August 16, 2016
By Mel Bailey
Iran’s influence in Senegal has started since 1971, when Iran opened its embassy in Dakar. In 2006 after years of ups and downs in the relationship between the two countries, the cultural attaché at the Iranian embassy was able to ink agreements between Senegal and Iran, paving the way for investments projects and cultural exchange by establishing The Culture Centre of Iran in Dakar. However, in 2011 under President Wade, ties were cut after accusations Senegal raised against Iran that it had supplied ammunition for rebels during Senegal’s civil war.
Since the current President Macky Sall took office in 2012, ties with Iran have resumed. Today, Senegalese-Iranian economic partnerships, educational opportunities, and cultural foundations are reflected throughout the country.
Culture and education centers
The Iranian Cultural Center in Dakar features different activities for those interested in the Iranian culture or Shi’i Islamic studies. The center offers free classes to citizens looking for learning the Muslim’s holy book, Quran, and Persian language. The center also organises seminars and religious celebrations and events for citizens from both countries, it also serves as a meeting place for Iranian officials visiting the country.
At the Université Chierkh Anta Diop of Dakar, Dakar’s most populous university, the cultural attaché of Iran to Senegal established a department of language, literature and Persian civilization studies. At the Masters level, students with good scores are eligible for a scholarship to travel to Iran to finish their studies. Mor Fal has joined the program because of his interest in the geography of the Persian Gulf and has potentials of getting a scholarship in Iran. He hopes he can one of the lucky students chosen to study in Iran.
Senegal has a population of 14.3 million, 96 percent of which are Muslims. Most Senegalese are Sunni Muslims following the Sufi school Tijāniyya. Over the past decade, Senegalese attendance at Iran- sponsored religious schools have gone up. From 2000 to 2012, former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, gave permission for Iranian clerics to establish traditional Shi’i theological schools. Young pupils at these schools are taught religious Shi’i texts in Arabic language by instructors trained in Iran.
Currently more incentives are being offered to integrate Iran-influenced education through religious groups and cultural foundations such as the the largest Qur’anic teaching center in Senegal Dar-ol-Quran of Koki in Louga, which together with Senegalese imams are working on translating the nahjul-balaqa, a form of Quranic Shi’a text, into Wolof, the most widely spoken native language in Senegal, making it less difficult for Senegalese people to read and potentially convert to Iran’s version of Shi’ism.
The Iran-sponsored ”NGOs”, such as the Dar-ol-Quran of Koki, offer high benefits for those who join them, like competitions to exercise their knowledge and scholarships in Iran to participate at religious competitions.
Seyyed Hassan Esmati serves as Iran’s cultural attaché to Senegal and is supervising many Iran-sponsored religious/cultural institutions in the country.
Iran has also economic presence in Senegal similar to that in the west African nations Gambia and Sierra Leone. In 2006 Iran pledged $80M to build the west Africa’s first motor vehicle production site, SenIran Auto s.a. a branch of Iran Khodro, an Iranian car maker. The pledge formed into a partnership by which 20 percent of production costs would be covered by the Senegalese government, 20 percent by Senegalese investors and 60 percent from the Iranian government. The partnership, according to the general director of Seniran Auto S.A., Hadi Goudarz Naseri, was intended to “revive the taxi’s and public transportation in Senegal. Also to assist Senegal under Iran’s regime to help under-developed countries.” Naseri notes that 99 percent of the employees are Senegalese. The annual production is 5,000 – 10,000 cars, according to Naseri.
In the south, the National Iranian Oil Company pledged to increase the capacity of Senegal’s SAR oil refinery. The plan is to increase the capacity of the refinery by 1.8 million tons annually. 34 percent of the refinery’s shares will be transferred to NIORDC, while the maximum amount investment is $49M USD.
Though the investment contracts have yet to be fully finalised, all contracts will depend on new shareholders and reimbursement of the required financial facilities by the Senegalese government.