year for the Gambian police, according to Yuceer.
“Around 30-40 people participated in every training programme. The training courses included the fight against terrorism, airport security, traffic safety and other related security issues,” he said.
In addition, the Turkish Police Department will hold two training programmes in Ankara and two in Banjul later this month for the Gambian police.
Two weeks ago, a team from the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s General Directorate of Protocol also visited Banjul and offered three days of training for Gambian Foreign Ministry officials.
“One of the main aims of the training is to provide Gambia with capacity building and training during the period of its presidency of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in late 2019,” he said, which involved developing the capacity of institutions in Gambia and ensuring preparations for the OIC Summit to be held in early November in Banjul.
On Gambia’s presidency of the OIC, Yuceer said Ankara would provide all kinds of support during its three-year term.
“In this context, our training programs will continue,” he said.
Hospital and medical training
Yuceer said the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) provided Gambia with 20 buses last year to meet its public transport needs.
“This is obviously costly support. IBB provided the buses and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (Tika) provided the transportation support for these buses from Turkey to Gambia.”
Tika is also working on plans to build a 50-bed hospital in Banjul and an additional parliament building that would consist of offices for 58 Gambian lawmakers.
“These buildings will be constructed in the coming period,” he said, without providing a specific date.
He asserted that Turkey has long been supporting Gambia’s health sector by providing free treatment to Gambian patients and training to doctors.
Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, Tika and the Islamic Development Bank are working on the establishment of four advanced laboratories at the University of Gambia, he said, adding the $1.2 million project will be completed in 2020.
Gambian doctors have also been given short and long-term training in certain subjects by a Turkish university under an agreement with Gambia’s Health Ministry, Yuceer said.
“Last year, for example, a delegation of doctors from Yildirim Beyazit University visited Gambia for two weeks, providing training to Gambian doctors and treatment in Gambian hospitals,” he said.
Trade relations, energy supply
On relations in trade and commerce, Yuceer noted that the trade volume is not that high as Turkey had only $45 million in exports to Gambia in 2018.
“Although this is a good figure for Gambia’s economy, the amount is a modest figure for Turkey,” he said.
Turkey’s national flag carrier Turkish Airlines launches two flights per week to the Gambian capital, which the ambassador believes will boost bilateral trade. The airline will increase the flights to three per week soon.
The Istanbul-Banjul direct flights will also strengthen Gambia’s connections with the outside world and the international system through which Gambian trade would gain momentum, he said.
Despite the low trade volume, Turkey provides around 30-40 percent of Gambia’s total electricity needs, he said, noting that Turkey’s floating power plant the MV Karadeniz Powership Dogan Bey has been supplying around 37 megawatts of energy to Gambia since March last year.