It is with great delight that I took due cognizance of the fact that Russia- one of the greatest world powers in terms of sheer size, military might and relative economic might is playing catch up and has used the first ever Russia – Africa Summit in Sochi to announce its intentions for Africa. If there is any power that is poised to reclaim lost ties and reconnect with AFRICA is Russia. During the cold war, the Soviet Union had championed the cause of Africa since the 1960s and the highlight in my view was the establishment of the Patrice Lumumba Peoples Friendship University in Moscow in 1962 to train the future leaders of AFRICA in vast array of educational enterprise including medicine, engineering, agriculture, veterinary medicine , International Law and International Relations etc Invariably a lot of African students were invited to further their education in various educational establishments in the USSR including the author of this letter. Today these Soviet graduates are found in virtually all sectors of human endeavour making their mark to advance the development of AFRICA.
A case in point the outgoing Managing Director of NAWEC Baba Fatajo and another senior manager Bakary Kanteh both trained in Russia. The Permanent Secretary Youth and Sports also studied in Russia including a leading veterinary expert, now a lecturer in the University of the Gambia just to mention a few. Besides a pool of Soviet advisers and technicians fanned out to various spots in Africa to offer vital human resource support in that era.
Sadly this vital cooperation in education and other vital areas were reversed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the successor states including Russia did not have the appetite to maintain and sustain this army of foreign states, thus the scholarship packages seized in the early 1990s shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Patrice Lumumba Peoples Friendship University was renamed University of Russia.
With the Sochi Summit Russia seeks to re-launch ties with Africa and according to a keen observer “Russia is increasingly looking to Africa as a region to project power and influence”. I could not agree more given that Russia is increasingly regaining its lost glory on the world stage and AFRICA in the calculation of the Kremlin elite s the next battle ground for influence.
Given that the Gambia is a small country, and can ill afford to engagein big power politics, but as a sovereign state we have our interest to pursue in terms of extending hand of friendship to all nations big or small based on the principle of mutual respect and coexistence – a key principle in international relations. .Our foreign policy should be smart and should seek to ensure that our national interest in terms of economic development, human resource development and security of our peoples is advanced. In my humble view Russia as one of the world powers can play a crucial role in our national development endeavours in many ways.
In the area of human resources development Russia is a leader in knowledge development and has cheapened education and knowledge acquisition and is a leader in science and technology more so in aeronautics, medical sciences, physics and petro chemical industry, not to mention armament industry which is one of the best in the world. The government of the day should woo the Russians to offer scholarships to young Gambian to further their studies in engineering, medicine and related fields.
Another area is Tourism and here I can expertly say that Gambia stands to gain by engaging the Russians to open new exotic offering and opportunity for sun starved Russians to bask in the sunshine of the Smiling Coast and follow the footsteps of the Swedes, who way back in the mid 60 s of the last century discovered this beautiful gem of a land and strait away fell in love, thus setting in motion a chain of events that laid the foundation of Gambia Tourism. The pioneering Swedes were attracted by the winter sun, gorgeous beaches, and the agreeable climate, but the main magnet included the legendary hospitality of the Gambian people, unsophisticated charm, social cohesion, religious tolerance, exotic culture and above all the friendliness of the locals and on top of all these is the culinary and gastronomic delight as well as the majestic River Gambia.
Just like the pioneering tourists from Sweden, the Russian tourists will also find plenty of reason to savour the delights of the Smiling Coast in their droves. However for this to happen their will be no short cuts and the hard work to attract the Russians and ensure that we deliver as promised in terms of developing the demand side products as well as the supply side including increasing proficiency in Russian language must start now. Russians tourists are very adventurous AFRICA is a place TO EXPERIENCE Dikkaya priroda (wild nature) dikki zivodni (wild animals) and other exotic offerings in terms of culinary delight, unsophisticated charm as well as trendy hospitality facilities and serene beaches.
In the area of security Russia is a leader in terms of armaments and the military industrial complex of Russia is one of the best. As such we could engage the Russians to secure top notch and affordable armaments for our men in uniform. In the midst of the security sector reform, it is my hope that Russia can be engaged in providing vital logistical support in terms of military trucks and gadgets to beef up our efforts in downsizing and creation of a more professional army. After all it was Dmitry Yazov- one of the greatest Russian generals who once famously said that “Armia eto chast obsestva”- meaning the army is part of society.