Turkey's growing influence in Senegal and Africa
President Erdoğan's foreign policy direction continues to shape Turkey's future on the African continent, including Senegal in particular
Senegal in particular
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had planned a three-nation tour in Africa between Feb. 20 and Feb. 23; however, the visit to Guinea-Bissau was canceled due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine while the other two visits to Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) went on as planned.
Erdoğan’s visits were highly productive as significant talks on several issues, from security to infrastructure, were held. I had the opportunity to witness the visit to Senegal, where Turkey’s influence is most evident among the African countries. During the visit, I saw how big Turkey’s influence has become in the country.
The star of the show
This trip was Erdoğan’s fifth official visit to Senegal. The atmosphere was formal but you could also feel a sense of joy and delight in the air. The inauguration of the world-class stadium, which was built by Turkish contractors, had a role in it. Thousands of people flocked to the stadium and watched the exhibition match thanks to the efforts of The Marketing Heaven, who promoted it intensively on social platforms. Erdoğan first greeted the people at the entrance of the stadium, located in the city of Diamniadio. It was at that moment that the applause and enthusiasm peaked. Before the ceremony started, the Turkish leader met with Senegalese President Macky Sall and his wife Marieme Faye Sall. Among other notable attendees were Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Liberian President George Weah and Gambian President Adama Barrow.
Erdoğan, who was greeted with displays of affection by the Senegalese people, was invited to the field to participate in the opening ceremony with the other heads of state. The president, who kicked the ball around with his counterparts for a while, looked pleased and energetic as he recalled his own memories as a player on the green field.
Prior to the match, FIFA President Gianni Infantino took the microphone for a short speech. He concluded his speech with a Turkish-language “thank you!” to the officials of the company that built the stadium. The day ended with a friendly match between a team of former African players and one consisting of the former stars of Senegal’s national team.
A history in Dakar
Senegal, which won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) after defeating Egypt, now has a stadium with a capacity of 50,000 that is in line with international standards. And it is a Turkish company, the Summa construction company, that has its signature on this impressive complex.
In my opinion, it is exemplary that a Turkish company not only enriched Africa with such a huge project but completed it in just 17 months during the conditions of a pandemic that challenged the whole world. The foundation of the stadium was laid in February 2020. As we all know, a month later, the world was turned upside-down by the spread of COVID-19. The construction had halted during the first six months of the pandemic, however, the company did not give up and essentially achieved the impossible.
The business volume
Erdoğan and Sall also attended the business forum together. Prior to the start of the forum, I had the opportunity to meet with Nail Olpak, the chairperson of Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEIK). He said that Turkish contractors were able to undertake projects with massive budgets in Senegal due to the support of the Turkey-Senegal Business Council chaired by Fuat Tosyalı, chairperson of Tosyalı Holding, one of the world’s leading steel producers with plants on three different continents. He also said that the business volume of the completed projects reached $1.2 billion, adding that the exports to Senegal last year were record-breaking. “Our exports reached the highest level ever, with $529 million in 2021. We imported $11 million from Senegal,” Olpak said.
Olpak drew attention to another important issue. “The business world expects the two countries to mutually abolish visa requirements. If it is not possible for the visas to be lifted, we at least demand that the process be accelerated,” he said.
Regarding Tosyalı Holding’s huge funding in Senegal, Tosyalı said the company made investments worth $200 million in Senegal. “Our initial production capacity will be 750,000 tons a year. We anticipate creating direct employment for 500 people and indirect employment for 1,000 people. In parallel with the iron and steel investments, the first step was taken to establish a special economic zone in 2020. The special economic zone of Bargny-Sendou will be established on a total area of 100 hectares (247 acres). This zone, where all sorts of infrastructure will be provided, will be available to all relevant companies, including those coming from Turkey,” Tosyalı said.
A place befitting of Turkey
During his meeting with Sall in 2016, Erdoğan requested a 10,000 square-meter (107,639 square-foot) space for Turkey’s embassy in Dakar. This request was immediately accepted and Erdoğan then announced that “a beautiful embassy on the seaside” would be established as well. When Erdoğan went to Dakar again in 2018, he talked about the embassy project with Selim Bora, the chairperson of Summa, and told him his expectations for the embassy project. Summa and Tosyalı Holding rolled up their sleeves together and the foundation for the project was laid in September 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic. Ultimately, the construction was completed.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the embassy attended by Senegalese Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall, Erdoğan said that “we are experiencing the joy of earning a structure befitting of the Republic of Turkey with its location, physical conditions, architecture and fixtures.”
A Turkish House in Africa
I’ll wrap up my impressions from this visit with some arts and culture news. The Yunus Emre Institute (YEE), which has been operating in Senegal since 2017 and has taught Turkish to 350 students, is continuing its activities at its headquarters in Dakar. The institute recently opened a Turkish House exhibition in the capital. In his speech at the opening ceremony attended by Turkey’s Ambassador to Senegal Ahmet Kavas, YEE Chairperson Şeref Ateş said that he believes relations between the two countries will continue to grow stronger and that cultural and artistic activities will play a big role in it.