Based on politic and economic struggles in other parts of the world, we can confidently say that Africa is very likely to become the destination for investment in the very near future. What is your point of view on this subject and how do you position The Gambia within the region?
Africa is a rising power and promising continent for all the countries that are already developed, even though there are some concerns raised. As far as the Turkish government is concerned, our perception changed towards the business and investment environment when we decided to come and invest in The Gambia.
Africa is in search of growth, organization and modernization, but natural and human resources are abandoned and diverted.
The African continent has recorded an annual growth rate of 5% over the last decade and this is expected to continue in the years ahead. 6 out of 10 of the fastest growing economies in the world are now in this continent. 70% of the people who live in countries that pursue growth rate in excess of 4% over the past decades are middle class, which is about 330,000,000 (three hundred and thirty million) people of this continent, which is quite an interesting fact. Trade between Africa and the rest of the world has increased by 200% since the year 2000. So these are quite impressive figures which reflect the reality. We also believe that we have a responsibility with African countries. The continent as a whole has an enormous potential and The Gambia lies in the centre.
Could you please tell us about the background and the historical relationship between Turkey and The Gambia?
Investing in the country is not only to develop commercial ties but also to provide economic gains, which also must be a strong dimension of humanitarian cooperation. And of course, in Turkey, the majority of the country is Muslim. We think this grants us an advantage to approach Muslim-populated African countries.
This fact automatically creates a kind of sympathy amongst people and we are also keen on some other social and political dimensions of the method. As we all know the situation of African countries, they are either under-developed or in the process of developing due to historical reasons, we decided to come here and start operations on one side with African people. This is because we always want to establish relations, which will be on equal bases with our African counterparts.
As mentioned earlier, Turkey's relations with the African countries started centuries ago. Even though the Turkish Republic is 90 years old, our embassy in Banjul was opened only two and half years ago. It is a young embassy with plans to scale up the size of the personnel and other facilities of the embassy. The embassy is currently renting for the past two years but the government of the Gambia has allocated us a very nice piece of land near the ocean.
Can we say that it was a late move to come to the Gambia considering the decade long cooperation between the two countries?
It was a bit late for Turkey to have an embassy in the Gambia considering the fact that Turkey was suffering from some political issues, a serious high rate of inflation and so on until the end of last decade. We had to put in the first place things in order at our home and luckily we achieved it to an important level of development.
Now is the right time to start cooperating with African countries. Traditionally we have always had embassies in African countries like Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, but particularly during the past decade we gradually increased the number of embassies to almost 40 in Africa and it gave us all we want.
The African priority are development issues which are among the reasons all African countries are making efforts to raise up their living standard, building infrastructures. But of course these are quite difficult targets to reach as they must achieve some foreign help for the investment. We want to do so, as well as investing in the Gambia and fortunately everyone thinks that we are very constructive type of people.
Yes, Turkey wants to invest in the Gambia and we believe that this can be beneficial to everybody who might be interested, including other partners, not only Turkey and the Gambia but also our European partners. Some of them are interested in the countries in the Middle East for example so we are open to all for something much larger in the Gambia and all African countries in general. This approach has become one of the main pillars of our new Foreign Policy pursued by the present Turkish Government under the leadership of H.E. President Erdogan.
The Gambia is quite a stable country. This is what we have observed for the past two decades and politically this stability gives a bigger opportunity to any foreign direct investment in the country. The Gambia government operates an open door policy as the top administration is opened to international cooperation. Due to the importance of international trade, Turkey has assumed the duty of facilitating bilateral relations between the Gambia and World Trade Organization.
From time to time, some experts and UN board members including the chairman visiting the Gambia have meetings discussing how to improve things in the country. Turkey is conducting this kind of duty for the Gambia at an international platform which is WTO.
I would like to ask about some existing projects implemented by Turkey aimed to contribute to the everyday Gambian life.
There is only one notable Turkish NGO in the country called TIKA which has been in the country for over 10 years now. They have executed different development and capacity-building projects including water wells in the most remote villages; they have contributed to the health sector and have even donated some fishing boats to the fishing villages in the remote areas just to help them raise their living standards. The Turkish embassy, early this year, also donated a huge amount of electronic equipment to the newly constructed Gambia Parliament house (National Assembly). That means Turkey supports democracy government in the Gambia as well, as we want them to improve. TİKA has also recently donated to the Gambia’s Health Ministry protective materials and electronic equipment worth of 500 .000 USD to be used in efforts aimed at keeping the Gambia as an ebola-free country, as is today.
It is very easy to see that Gambian people’s perception about Turkey is very positive…
That is true. The Turkish embassy is striving to develop it further and create a two-way bond. One way to facilitate this approach is through direct air connection between Istanbul and Banjul. The Turkish Airlines is on the verge of this but due to the current health situation, the Ebola virus disease which is still claiming lives not in the Gambia but in near abroad, this project has been postponed to a later time.
In the first place, airline connections mean more people, more trade and businesses which are crucial. Without having a direct connection between Istanbul and Banjul, it will be difficult to succeed to invest in the country, which is the obstacle investors or business people have complained about. In recent years people are tired of visiting old places and now they want to try something new.
What other investment plans does Turkey want to implement and what do they have to bring to the country and contribute to the development of bilateral relationship?
We have some on-going and upcoming projects in the Gambia and we are delighted by the fact that His Excellency President Yahya Jammeh is also making a general proposal, offering the potential to Turkish Investors. The country is an emerging tourism destination.
The Turkish government is also interested in the agricultural sector. They do not need a huge factory at the time being, instead a small size production facilities for 200 – 300 people. In those workplaces, they can produce, process and export their agriculture products in larger quantities with better prices. These numbers of fortune is an advantage not only for a country like Turkey to come and invest here but also others.
Turkish private sector companies have recently become quite active in infrastructure projects of the Gambia. Their main areas of interest are airport, seaport, hospitals, highways and roads construction projects.
This country has a rich tradition and history as well as a very strategic location in the sub-Saharan West African region which makes it a wonderful gate for all the countries to increase their trade volume in African countries. Gambia is a member of ECOWAS that has 15 member countries with a population of 300million. All together we can do much more for this country. When we look at the people, they are nice and open to everyone and to cooperate with third parties. Being in cooperation with The Gambia will facilitate everything for everyone, it is a just a matter of discussion.