Beaming in Senegal
One of many attempts by Iran to be on the world scene
during the oil boom, and why not?
and photographed by Farhad Sepahbody
I recall a time - 1976 or thereabouts
- when Iran provided much financial assistance to less fortunate
countries of our planet. Senegal was one of them. But then the
drop in oil prices came along. Our trip to Senegal and the visit
to Gorée Island occurred more or less around that time. Long
ago, the Senegalese people called the island Ber. The Portuguese
renamed it Ila de Palma. The name was changed to Good Reed by the
Dutch and the French called the island Gorée - meaning "good
But the name did not match with the horrors that
what went on in this tiny island between the 16th and 19th centuries
when wooden ships sailed from here with human beings chained in
their holds across the Atlantic. On the island, there is a small
fort known as Slave House. This was in effect one of the slave
warehouses through which Africans passed on their way to the Americas.
Millions have passed through the island and other similar trading
posts to work in the plantations of the New World, including America.
The shipping of slaves from Gorée lasted from 1536 when
the Portuguese launched the slave trade to the time the French
halted it 312 years later.
is just 3 km off the Senegalese coast, and its tiny size made it
merchants to control their captives. The surrounding waters are
so deep that any attempt at escape would mean certain drowning.
With a five kilo metal ball permanently attached to their feet
or necks, a captured African would know what jumping into the deep
sea would bring.
The visit there by George Bush in July 2003 lasted
just 20 minutes. He said: "American slavery was one of history's
greatest crimes," He delivered the rematks at the very spot
where hundreds of thousands of Africans were he reminded "bought
and sold like cargo." The images beamed back to the US were
intended to send a powerful message to black electors who could
well help decide the next American presidential election!
The reason for our visit was to help Senegal's
development program. The Iranian delegation was headed by Empress
accompanied by her mother Mrs. Farideh Diba, Prime Minister
Amir Abbas Hoveyda,
National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) head Mohammad Eghbal head
and Plan and Budget chief Abdol Majid Majidi. Our security, if
guards for the
Empress and one smart captain by the name of Ghassem Nily for Hoveyda.
Parviz Tanavoli had an outlandish sculpture to be dedicated at "Keur
Farah", the new Iranian industrial complex established
in Senegal amd Novin Afrouz came for a piano recital >>> See photos
I was beaming. Hyperactive Reza Ghotbi, the special
adviser to the Empress and head of Iran's National Television and
Radio, a freethinker (yes we had quite a few) who had accompanied
us -- asked what was the reason for my so obvious satisfaction. "Imagine," I
said brandishing the paper, "We finally made it! We replaced
the West and have our own oil distribution stations, Iran is everywhere."
tssk, Farhad," he answered, "we fought the imperialists,
are we in the process of becoming like them too?" And he added
sternly: "In my opinion, it could be that we will have to
pay dearly for that."
Anyhow, it was reported that the
Senegalese had made a bonfire out of the former Shell gas station
signs and danced around them. When I asked one of their top journalists
the new NIOC logos at our gas pumps in their country, he came
on with an unexpected answer: "Our people love it, for the
lion is the proud king of the African jungle and the burning torch
freedom! They relate well to that sign." He went on: "Senegal
is the Country of Terranga. Terranga means welcome, warm Welcome.
The Lions of Terranga are the soccer players of our national team."
That's logical, I thought. Besides I love lions and cats too.
Ok, nice place, nice people? A big yes, but as usual
in all those official trips, I had little time to enjoy the scenery
and instead spent many hours in my room behind the typewriter revamping
speeches to be delivered. The one of the Empress was a particularly
good one and your's truly spent the entire night working on
it. The Empress often wanted to add or delete passages and I must
or deletions were pertinent.
But the ugly part was that there were
no computers at the time, and I only had a portable typewriter.
A real chore. Another diplomat worked harder than I; he was
Senegal's envoy to Tehran. He was and still is a good friend, witty,
clever. During the seventies, he was a regular visitor to the Iranian
Court. Both the Shah and the Queen liked him. He did superior
work for Senegal and managed to further his country's growing development
with the help of Iran.
sculpture did not make much sense to me and I wonder what the Senegalese
thought of it -- I never asked.
But then modern art has its mysteries. I must quiz Tanavoli someday.
Other things back home didn't make much sense either. We were helping
foreign countries at the tune of billions of dollars, a rate we
would not be able to sustain in the future. Developing countries,
-- western ones too -- as well as world institutions were constantly
knocking at our door for more financial help.
to a nose-dive in oil prices, Iran wasn't doing as well financially.
Majidi, who was sort of enjoying this jaunt, delivered the following
cautious interview around the same time and
I bet it didn't fall on deaf ears, or did it? Old
clippings are useful at times. Here is one from MidEast
Report (January 15, 1976):
Iran-Interview with Abdil Majid
The first Iranian official
to formally announce the new prioritie in the $69.6 billion
five-year development plan was Abdol Majid
Majidi, Minister of State and Director of the Plan and Budget
Organization. At a June 15 press conference in Tehran, the
said that his government is reassessing the development priorities
because of the anticipated shortfall in oil revenues for this
In an exclusive interview with our editor in his
office, Majidi still felt that by the end of the current Iranian
20, 1976), his country will reach the anticipated level of oil
gas revenues which he put at $21.7 billion. He was preparing
the current Iranian year's supplementary budget and that of next
year due to begin March 21. This year, the budget has been originally
estimated at $24.7 billion equivalent. More than 90%
of this budget will be financed by oil revenues.
"We are," he stressed,
"trying to be within the limits of the approved budget. I am
trying my very best to keep the same ceiling." Iran
and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries (OPEC) had completed their fourfold rise in oil prices
1974, following the October Arab-Israeli war and in the middle
of the Arab oil embargo. Early in 1974, planners have estimated
Iran's petroleum and gas income for this year at about $24
billion, and at $100 billion during the 1973-1978 development
oil production has dropped by 15% in 1975 from 1974, according
to Jamshid Amouzegar, Iranian Minister of the Interior and
Iranian government representative at OPEC (see his interview
in MER of
November 15). The main reasons were a mild winter in the West
and world recession. Iran, nonetheless, has to face additional
bills. Its total imports for this Iranian year are estimated
to reach $15 billion because of world inflation and because
is fast developing. Inflation in Iran, which was predicted
to reach 22% this year, was reduced by 4.5% by the end of October,
to official figures, because of the price controls imposed
the Shah this summer.
Also, congestion at the ports and transportation
foul-ups are costing Iran some $300 million a year in surcharges
Ships at the port of Khorramshahr have a waiting time of up
to 120 days causing high congestion surcharges. In fact, Iran
up paying 50% more for goods and services than it, in effect,
Is Iran expecting more oil income over the next
years? Majidi said that his government and the National Iranian
Oil Co. are
with the international companies and we are waiting for the
final agreemen with what he calls the trading companies,
foreign oil concerns.
Turning to the priorities, the Harvard-educated
(Public Administration) minister said in the interview which
was conducted in English,
"We are preparing the budget within the framework of the fifth
development plan trying to stick to the objectives. Because
of physical constraints,
we have to eliminate items of expenditures. The general priorities
for the different sectors of the economy will be the same as
in the fifth plan. There is no shift." In short, Majidi mentioned
ports andall infrastructures that are important in terms of
expanding the capacity of the economy as well as the productive
Asked if Iran is going to provide more foreign loans in the
future, the minister of state emphatically stated:
We will be sticking to our previous commitments
and obligations. I dot think we will be committing more, lest
the aid and funds
provided by OPEC (of 10 cents on each exported oil barrel).
No new commitments are foreseen in the new budget but we shall
our previous commitments Is Iran going to acquire more equity
in foreign companiesThat depend, Majidi pointed outon the availability
of funds for foreign investments. Wll continue our policy of
investments either by plowing back foreign revenues or through
direct investments, but much will depend on the financial position
of next yea.
The reason, according to the Director of Plan
and Budget Organization, why Iran did not follow the deal with
Pan American World Airways,
was well explained... the long-run prospects were not promising.
We wanted a voice in management, access to knowhow, technical
cooperation. We wanted to expand Iran Ais network and activities.
give us assurance, manpower, etc He also citedother problems" in
terms of a controlling part over the management and the labor
disput inside the U.S. airline company.
Asked if Iran, as was rumored in Wall Street,
is going to purchase some equity in the Anaconda Company, Majidi
said he was not aware
of that information but that Anaconda is providing technical
cooperation in the developing of the Sar Cheshmeh copper deposits
He acknowledged there were some negotiations over Burmah Oil
Co. and with British Petroleum.
Concerning some equity acquisition in the financially
ailing Chrysler (United Kingdom) Ltd., Majidi conceded that some
made with Chrysler (UK) concerning the price, but they have
not reached any point. "At the present time," he added, I don't
Oh well. Looking back at the trip to Senegal, everything
went smoothly, without a hitch. Although the oil bubble
did burst - the trip should be considered as just one of
many attempts by Iran to be on the world scene, and why not?
In addition, it was a welcome, memorable, enjoyable interlude for
all of us and I hope a profitable one for both Iran and the Land
of Terranga >>> See photos
Sepahbody is a career diplomat turned journalist. He was Iran's
last ambassador to Morroco under Mohammad
Reza Shah Pahlavi.
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