By Ambassador Jainaba Bah
The Fifa World Cup in 2018
The most expensive world cup to date (US$14.2 billion) was held in Russia in 2018. It was here that Panama and Iceland made their first appearance on the world stage of Fifa football and where France won their second World Cup. Senegalese, Madame Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, the first female secretary general of Fifa invited all of us women ambassadors to grace the final at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow played between France and Croatia. France won by 4-2 and many were inspired by Croatia’s female president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who was flying economy and attending games on the days Croatia was on the pitch. For me, meeting President Macky Sall, his wife and the officials from Senegal at their hotel and later following the entourage to where Senegal was playing against Poland and winning that game was the beginning of an amazing World Cup experience in 2018. This was at the invitation of the Senegalese ambassador to Russia, Abdou Salam Diallo who became the best colleague, a friend and a brother.
Racism in Russia
Before traveling to Moscow, I had once read in one of Amnesty International’s reports that racism had gone “out of control” in Russia. Arriving in Moscow one of the starkest impressions I had was the homogeneity of the society. Comparing Moscow to other metropolitan cities in the west, I could see here, there are “no” people of colour. This impression lasted until I visited RUDN (former Patrice Lumumba University). I was positively surprised by the great numbers of African, South American, Asian and other students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. One can argue that as a diplomat, I was well protected and could not have been exposed to racism, but living in Moscow, I had freely moved around alone and many a time with my children in casual wear without an incident or being confronted with the ugly head of racism. At school the children had complained of being “frozen out” because in the beginning they could not speak the language. Later, they made friends and life became normal. One incident left a mark on me. I went to a grocery store and when it was time to pay, I was short by some rubles. I was going to return a thing or two but a young man after me in the queue volunteered to pay the amount from his phone. I told him that was not necessary but he insisted, not realising that actually he was helping the Gambian ambassador to Russia. I have been met with much kindness and admiration. Russians are generous people and they love giving away gifts. I have not officially visited an institution or a department without coming out with a nice present. I tried to match their generosity, but I think they were always ahead of me, full of pleasant surprises. We should remember that this is the only country in the world that named a university after an African (Patrice Lumumba).
Vote of thanks
I would like to thank the staff at the Gambian Embassy in Moscow for being supportive and hardworking during my tenure especially the flag car drivers: who patiently endured my long 14-15-hour working marathons.
Much thanks to the secretaries and translators for doing their work exemplarily by exerting extra efforts in order to complete assignments and add value to the tasks to be addressed, working under pressure, never complaining; yielding to my demand for perfection in the work we were doing.
Spasibo Bolshoi (a big thank you and special gratitude) to the flag car driver,
Ivan V Mischenko for caring for my well-being, my family’s and for being the best driver. Ivan was a world champion in cycling and had won the title many times during the Soviet Union era. Ivan would bring me fresh potatoes from his father-in-law’s garden during the summer. He would not only open the door for me but would spread the umbrella out and stand in the rain shielding me. He would hold my hand as support, so I would not slip and fall on the slippery snow or ice. Yes, gestures you would call very normal, but what made them stand out was the love and compassion with which he did his work. He accorded me much respect and was such a dedicated worker who never called in sick, not for once. On my birthday in 2019 coming from the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi with President Barrow and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivan brought me a huge basket of chocolate from him and his wife as my birthday present at the Sheremetyevo Airport. He told me: “Madame we bought you a present which you can give away. We know how much you would like to give this to your president”. He later took a photo with both the president and the minister. On International Women’s Day, Ivan would buy flowers and chocolates for all the ladies at the embassy. We were four. Ivan epitomises the Russian man!
I would like to thank the gardener Gulom and his wife Oyzoda for not only delivering great service, but for their unflinching loyalty throughout. To top all the good they did, in an extraordinary exhibition of affection, they named their adorable daughter born on 14th December 2020 after me. I am humbled and honoured. Her cute photos adorn my WhatsApp profile.
I cannot end this piece without once again thanking President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The man under whose leadership a team of eight medical doctors, 11 crew members and an interpreter were flown to Banjul to attend a “special patient” upon my humble request as The Gambia’s ambassador to the Russian Federation. The man under whose leadership the building of an US$80million hospital in The Gambia is on the table. The president who promised that the Russian Federation will support and assist The Gambia in the fields of education and agriculture. That more people will be offered to be trained in Medicine, Engineering, technology, agriculture, the sciences and other relevant fields within our national development agenda. That new agricultural machinery will be supplied to The Gambia as bilateral aid.
I want to thank the minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Mr Sergey Lavrov. Mr Lavrov is known as the number one diplomat the world over. Despite shouldering the gargantuan responsibility of being Russia’s minister of Foreign Affairs, with the tough global challenges that come with that, he always had a smile and a compliment to offer each ambassador or diplomat who meets him. He has a very strong handshake, a great sense of humour, he has intelligence and charisma. Every December ending, he will invite all of us foreign diplomats to the famous Grand Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to say goodbye to the year with performances of the Queen of Spades, Don Qixote de la Mancha to name two which I attended.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to:
Mr Bogdanov Mikhail Leonidovich Deputy Foreign Minister for Africa and the Middle East;
Mr Kermarsky Andrei Vadimovich (Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Head of the Africa Department);
Doctor Professor Vladimir Uibah (Physician, Epidemiologist, top health official, former head of the Federal Medical Agency of Russia (FMBA) and present governor of the Komi region;
Mr Georgiy Kuznetsov (Protocol Department);
Madame Daria Shimanovakaya (Deputy Health Minister);
Dr Larissa Efremova (RUDN University);
The dean and All the African Ambassadors in Moscow;
Dr Masamba Kah (National University of Science and Technology – MISiS);
Dr Abdourahman Jallow (Specialist in infectious diseases);
Dr Sheikh Jeng (Surgeon);
Professor Maria Fedotovna (President of the International Academy of Agricultural Education – Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine);
Madame Olga Gennadyevna Schultz (Dean of International Affairs – Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine);
Madame Marina Andreeva (Evans Real Estate Agent);
Mr Kebba Muctarr Jobe – Brilliant, top Gambian student (Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine)
The Gambians in the Russian Federation.
I would like to thank the staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the PMO, the staff at the Accountant General’s Office and both Audit Teams of the External/Internal Audit.
Special thanks to Madame Mariama-Swa (Sweden), Madame Ndey Jobarteh (Norway), Mr Mustapha Jawara (Raleigh, NC), Mr Yahya Darboe (Maryland) and Mr Lang Konteh of Petro Gas (Gambia) for being my pillars of moral support, with encouraging words and prayers during the most trying times for me in Moscow.
My classmates of SJHS Class of ‘81 (Saint Joseph’s High School, Class of 1981) for being my centre of refuge who brought me much joy, smiles and laughter.
I want to thank my family: My mother, my husband, my sisters, my children, my friends, family and loved ones who consistently and unrelentingly made du’a for me, advised me, but most importantly, who simply loved me unconditionally!
I thank you, the reader for your precious time.
Finally, I would end where I started. I want to thank Honourable Ousainu Darboe for nominating me as ambassador and President Adama Barrow for accepting the nomination. Without the nomination and its approval, all this would not have been possible. Noteworthy is the fact that, in the first place, it was a decree of Allah, SWT.
Author’s note: I will be coming back with a second piece to address a couple of “Breaking News” items that were in the media with my name attached as Ambassador to Russia, issues that need to be clarified for a fair and balance narrative. Until then, let this write up be a big thank you to The Gambian people and hopefully an inspiration to the younger generation. With love and respect!