New Finnish diplomatic mission in Senegal
Finland has opened its first Embassy in French-speaking West Africa. Ambassador Anu Saxén and Administrative Official Maija-Liisa Vähäkuopus from the Embassy discuss the reasons behind the decision to establish a mission in Dakar.
Ambassador Anu Saxén explains why Senegal with its capital Dakar was selected as the mission’s host state.
The Foreign Ministry had explored possibilities of opening a diplomatic mission in West Africa for a long time. The opening of a new embassy in Africa is also mentioned in the Government Programme. In line with the policies of the Africa Strategy, adopted in March 2021, Finland aims to diversify and deepen its relations with African countries.
Senegal is an important actor both regionally and internationally. The capital of Senegal, Dakar, is the hub of diplomacy in West Africa. The country is an important partner for the EU and, from Finland’s point of view, opening an embassy in Dakar fits in the big picture of our foreign policy.
Finland does not have a diplomatic mission in the French-speaking West Africa. The Embassy in Dakar serves also in monitoring more broadly the situation in West Africa. The instability in the Sahel region, especially the situation in Senegal's eastern neighbour Mali, affects the security situation in the whole of Europe – including Finland.
The coronavirus crisis, for example, has proved that Finland needs to increase the number of its missions abroad. They help Finnish citizens and companies and produce information and views for decision-makers. In the post-COVID-19 reconstruction activities, the Foreign Service and its network of diplomatic missions abroad play an important role in promoting Finnish export and companies’ access to global markets.
What are the mission’s key tasks and objectives in Dakar?
Many Finnish actors know Senegal. Finnish CSOs and companies as well as actors from the cultural sector have had activities and cooperation there. The new Embassy aims to strengthen the relations between Finland and Senegal in different sectors and to provide information on the situation in the country and its neighbouring countries.
In accordance with the Government Programme and the Africa Strategy, the Embassy will, for example, strengthen Finnish companies’ trade and investments in global markets. Many of the fastest growing economies in the world are located in the French-speaking West Africa, the most important of which are Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. The UN and other international organisations have their regional offices in Senegal. The African Development Bank has its headquarters in Côte d’Ivoire.
From the perspective of migration, western Africa plays an important role. The countries of the region are important countries of origin and transit of migration, from which migratory pressures have recently turned especially to the Canary Islands. Finland’s new mission will be able to provide valuable information on migration in the region and thus respond to the needs of Finnish authorities. This is one of the themes of discussion in our close cooperation with the EU.
Right now, the world is focusing on Ukraine, but the great powers are present in Africa, too. Do you think that the tense situation will affect your work in Dakar?
Senegal is considered a very stable and safe country, but it is possible that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will affect people’s lives in Senegal and the stability and economy of the country, too. This will certainly have an impact on our work. Here, as in the rest of the world, prices are rising rapidly and there is a shortage of cereals, among other things. Weaker food security and accelerating inflation may cause unrest.
What does the opening of a mission involve in practice?
At first, we didn’t have anything ready in Dakar. While we were sorting out how to get settled, it was essential at the same time for us to start networking and creating relations with local authorities.
We are now in temporary premises, which we are gradually furnishing and where equipment are put in place. In other words, we have made all practical purchases – bought office furniture, IT equipment, coffee cups and plates and saucers – to ensure that the facilities are practical and function well. Piece by piece, we are building not only relationships but also physical infrastructure. Although Dakar is one big construction site and the city is growing very fast, it is not easy to find permanent facilities suitable for us here.
There have been more than enough challenges and we have encountered many surprises. Sometimes it feels as if we had gone one step forward and two behind. I’m sure things will turn our all right, but time and patience are required. In any case, it is great to be able to participate in the establishment of Finland’s first mission to West Africa.
Have the Delegation of the EU to the African Union and other EU Member States taken part in the establishment of the mission?
The EU Delegation and peer countries have offered help, but almost all of them have been here for quite some time already. Therefore, matters related to the establishment of a mission are not fresh on their minds. Greece, which recently opened its Embassy in Dakar, has helped in many practical matters.
We have good cooperation with the other Nordic countries in many countries, but none of them has a mission in Dakar. As Finland does not have an honorary consul in Senegal, we have started to build networks and create our practices from scratch.
How many staff members will be present at the mission?
The Ministry is planning to post four career diplomats to Dakar: the ambassador and a deputy head of mission as well as two administrative officials, one to be responsible for consular services and the other for financial and general administration. In addition, we will recruit two assistants, two chauffeurs and some assistant staff locally.
Does the mission represent Finland in other countries?
At first, the Finnish Ambassador in Dakar will serve as a Non-resident Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire and the Gambia. The African Development Bank operates in Côte d'Ivoire. We believe that the mission can help in finding business opportunities offered by the Bank for Finnish companies. The Gambia is a popular tourist destination, which is why consular services may be needed.
Decisions on possible authorisations to represent Finland in other countries will be made later.