Track Persia – May 12, 2017
In Senegal, Iran has held a presence since 1972. Despite multiple ruptures between the two countries, resulting in the recession of economic and political agreements, bilateral ties were restored, many of which exist to present day. These ties were initiated in hopes of creating partnerships between the two countries through culture, economics, and education.
Today, Senegalese students who study Persian language and Iranian culture at the university level ask themselves to what benefit this presence has on their society and to what end they will profit from devoting their studies to this culture.
An interview with Meissa Diop association of University Students Persian Language in Senegal. (Track Persia)
“We have been studying Persian language since our high school diploma,” said Meissa Diop, president of the Persian language Students Association and third year student at the Persian language and culture department at Dakar’s University Chiekh Anta Diop. “And we are still waiting for a lot, me, as the president of the students collective, and a student in this department, I have always tried to expose the multiple ways we can create greater ties between Iran and Senegal, because they, the Iranians, adore Senegal, but unfortunately, we don’t know very much about their culture, aside from what we learn in school.”
In Senegal’s capital Dakar, there are numerous foreign cultural and educative structures put in place as bridges from one culture to another. These structures are of a similar format to those set up by Iran. There is the French Institute of Culture, several Franco-American schools, mosques constructed by communities of other faiths, a German gallery and art alliance, just to name a few. To most Senegalese nationals these initiatives are put in place to help encourage a partnership of understanding and cultural exchange between the two countries. But for future generations of managers and policy makers, like Meissa Diop, they find that in the case of Iran, most doors for collaboration are shut.
President Cherif Mballo of the Superior Counsel of Ahlul Bayt(as) Shiites of Senegal spent over 20 years working at the Iranian embassy in Dakar. He says that the problem is in the objectives and perhaps event he budget of Iran.
“Unfortunately the chair Hassane doesn’t have a budget and he’s not competent. The students there told you that he’s not competent, and to make matters worse the Iranians don’t put a lot of emphasis on that part of their relationship. That’s why when they [the students] go to the embassy the doors are closed to them, same with the cultural center. But I know that the mentality is generally like that. They [the embassy] asked a lot for financing but they were unable to have those means. I know that until presently Senegal was looking to close the chair because it’s not at all what they wanted to do, said Cherif Mballo.
“The chair was created in 2005-2006 to have better cultural relations in Senegal. Its normal for a country that wants their language and their culture to have more cultural and historical visibility and appreciation, to come to other countries to share for a large distribution in other countries,” he continued, mentioning the chair and ambassador Hassan Alibashi Bakhshi.
Dr. Hassan Esmati, the cultural attaché to Iran in Senegal, as well as the president of the Cultural Center of Dakar, said in an interview that he was excited to see the cultural exchange between Senegal and Iran.
“For 15 years, University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar hosts a Persian language and literature department. A number of students are learning Persian language and more than ten university students are currently in Iran for their doctorates or masters degrees,” Dr. Esmati, said in a 2016 interview with a local newspaper, Le Soleil.
But students of today are still wondering what, if any opportunities are open to them after they conclude their studies.
“I dream to go to Iran, especially to set up economic opportunities between the two countries. And as a student, there is no one better placed than me to do it. But my difficulty is really just opportunity. Trying to gain friends and gain support from actors in Iran is hard. I am calling on Iran to help us out, and when I say help I mean come to Senegal, see what we, as students, have to offer, we are studying your culture. Note what we need, assist us financially, provide scholarship opportunities to go there to study and learn and work,” said Meïssa Diop
According to student leaders, a sort of cultural change would be simple to construct, but both parties would need to show an interest. Just like the models of French, American, German, and Canadian embassies and cultural centers have shown in Senegal.
“I follow the cultural center of Iran’s activities in France. They support engagement and culture exchange. Why can’t they do that here? They say they do, or want to, but it just doesn’t exist. It would be simple for them to say, we are hosting a film, come watch it with us, or host a translation challenge…” Meissa Diop explained.
In the meanwhile Senegalese students are fearful that their time spent learning a language and culture will result in frustration and unemployment. Employees at both Iran’s embassy and Cultural center were unavailable for comment despite multiple attempts of contact.