Turkish Ambassador speaks on Turkey-Ghana relations

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Ghana-Turkey diplomatic relations actually date back to a few years after independence. However, the relations weren’t very active till about a decade ago. Over that period the relations have blossomed greatly on all levels. The strong growth of economic activity between the two countries over the years is testament to the deepening relationship between both sides. To better understand the view of the Turkish Government on its relations with Ghana Aboagye Mintah, sat with Turkish Ambassador Dr Ozlem Ergun ULUEREN. ,for a detailed interview on Ghana-Turkey relations as well as a few key issues on Turkish foreign relations. 

  • It’s been a few years now since you assumed the role as Turkey’s Ambassador in Ghana. What has been your general impressions about Ghana so far and how do you asses the long term impact of the Ghana-Turkey relations?

I am in my third year in Ghana, a prominent partner for Turkey in the sub-region. It is also fascinating to be a Turkish Ambassador in Ghana at this pivotal moment when AfCTFA is set to be a game changer. Let me touch upon our bilateral approach on the backdrop of our vision towards the continent.

As described by our President H.E. Mr.  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish foreign policy “reflects the enterprising spirit and humanitarian values of our nation”. Relations with the African continent has been one of the primary foreign policy orientations of Turkey. It took off with the announcement of 2005 as the “Year of Africa”. By now, we have established 42 Embassies across the Continent.  Our strategic partnership with the African Union since 2008 constitutes institutional cooperation framework. As stated by President Erdoğan at the fourth edition of Turkey-Africa Business Forum, “the essence of our relationship with Africa is sincerity, brotherhood and solidarity”. We believe in and support the approach that advocates “African solutions to African problems”.

Our friendship with Ghana also flourishes on this ground. We commend the special role that Ghana assumes in the history of the continent as well as her current efforts towards continental integration. With its abundant natural resources, vast potential in various areas, leading role in regional initiatives, democracy and stability fostered also with her ability to melt unique traditional values within modern state structure, Ghana has transformed itself into a key power in West Africa.

Turkey greatly values Ghana as a credible partner in the sub-region. We stand ready to advance Turkey-Ghana cooperation in all fields in line with the “Ghana Beyond Aid” vision of H.E. Mr. Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic of Ghana.

Empowerment of human capital is part of our vision. So far, Turkey has provided 454 university scholarships to Ghanaian students. Opening of the Maarif International School in Accra was another step forward.  Turkish Maarif Foundation operates 332 schools and dormitories, in 43 countries all over world, including a University in Albania.  They have 130 schools across the African continent, 64 of them are in 8 ECOWAS countries. The foundation is determined to gradually expand its activities in Ghana. Vocational and technical training will also continue to be in our focus in development assistance.  Covid-19 has compelled us to conduct these trainings virtually. We recently arranged online training programs on “Digitalization of the Civil Services” and “Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism” in cooperation with the relevant Ghanaian authorities.

Ghana and Turkey have enjoyed very cordial diplomatic and political relations dating back as far as our independence. There has been lots of high level engagements. More recently, our foreign minister Hon. Ayorkor Botchwey also visited Turkey. Could you give us a general overview of the how the Turkish Government perceives its relations with Ghana and if there are any immediate plans to bolster the relations any further?

Establishment of our diplomatic ties dates back to Ghana’s independence. Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the re-opening of our Embassy in Accra. During the last decade, our bilateral relations have been enhanced across the whole spectrum of areas for cooperation.

The visit of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of the Republic of Turkey to Ghana in 2016 marked a turning point in our bilateral relations.

The visit of  Mrs. Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration in January 2020 was the first official visit from Ghana to Turkey at Foreign Ministerial level.  A strong economic segment also highlighted the visit.

During the last decade, Turkey-Ghana relations have consistently evolved in a positive trajectory. There is ample potential for further cooperation, and we are eager to collaborate with our Ghanaian counterparts to explore more.

We have a high capacity manufacturing industry, which is particularly relevant considering the increasing potential with the arrival of AfCFTA. We value our relationship, and will continue to work towards enhanced bilateral cooperation based on mutual interests and win-win approach.

  • According to data from the Turkish Statistics Institute, the Ghana-Turkey trade volume shot up to a record $771 million in 2020, with both sides experiencing strong export growth. This was despite the acute effect of the pandemic on both economies. Could you educate us a little on what accounted for such strong growth despite the overwhelming mitigating circumstances?

In 2019, Ghana became Turkey’s third biggest trading partner in the Sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, despite pandemic conditions, bilateral trade volume reached the highest ever level with 771 million Dollars, elevating Ghana to the 2nd row. It is worth mentioning that Ghana’s export to Turkey increased by 187% in 2020.  These figures display the mutual potential. We are determined to elevate our bilateral trade volume to 1 billion USD as set by President Erdoğan during his visit in 2016. Indeed, establishment of a logistic center which may also serve the whole region is under consideration.

Thanks to our dynamic production capacity, we have a strong position in the global production and logistics networks. According to the OECD Report from fall last year, Turkey is among the least affected countries from the global economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This proves our economy’s resilience to current challenges. In 2019, our export volume reached a record high of 180.7 billion USD. Automotive, petrochemical, and the electronics industries have risen in importance and surpassed the traditional textiles and clothing industries within our export mix. Last year, despite the pandemic related global recession, our export volume was recorded as 169.5 billion Dollars.

This picture also displays our capacity to partner with Ghana in the achievement of special development projects such as 111 hospitals, affordable housing and mechanization of agriculture. 

The Government of Ghana has made manufacturing a central theme in its economic agenda especially with its flagship one district one factory initiative. Turkey is globally renowned for its manufacturing and industrial prowess.  Given your Government’s strong interest in economic partnerships with countries in Africa, are there any plans to take advantage of this policy especially with the AfCFTA now active?

There is ample potential for further cooperation, and we are eager to collaborate with our Ghanaian counterparts to explore all avenues in this regard. Turkish companies have a good standing in Ghana, and more are interested to establish partnerships. Turkish investments in Ghana has an estimated value around 112 million Dollars. In addition to the existing investments in energy, construction, healthcare, logistics and water treatment sectors, agriculture, processed food, mining, renewable energy, textile, affordable housing, tourism and aviation are potential new areas of cooperation.

We have a high capacity manufacturing industry, which is particularly relevant considering the increasing potential with the arrival of AfCFTA. Turkish companies can become instrumental in the implementation of the flagship projects such as “One District, One Factory” and “Planting for Food and Jobs”. I believe the Memorandum of Understanding, signed between DEİK and AGI in May 2019 will prompt new prospects in this regard.

Turkey ranks second in the number of construction companies building the largest volume of projects across the world. You can see the fingerprints of Turkey in big development projects across the continent. They stand out as potential partners in Ghana’s efforts to improve infrastructure to facilitate growth.

We see abundant potential to cooperate with Ghana in her quest to gear up the Ghanaian economy into an export oriented one and build up infrastructure to gain a more competitive position within the AfCTFA. Thus, we continue to engage businesses and stakeholders on both sides. We expect visits of business delegations in the upcoming period. The Turkey-Africa Business Forum to be held in Turkey this year will be a timely event to discuss various opportunities.

  • Turkey is one of the foremost tourist destinations globally, attracting a record 50 million people in 2019 alone. How has Turkey developed its Tourism sector so impressively and in what ways can Ghana and Turkey deepen our collaborations as far as Tourism is concerned?

Anatolia, the cradle of many civilizations, is blessed with natural beauties and diverse cultural assets. There are 18 UNESCO Cultural heritage sites across Turkey.

In 2019, we hosted 51.7 million tourists, becoming the sixth most visited country in the world. We offer a variety of options in the sector such as health and well-being, sports, congress, gastronomic, faith, and culture, etc.

Turkey is a very well-connected country domestically and internationally, with Turkish Airlines flying to more countries than any other airline in the world. Turkish Airlines also connects African countries to the world via Istanbul.

We have been facing a global health crisis that has curbed tourism activities drastically.  Turkey has certified hotels, restaurants, culture, art and congress, coast tourism and ski tourism facilities in accordance with the UN World Tourism Organization’s global guidelines. Following the launch of the Safe Tourism Certification Program, we hosted nearly 16 million international visitors in 2020.

In the same vein, Turkish Airlines has been offering a safe and comfortable travel experience while observing Covid-19 protocols.  It has recently been awarded the Diamond Status by the APEXaasoc, health safety independent audit, for its efforts in ensuring the highest standards of hygiene and safety.  İstanbul Airport was granted “5 Star Airport” and “5 Star and Covid-19 Airport” by the international Aviation Organization Skytrax.

I had the opportunity to visit many of the touristic sites in Ghana. With her natural beauty and diverse culture, Ghana has the potential to become a tourism hot spot in the sub-region. Indeed, figures from 2019, the Year of Return underlines this potential. We stand ready to establish partnerships and share our experience in this sector with Ghana.

On issues of foreign policy, can you educate us on Turkey’s very strong involvement in the Libyan conflict and what has been achieved so far?

Turkey is located in a politically and economically volatile geography, and the international system is going through a transformative and unpredictable period. Under such circumstances, we are compelled to pursue an enterprising foreign policy that is flexible and resilient and is founded on the fundamental doctrine of “peace at home, peace in the world.”

We have deep-rooted relations with Libya. We support the legitimate, UN-recognized Government of Libya. Since the beginning, we have been promoting political dialogue to resolve the crisis. With this approach, we took action to prevent further chaos and preserve international legitimacy.

In line with the bilateral military and security cooperation arrangements with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Libya, our training and advisory support prevented the country from being dragged into civil war and also paved the way for the UN-led political process.

We continue our efforts in coordination with all parties, especially the UN, to maintain calm on the ground and advance an inclusive political process while supporting the work of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.

Turkey hosts more refugees than any other country. Over 4 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. At a time when many countries especially in Europe have done everything in their power to keep migrants and refugees out, Turkey has been praised not only for hosting all these people but adopting policies that will make them economically viable through vocational training and other schemes. How has the Turkish Government been able to achieve such commendable feats despite very little support from the International community?

It is estimated that around 80 million people all over the world have left their homes. Protecting refugees and other displaced people is both a legal and moral obligation. Therefore, it should be a shared goal of the international community. Equitable burden sharing, effective international cooperation and ability to develop a global response are three key elements to achieve this goal. Meanwhile no effort should be spared to overcome immense negative sentiment towards refugees. Pushing back migrants and refugees, building walls to stop them, chasing boats carrying refugees and adopting anti-migrant and xenophobic rhetoric only exacerbate the already precarious situation.

With our benevolent approach throughout history, Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, including 3.7 million Syrians and plays a leading role in addressing their urgent needs. As recently stated by the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, 3 out of every 10 Syrians reached with humanitarian assistance in 2020 were reached via Turkey.

We continue to improve the living conditions of Syrians and carry out projects and efforts for their harmonization with our society. What Turkey has done so far for Syrians should set an example for other countries and stakeholders. We have spent more than 40 billion US Dollars for the well-being of Syrians.

We not only provide all basic services including education but try to engage them in economic activities to support their self-sufficiency in our country through issuing work permits and engaging them in several local development projects.

Needless to say that host countries are under heavy burden. Their needs have to be met through international burden sharing and solidarity. We believe that it is high time the international community discussed more sustainable solutions for Syrian refugees. We think that most sustainable solution for Syrians is their safe, dignified and voluntary return to their country.

On the issue of the raging pandemic and the economic meltdown that has ensued, it appears Turkey seems to have done relatively better especially with regards the mortality levels. What is accounting for this?  

We are facing a global health emergency and no country is immune to it.

Turkey has been   fighting Covid-19 through institutional steps, medical protocols and all range of preventive measures such as school closures, travel restrictions, lock downs, curfews, and controlled social life, as deemed appropriate. Necessary mechanisms were promptly installed. An Emergency Operation Center was established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to extend assistance to the Turkish citizens stranded abroad (100.000 were returned to Turkey) and to follow pandemic-related developments in the world.

Establishment of the Coronovirus Scientific Board has enabled medical authorities to gradually adopt a unique approach in treatment procedures so that pneumonia development and rate of death in intensive care units could be decreased progressively. Increasing testing  and contact tracing capacities have been helpful in our fight against the virus.

Studies have been carried on to produce vaccine by several Turkish Universities and some of them are close to the third trial phase.

Let me also praise Ghana’s efforts in introducing and implementing effective measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 across the country.

Turkey is one of the prominent health tourism destinations in the world which operates with 1,528 world class hospitals and 166,517 doctors. 645 of them have been registered as pandemic hospitals and this huge capacity enabled the healthcare system to provide the necessary treatment to all patients in need.

This pandemic displays the importance of international solidarity. Turkey has provided medical supply support to 157 countries and 12 international organizations all over the world including Africa. In Ghana, our support has been delivered through Turkish companies operating in the country.

I truly consider healthcare and health tourism sectors as potential new areas for bilateral cooperation.

Aboagye is an entrepreneur and business analyst with special focus on Turkey-Africa relations. His company turkafriq is dedicated to promoting strong economic relations between Africa, especially Ghana, and Turkey.

Pull Quotes

  • We believe in and support the approach that advocates “African solutions to African problems”.
  • Last year, despite pandemic conditions, bilateral trade volume reached the highest ever level with US$771 million, elevating Ghana to the 2nd It is worth mentioning that Ghana’s export to Turkey increased by 187% in 2020

Pull Quotes

  • We believe in and support the approach that advocates “African solutions to African problems”.
  • Last year, despite pandemic conditions, bilateral trade volume reached the highest ever level with US$771 million, elevating Ghana to the 2nd It is worth mentioning that Ghana’s export to Turkey increased by 187% in 2020
SOURCEthebftonline.com
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