Ghana’s contingent at the 2013 FIFA Under 20 World Cup held in Turkey received a heroic welcome on their arrival in the host country. Also, the Ghanaian team received wild applauds whenever they entered the stadia for their matches. This reception was in honour of the former skipper of the Black Stars, Stephen Appiah, who the Turkish football fans consider as the all-time best African player to have played in the Turkish premier league.
Stephen Appiah signed for the Turkish giants, Fenerbahce, in the 2005 season and stayed at the club for three years, winning several laurels with the club and also cementing his place as one of the greats in the history of Turkish football. That was the golden era of Turkish football which attracted several global football stars such as Brazil’s Roberto Carlos to the Turkish premier league.
Other outstanding Ghanaian football stars including Richard Kingson, Haminu Draman, Eben Dugbartey, Augustine Arhinful, Sam Johnson, Kwame Ayew, among others, at a point, played in the Turkish league and they all gave a good account of themselves with their respective football clubs in the Eastern European country.
On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, I had an interaction with the Ambassador of Turkey to Ghana, Nesrin Bayazit at the Turkish Embassy in Accra. Football was one of the things we spoke about and the Turkish Ambassador spoke extensively about the contribution of Ghanaian football players to Turkish football and recounted the several hundreds of talents from Africa plying their trade with various Turkish football clubs in the premiership and at other levels of the game.
Earlier in the year, Ambassador Bayazit paid a courtesy call on Ghana’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Isaac Asiamah to congratulate him on his appointment as sector minister and also to discuss the ratification of a Sports Development Agreement signed between Ghana and Turkey in March 2016 under the previous government. The move indicates the Ambassadors interest in sports and youth empowerment as well as Turkey’s willingness to contribute towards the development of the Ghanaian sports fraternity
For starters, Turkey is a nation spanning between eastern Europe and western Asia with cultural connections to ancient Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Cosmopolitan Istanbul, on the Bosphorus Strait, is home to the iconic Hagia Sophia, with its soaring dome and Christian mosaics, the massive 17th-century Blue Mosque and the circa-1460 TopkapÄ± Palace, which served as the former home of sultans. Ankara is Turkey’s modern capital.
Starting her career at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the early eighties, Ambassador Bayazit has been the diplomatic service for thirty years and has served in various capacities at the Foreign Affairs ministry in Turkey and also at several diplomatic missions around the world. Prior to her posting in Ghana, she served as the Consulate General and Permanent Representative in Ireland, Norway, Belgium, China and Australia. She was also the Turkish Ambassador in the former Yugoslavia (Zagreb).
Bilateral diplomacy between Ghana and Turkey started after Ghana attained its independence and republic status in the year 1964 when Turkey established its embassy in Accra. As a result of austerity measures deployed by Turkey in a period of adverse economic conditions, the embassy in Ghana was closed in the eighties. It was re-established in 2010 and officially inaugurated in 2011 by former Ghanaian president, John Mahama. This was followed by the opening of a Ghanaian embassy in Ankara in 2012.
Before assuming office as the head of the Turkish mission in Ghana, Ambassador Bayazit’s only contact with Africa was when she visited Tunisia as a tourist.
“I was very surprised when I was announced as the Ambassador to Ghana as I had never had Africa on my portfolio. I had to accept it in good faith and it has been great since I arrived in Ghana. It was a new terrain for me and there was a lot I was going to learn as well as getting to know about the Ghanaian job, the country and the people.
"In addition to Ghana, I am also accredited to Sierra Leone and Liberia and the task is challenging but for me, it is about the difference you make when you can. It has been very rewarding for me in spite of all the challenges I have come across”, she added.
Describing herself as a patient and result oriented person, Ambassador Bayazit never gives up until the task is completed and the desired results achieved.
“I will say I am a very stubborn person in the sense that I just don’t let go and push through all the obstacles and challenges I am confronted with to ensure the job gets done and also done well. Once I start something, I want to make sure I see it through to the final point and I honestly think this is a very positive form of the stubbornness I mentioned about. I like to be involved in all the processes and I take my time to ensure the delivery is great”, she said.
Emphasizing on the basic function of the Turkish embassy in Ghana, she said “the embassy is not all about research and visa processing as many people might think, rather, our fundamental responsibility is to work with our host country to improve the relationship between Turkey and Ghana as well as introducing initiatives and measures aimed at taking the relationship between both countries to the next level. As a development partner, Turkey is interested in engaging Ghana on all fronts to ensure an effective contribution to Ghana’s development agenda”.
On the bilateral and political relations between Ghana and Turkey, there has been exchanges at the highest levels with visit by the former Turkish president to Ghana in 2011 which was reciprocated by his Ghanaian counterpart in 2013. The current Turkish president also visited Ghana last year and it’s a clear indication the importance Turkey attaches to its relationship with Ghana. These exchanges have enormously driven trade between both countries with the Turkish government setting a target of one-billion-dollar trade volume between Ghana and Turkey by the year 2020, an increase from the four hundred million dollars recorded in 2016.
On the specific sectors of investment by the Turkish government in Ghana, the Ambassador was quick to mention education. She said “we are aware of the importance of education and what it means to the development of the country. On a yearly basis, Turkey provides scholarships to about fifty students to study in Turkey at all levels, from undergraduate to post graduate studies. Apart from the official government of Turkey scholarships, there are other organizations that sponsor and support Ghanaian students for Islamic studies in Turkey”.
In the area of energy, there is a lot happening between both countries. During the power crisis experienced in Ghana a few years ago, the Ghana government relied on emergency power barges it acquired from Turkish company, Karpowership Company Limited. The two barges suppled the country with 450 megawatts of power to reduce the effects of the load-shedding exercise at the time. Also in 2015, Turkish company, Aksa Enerji, signed a five-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Ghana with included the installation of a 370 megawatts power plant, electricity generation and the guaranteed sale of the energy, when the company becomes operational sometime this year.
Another big project according to the Ambassador is the construction of the third terminal at the Kotoka International Airport. “The new terminal 3 project is designed and being built by Turkish construction company Mapa Construction, a subsidiary of MNG Holding, one of biggest and widely respected construction companies in Turkey which deliveries world class services”, she indicated.
As per the project plan, the new terminal will have the capacity to process 1,250 passengers at peak hour, a large retail and commercial area, three business lounges, six fixed links and seven air bridges expandable to eight, and parking space with the capacity to handle more than 700 cars.
In addition to these, the Embassy of Turkey in Ghana is spearheading its flagship and social impact projects, a water treatment project financed by the Exim Bank of Turkey and Exim Bank of Ghana. The construction is being undertaken by a Turkish construction firm, ARDA Group, which has employed over a thousand Ghanaians for this project. When completed, it is expected to supply potable water to about two million people in the Central and Eastern regions.
On the future of Ghana – Turkey relations, Ambassador Bayazit indicated that Turkey is committed to its development partnership with Ghana and will continue to invest in various Ghanaian sectors. “The future is bright and I am very optimistic of greater things to be achieved by both countries going forward in this partnership”, she added.