After the Senegalese Embassy was reopened in Iran and the appointment of Babacar Ba as the country’s new Ambassador to Iran, the growing trend in the political and economic relations between the two countries is visible. Babacar Ba, who tends to stay longer in Tehran, stresses that Senegal and Morocco have very strong and traditional relations with each other and his country can be an intermediary party to remove misunderstandings between Morocco and Iran. On his final days on diplomatic mission as Senegal’s Ambassador to Iran, we found a window to have an interview with him regarding the bilateral ties and his achievements in his three-year residence in Iran which you may find below.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with
Babacar Ba, Ambassador of the Republic of Senegal to Iran
Interview by Mohammadreza Nazari
Now that your mission in Iran as Senegal’s Ambassador has come to an end, how successful do you see yourself in achieving the objectives you depicted in the beginning?
Let me tell you first of all that, my first duty was to come and reopen our Embassy there in Tehran. Our two countries were facing some difficulties between 2010 and 2013. For about three years, the Embassy was closed but when the new President Mr Macky Sall was elected in 2012, he met with his Excellency President Rouhani in Cairoin 2013, and they decided to reopen the Embassy and to restore diplomatic relation between Senegal and Iran. One year later in 2014, I was designated as ambassador here to come and reopen our embassy. I come here on February 15, 2015 and then up to now, I have the duty to reactive relations between the two countries. In this regard I tried to organize some programs of restoration of good relation between Iran and Senegal. Since then we have received here many Iranian businessman and private groups who are interested to visit Senegal. We have organized also some visits of Senegalese officials. Here in Iran, we are now identifying various sectors of cooperation in different levels for example in health area, we have plan to invite some Iranian pharmaceutical companies to come to Senegal not only to sell their pharmaceutical products or medical equipment, but also to help Senegal building locally some factories to produce pharmaceutical products. We have also students coming here in Iran to study. They have specific training programs on oil and gas. This is also an innovation because we used to have students here coming just to learn Persian language, civilization and culture. Now we are expecting to have more of them coming for studies on more other areas where they can have some skills specially on agriculture, medical issues, science and technology. And I as I mentioned earlier, on gas and oil because as you know, Senegal has found big reserve of gas some time ago. And within next four years we will need to have engineers working in this area. So as a whole, I can tell you that the relations between Iran and the Senegal are progressing since my arrival here. The visit of His Excellency Foreign Minister Dr. Zarif to Senegal on April this year was also a testimony to show that we are in a good way to reinforce relations between the two countries.
How would the recent challenge between Iran and Morocco affect Iran’s relations with other African countries?
I don’t know exactly what is behind this situation because I have read only from the newspapers and there is some grievance from Moroccan side against Iran. They said that there is some connection between Lebanese Hezbollah and Polisario Front, which as you know is a group fighting for independence in the Sahara. Senegal is not sharing this view that Sahara needs to have independent status. It’s not a good thing if it is the case that some countries from outside supporting rebellions in another country. This is what I have to say about that. But as you know, Senegal and Morocco have very strong and traditional relations. I hope if we can do something in this regard it will be to help settle the differences between Morocco and Iran. Because all of them are friends of Senegal and we don’t want them to have any problem.
How would Trump’s determination to return sanctions on Iran affect the economic relations between Iran and Senegal?
First of all, we say that it’s a very regrettable decision. Sanction is not a good way to settle problems. We are diplomat and we always consider the diplomatic ways and diplomatic negotiation as more useful. After two or three years of negotiations, JCPOA was built. I think it is a good thing for Parties to respect this Agreement signed by five plus one countries. It was a very hard and wise process concluded by high-quality comprehensive agreement. We are sorry to see one Party of the agreement, going out of it. Especially when it’s come from the United States. This may undermine it indeed because United States is a big country with a big economic power. Their money the dollar is a hard currency used in many international transactions. Specially by the private sector working with Iran. The private sector may have some fears to build partnership with Iranian companies. This is what we are regretting in this area. But we hope wisdom will prevail to find a way out to address the situation specially with European partners. Because Europe is facing more difficulties with this position from American side. We hope that we, in Africa, also we will encourage the Europeans and other Parties to do everything to preserve this agreement. Because I think this is the only way to preserve peace and stability in this region and also the best way to promote cooperation, economy and trade between countries. Diplomacy should be the basis to settle differences. But when we find a way out through diplomatic means, and reach an agreement, we have to respect all commitments.
Following the implementation of the JCPOA, how effective was the banking area on the economic ties between Iran and Senegal?
Yes I know that Europeans got their good benefit from this agreement. Because since the signing of the agreement in 2015 up to now, the volume of their trade went from one to triple. So it is a good move for them and they have a good benefit. It is the reason why they are fighting for the preservation of this agreement since. We have also a very close relation with Europe. If the business is going well between Iran and Europe, it will be the same between Africa and Iran because many of our transactions go through European banks and we do business also through many European companies. Especially if we take the case of France wich has a very long standing relation with Senegal. We have a very strong financial link with French companies. So if France have some good link with Iran in the area of trade, it will influence relations between Senegal and, because we have the similar trade connections and banking connectivity. But we need nevertheless to promote and establish our own banking mechanism.
Throughout your diplomatic activities in Tehran, we saw Your Honor’s efforts to develop agricultural trades and provision of pharmaceutical items from Iran. What achievements are there in that area?
There is some positive move in pharmaceutical products. One big company named Caspian Tamin went to Senegal and met many officials from the Ministry of Health. They met also many partners in the private sector and invited them to come to Iran to visit the factories to see how they are manufacturing medicines. I think in Senegal, it will be a very big chance to have those medicines, not only having them directly but also to have factories in Senegal to manufacture pharmaceutical products. By the way, we have invited many Iranian companies to participate to an international exhibition next month in Senegal, on pharmaceutical products and medical equipment. On agriculture, we are also working closely but we didn’t get yet good results. Yesterday we received one company here. They agree to go to Senegal if they have access to land and water and some facilities. They are now ready to contribute and promote our agricultural activities. But also, we need agricultural material and equipment like tractors. I approached the tractor factory in Tabriz. They are also ready to go to Senegal to explore the Senegalese market. My Government has an important program of two thousand tractors to help the farmers getting some technical material to modernize agriculture. Another area is energy. As you know, we finally found gas and oil but we didn’t exploit it yet. In the meantime we are promoting mix energy. We need supplies of solar power plans and many Iranian companies said they are ready to go to Senegal and also explore our market to supply some material for solar power plants. So these are many other areas where we are now working in addition, to car manufacturing like Iran Khodro who is very active in Senegal. I have finally to tell you that during the visit of the Dr Zarif, big contract was signed for about fifty million U.S. Dollar to build five thousand houses in Senegal. The first phase of this program will be starting soon with one thousand houses to be built in Senegal through joint venture between one Iranian and one Senegalese companies. This would help a lot in promoting also accessibility to social house for our citizens.
Can the US sanctions against Iran drive economic and trade ties between Iran and Senegal into challenge?
U.S. is one country. The relations between US and Iran are one thing and relations between Iran and Senegal are another thing. Senegal is independent and free country. We don’t evaluate or plan our relations with Iran based on the relation between Iran and the United States. We are independent and sovereign country. We proceed our relation based on political will common interest and positive engagement from Iran. Iran/Senegal relations are not dependent on the US or other countries. We are free to appreciate our diplomatic relation based on our principles, our vision and also our interests indeed.
How would the idea of replacing USD with EUR in Iran’s international trades with other countries affect the commercial gives and takes between Iran and Senegal?
As I mentioned dollar is a very strong currency. It is used for international transactions. Any time you have problem with dollar, you have problem with international transaction. But in West Africa, we have the chance to get our own currency, Franc CFA wich has established link with the Euro.
So we can use the Euro for transaction between Iran and West African countries sharing the same currency which is a franc. Franc CFA wich have fixed rate with Euro. We have also our own bank ECOBANK. We have our Central Bank. They can work with Iran in a way to see how they can make their transaction either in Euro or in their local currency. These use of Euro can help in this regard because Euro and Franc CFA have fixed rate. We may have some problem because transactions internationally are done in US dollar. For sure there will be obstacles but it should be overcome if we create good interaction between our banking systems.
As a diplomat, how do you assess the fierce fluctuations of USD and EUR prices in the Iranian market?
It’s embarrassing for everyone because Iranians are suffering from that. US dollar is very much used here and everybody is asking for dollar. Iran also needs to import material from other countries and needs dollar to finance its transactions. So it means that in the country, many traders and businessmen need dollar. That’s why there is some problem in the monetary system between the banks, exchange offices and the government. The government wants to fix common rate of four thousands and two hundred rials for one dollar and the exchange offices didn’t accept that principle and this move created some black market which is not good also for everyone. We as Embassy are suffering also from that because we need to have dollars for our expenses. So if dollar is not accessible or very difficult to get, this may create difficulties for everyone. So we hope that this situation will not last long.
Your Honor conducted negotiations with Iran’s Deputy Minister of Science, Research and Technology regarding educational and research collaborations. What agreements were signed in this area?
In academic area, we have longstanding relations between Senegalese Universities, Shahid Beheshti University and Tehran University. We used to have students coming here for Persian literature and civilization. But as I mentioned since my arrival, I said it is not enough to focus only on literature. What we need now is to get more skills on science and technology by training new engineers. So our objective with this ministry was to expand the area of cooperation between the universities and to have more students in Iran learning or having training programs on science and technology. Because we know Iran is a big country in science and technology area. Iran has many universities with scientific advanced programs. You have good universities but they are not very well known in Senegal. So our objective is to have more young students from Senegal to come and learn programs in oil and gas, in electric and mechanic engineering etc. But also in medical sciences. We are now expanding our relation to promote exchanges in sport. Our minister in charge of sport is planning to come to Iran to sign an agreement. Because we know Iran is a model country in terms of various sports activities and I think we can get benefit in cooperating in this area. So Senegalese Minister will come soon to Iran to see how we can elaborate a framework of cooperation in sports activities.
What facilities have been considered in the field of tourism in 2018?
Tourism is also one of my targets. I’ve been mandated by the Minister of tourism to see how we can promote also tourism relations between Iran and Senegal. Iran is a big country for tourism. We are planning to organize also the touristic activity in this area. Iran have some good experience. On the other side also we want Iranians to know Africa better. Because many Iranians don’t know West African side and West African coast very well. Most of them go to East Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti etc. I have approached one company and travel agency in Senegal to give some promotional program for Iranians who want to go and visit Senegal. So we really want to promote relations in this area. Now the obstacle is that we didn’t have direct flight between Tehran and West Africa. It takes a long way to go to Senegal through Dubai or Istanbul. In this regard, we need to have more flights connectivity. I was planning to meet Mahan Air Company and some Iranian companies to see how they can create direct lines lines between Tehran and Dakar. This will be very beneficial for tourism promotion and exchange.
Between 2003 and 2010, Your Excellency served as Senegal’s Ambassador to the OIC and this means you are well aware of the developments of the Islamic World. Given the challenges that have arisen among the Middle-Eastern countries, is another war foreseeable in the region?
It’s a very big concern for all of Muslim countries to see that in this Middle East region which is the birth place of all religions from Islam to Christianity and Judaism, there is a lot of fighting and where people are suffering a lot. The Muslim community is suffering from terrorist acts and extremism. This is a reality that we are really deploring. We have to be united to address this challenge. We are always talking about Islamic Ummah but we don’t work enough for it. We have to follow principles of Ummah if we are really Muslim and if we believe in our holy Book. But I think on the ground, it’s not the case. There are some people who are interpreting the book in a bad manner resulting in extremism, violence, killing people. Victims are Muslims most of the time and on the other hand we have also governments who do not have very strong and enough commitment to be united and to address it. This challenge should be addressed by OIC. The OIC objective is first of all to work together to help the Palestinian people to fight against occupation. And the second one is to promote unity among member’s states to address some challenges facing the Islamic Ummah. But unfortunately, we are seeing more division between influents member’s states of OIC. We have to be vigilant because some countries from outside the Islamic Ummah are creating this division among us. We should know that our weakness reside in our lack of strong unity to address this challenge. In this regard, OIC should work more to make our relation stronger and to face the situation.
You referred to the solidarity among Islamic countries. What is the reaction of the Government of Senegal to the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem?
For sure, Senegal is committed to address the situation in Palestine, and is always acting for Palestinian to get there inalienable rights. As you know for more than forty years in the UN, Senegal is chairing the committee in charge of Palestinian rights.
Palestinian issue is now engaging all the Islamic Ummah. We all know that Jerusalem is very important for us as a Muslim. Senegal as a Muslim country also is a member of the Al-Quds Committee and also fighting for the preservation of the identity of Al Quds Al Sharif. The other aspect of the problem is political and diplomatic. It was always said that Jerusalem should be a capital for both Israel and Palestine, on the East Side for Palestine and west side maybe for Israel. This is something which is in line with the creation of the two States living together side by side. This is the solution supported by Senegal for two States living together and Jerusalem as capital of both countries. Now the problem of Jerusalem is not yet settled and needs more negotiations, within the UN and between the two Parties. In the meantime, Senegal didn’t support any idea of moving or opening any Embassy in Jerusalem. Because the situation is not settle yet. So we should not accept and consider Al Quds as a capital of a single country.
At the end of your mission in Iran as Senegal’s Ambassador, we’d be glad to hear any remaining word on the two countries’ relations that you would like to add.
I want to say that I’m leaving Iran with the sentiment of not having completely achieved my objective. I would prefer to stay more times. Furthermore, I have some good relations with many Iranians that I will miss. Many companies also are planning to go to Senegal and also a lot of promising perspectives between the two countries exist. I would like maybe to continue to strengthen these relations. I have also many friends in Iran that I have to leave. So this is a negative side of diplomatic life. But on the other side, I have a good expectation that after the visit of Dr. Zarif in Senegal and the decisions taken there, we can be optimistic about relations between Iran and Senegal. I am very optimistic in this regard, but I am calling both countries to do more, specifically between the businessmen, because still now we didn’t have enough business activities. We need to promote trade between the two countries. There are some obstacles. They are financial transactions and big distance between Senegal and Iran in term of flight or maritime shipment etc. But we can overtake these obstacles. What I said about Senegal is the same about most of West African countries who want to have good trade relation with Iran, but still are facing have some problem of connectivity. Finally I feel happy having be here for about three years to reopen the embassy. It was for me a privilege to contribute putting the relations between the two countries on a good track.
We are appreciative of your efforts to promote ties between Iran and Senegal and wish you success in the coming days and years.