Turkey has made significant progress in its political, economic and cultural ties with African countries in the last two decades, and women diplomats have an important place in these relations. Turkey, which strengthens its diplomatic relations with Africa every year and is among the countries with the highest number of diplomatic representations on the continent, has female ambassadors overseeing 15 of the 43 embassies opened in African countries.
Ambassadors, who work in different capitals of the continent from Ethiopia to Sierra Leone, South Africa to Togo, not only improve diplomatic relations between states but also contribute to cultural and humanitarian relations between peoples.
Nur Sağman is the director-general of West and Central Africa within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen, who previously served as ambassador to Pretoria, is the deputy director-general for East and South Africa.
In the East and South Africa region, Ambassador Yaprak Alp to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Ambassador Burcu Çevik to Kigali (Rwanda), Ambassador Serap Ataay to Bujumbura (Burundi), Ambassador İstem Cırcıroğlu to Lusaka (Zambia), Ambassador Ayşegül Kandaş to Pretoria (South Africa), Ambassador Meltem Büyükkarakaş to Gaborone (Botswana) and Ambassador Berin Makbule Tulun to Windhoek (Namibia) represent Turkey.
Meanwhile, in West and Central Africa, Ambassador Havva Yonca Gündüz Özçeri to Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Ambassador Sibel Erkan to Freetown (Sierra Leone), Ambassador Nilgün Erdem Arı to Vagadugu (Burkina Faso), Ambassador Özlem Gülsün Ergün Ulueren to Accra (Ghana), Ambassador Esra Demir to Lome (Togo), Ambassador Şebnem Cenk to Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) and Ambassador Nilüfer Erdem Kaygısız to Libreville (Gabon) are representing Ankara. In the North Africa region, Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş serves as an ambassador to Algeria.
Sağman, who previously served as the ambassador to the Guinean capital Conakry, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that her perspective on life changed in Guinea, where she worked for about 3 1/2 years, noting that this duty was a turning point in her profession.
Emphasizing that she demonstrated a style that blends humanitarian relations and diplomacy during her time in Guinea, Sağman made the following assessments: "The sincere approach is unfortunately a style that African peoples do not see much in other countries. However, many African peoples have been victims of hidden agendas. Turkey shows its difference here. As a Turkish diplomat, I have sincerely established friendships in my African duties with the power given to me by my state.
"I sincerely worked with my African colleagues, I represented our country with all my sincerity. We worked together, we won together. We continue to progress, work and win together."
Sağman explained that she had never been to sub-Saharan Africa prior to her mission to Guinea in 2015 and that some of her acquaintances tried to discourage her from going to Guinea, which was facing an Ebola epidemic at the time. "When I was appointed to Guinea, there was a waste management problem in the capital Conakry. A friend of mine was sending me news about this in the press. I was sending him sunset photos from Conakry. Everything depends on your perspective. If you don't open your eyes, you will miss out on seeing the beauty," she said.
Highlighting the positive contribution of female ambassadors to interstate relations, Sağman said: "I think women are more adept at opening their hearts. It is necessary to open the eyes of the heart in order to understand, listen, and work with Africa. As much as women ambassadors are skilled in the development of political, military and commercial relations, they have the ability to contribute in every field."
Underlining that it is a privilege to serve in Africa, she said: "It is in our blood to be on the side of the just and the oppressed. Our country has become an indispensable partner for Africa with its humanitarian and entrepreneurial foreign policy. As a Turkish diplomat, it is a privilege to serve in Africa. It is important to be aware of this.
"It is unfair to reduce it to a continent where only safaris can be made. The continent is not only rich in natural resources, but also has a tremendous culture and human potential. Not to mention the natural beauties. Open your heart and eyes to Africa."
Turkey's Ambassador to Kigali Burcu Çevik has been in the role since 2019. "I am honored to represent our country in a geography like Africa, where conditions are known to be difficult. Rwanda is a special country in its region and continent with its social peace, economic and social development move, security and stability environment it has achieved after the genocide experience 28 years ago," she said.
Noting that Rwanda is one of the leading countries in the world in terms of female representation, Çevik said it feels good to represent Turkey as a female ambassador in such a country.
"I see the advantage of being a female ambassador in being a little more flexible in the field of communication. I can say that I did not encounter any special difficulties while performing my profession due to being a woman. I believe that dignity is not about gender, but about being able to do your job with lacquer. Although diplomacy is traditionally seen as a male-dominated field in the world, I find it positive that the number of female diplomats and the quality of the duties they undertake are increasing in the world and in our country," she stated.
As the first female ambassador of Turkey in Algeria, Ambassador Göktaş underlined the important influence of women in all areas of life, noting that it has an impact on diplomacy.
"Women diplomats can sometimes be more creative and pragmatic when it comes to finding solutions to controversial issues. The number of women diplomats in our ministry is increasing every year, and women ambassadors work in critical and important regions. Our minister also attaches special importance to this issue," she said.
Turkey and the Turkish people have a bright future in Africa, Göktaş said, noting that the negative perceptions about the continent are far from the truth and that this unfounded view must be corrected.
"For many centuries, our country has had good communication with most of Africa. In this century, the front of our cultural, economic and political relations is very clear. The spirit of the people of Turkey and Africa is compatible with each other," she said.
Turkey is seeking to strengthen its presence in Africa and its engagement with the continent has been gaining pace over the years. Turkey's African policy, which encompasses political, humanitarian, economic and cultural spheres, is part of its multidimensional foreign policy.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has visited Africa nearly 40 times since 2005, as prime minister and president. In that time, Turkey has opened some 40 embassies on the continent. Turkey's influence also covers the realm of defense, with Ankara inaugurating its first African military base in 2017 in Somalia.
Turkey-Africa relations gained new pace with the country's policy of "Strategic Africa," launched by Erdoğan in 2003. To this effect, the number of Turkish embassies in Africa has increased from just 12 in 2002 to 43 in 2021. Turkey became an "observer member" of the African Union in 2005, and the union declared Turkey a "strategic partner" in 2008.
These diplomatic developments between Turkey and the African continent were also reflected in economic and commercial relations. Turkey builds its economic relations with African countries on the basis of equal partnership and win-win negotiations. Since 2003, the volume of its trade with the continent has increased from $2 billion to at least $25 billion.