African businesspeople earn success in Istanbul
Zeynep Bilgehan – ISTANBUL
While the number of African migrants in Turkey has recently risen, their contribution to the local economy and international trade has also grown. Shops of successful African businesspeople have been catching the eyes of locals in Turkey’s metropolis Istanbul, which has a population of more than 15 million.
“I estimate their population to be at about 150,000. The Senegalese constitute the biggest group. At one stage, there were more Somalians than others but they migrated to third countries as refugees. Nigerians followed [the Senegalese]. Only a few of the hundreds and thousands of refugees who went to Europe in 2015 were Senegalese or Nigerians,” said Mahir Şaul, an expert on African issues and anthropology professor at the University of Illinois in the United States on May 20.
“Those who study in Turkey are the most successful ones. They assist traders at the textile stores during their student life. Then they open their own stores and expand their businesses. They all dream about establishing their own courier company. They work with Turkish partners since they need residence and work permits. Their biggest income source is tax returns because the goods they send are exports,” he added.
African courier companies mostly export textile products, furniture, construction iron and medicine.
“Although there are vast sources, the industry is very weak in Africa. The economic growth rate has been 7 percent in the last 15 years. There has been a boom in consumption and construction. The diplomatic opening of Turkey was followed by economic interaction. The students also stirred up trade,” Şaul explained.
‘Turks were scared of black people’
As the numbers of African restaurants, barber shops and churches have risen in Istanbul, the African population has spilled over from Kumkapı and Tarlabaşı into almost all districts of Istanbul.
Senegalese businessperson Mohamet Ndiaye, owner of the courier company Jolof Kargo, has an office in the district of Fatih.
After failing in a few businesses in his home country, he moved to Istanbul in 2010.
“There was only $240 in my pocket when I set foot in Istanbul. Since I did not know about Turkey, I was wearing thin clothes and I felt very cold. I stayed at Beyazıt Hotel like all the other Senegalese people … Everyone was in the business of selling watches. I became a part of it too. We were buying them from the district of Bayrampaşa and selling them in public squares. I set up a day care center for Senegalese children who were not enrolled in a school. Then I found a job at a phone shop. I met many people. I gained their trust and I became a partner,” he said.
His company has been shipping goods to countries such as Senegal and Gabon. He also assists Turkish contractors for construction projects in Africa. With his help, a Turkish firm won the tender for the airport’s mechanical and decoration works in Guinea.
Daniel Kamba Kunyiba, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, bought a house in the district of Esenyurt in 2016 in the name of his company Alianze Kargo because nationals of his country are not allowed to buy property in Turkey.
He has been selling goods to Angola and Congo from Istanbul since 2010 after admiring Turkish products he bought in Dubai.
“Everything was so cheap and high quality. ‘Wow, that’s great,’ I said and sold all the goods to Congo in 10 days,” said Kunyiba.
Alseny Diallo, a national of Guinea, graduated from Istanbul University Business School and established a courier company six months ago. He has been in the business of shipping food, textile products, diesel fuel and spare parts to Guinea.
“At first, Turks were scared of black people. It was difficult to find a place to rent. There has been a positive change. Turks have realized Africans not only do the dirty work,” said Diallo.