Meissa Diop, the president of the Persian Language Students Association, at the Persian Language and Culture Department at Dakar’s University, talked about concerns of Sengalese students in an interview with Track Persia, a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East.
In the article that followed on May 12, 2017, students who study Persian language and Iranian culture at the university level said they worried over what the benefit of this presence is for their society, and to what end they can profit from studying this culture.
Meissa Diop said, “We have been studying Persian language since our high school diploma. 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 meant to function as bridges from one culture to another, and are similar format to those set up by Iran. These initiatives were put in place to encourage a partnership and cultural exchange between the two countries. But future generations of managers and policy makers, like Meissa Diop, find that most doors for collaboration are closed, in the case of Iran.
President Cherif Mballo of the Superior Counsel of Ahlul Bayt(as) Shiites of Senegal says the problem is in the objectives, and perhaps even the 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.”
Mballo continued, mentioning the chair and ambassador Hassan Alibashi Bakhshi, “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.”
The cultural attaché to Iran in Senegal, and president of the Cultural Center of Dakar, Dr. Hassan Esmati, said in an interview with a local newspaper, Le Soleil, “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.”
However, the students are wondering what, if any, opportunities are open to them after they conclude their studies. Meïssa Diop said, “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.”
If both parties showed an interest, a sort of cultural change would be simple to construct, according to student leaders. Meissa Diop explained, “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…”
Meanwhile, Senegalese students fear that their time spent learning a language and culture will result in unemployment. Iran’s embassy and Cultural center did not comment on the report.