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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Mission to Moscow

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Registration/accreditation at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Each Diplomatic staff and their family are to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow. Mine was no exception. As The Gambia’s ambassador, I was accredited to only the Russian Federation. That limited our bilateral relations with the other neighbouring countries in the region. Increasing the number of states would help The Gambia garner much needed economic benefits and foreign investment that can cater for our national development agenda and at the same time help our citizens in those countries, many of whom are students.

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The AAA

There is an Association of African Ambassadors and the dean was from Madagascar when I arrived in Moscow. He later went on to be Madagascar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. The present dean is from Cameroon. Ambassadors normally meet on a monthly basis having one country/ambassador host and chair the meeting. Here, matters affecting the community are discussed, like VAT, the Yearly Africa Day celebrations, individual country reports and working with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Until last year, with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic (and there was a break), meetings are held in alphabetical order with the names of the respective African countries. Our embassy hosted a successful one at the end of October, 2018, which I chaired. I extended an invitation to the EU ambassador which he gracefully honoured and he attended.

The Women Ambassadors Club

When I came to Moscow, we were 12 female ambassadors with five of us coming from Africa: France; Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Honduras, Mexico, Mongolia, Iceland, Netherlands, Rwanda, Singapore and South Africa.

Before leaving Moscow, Rwanda, South Africa, the Netherlands and Mongolia had left. Ghana and I presented our letters of credence the same day and we both left Moscow in October 2020. The ambassadors from Canada and the UK are the latest additions making the total to eight female ambassadors at present. 

Despite being the first country in the world to send a female ambassador abroad, Russia has today only one lady ambassador, Lyudmila G Vorobyova from Indonesia.

The head of mission

According to The Gambia Foreign Service Rules, “The head of mission is charged with the overall responsibility of the activities of the mission. He/she shall be assisted by members of the mission in the exercise of such responsibilities”.

Her/His Excellency, the ambassador is the overall and as head of the mission, my role was:

I) To represent the Head of State of the Republic of The Gambia in the Russian Federation.

II) To address issues affecting Gambian citizens within the jurisdiction of the Embassy.

III) To identify areas of mutual Bilateral Cooperation between The Gambia and the Russian Federation.

IV) To make follow-ups on all agreements and arrangements with the Russian Federation.

V) To report to The Gambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) any information that may prove to be of relevance and interest both nationally and internationally emanating from the Russian Federation.

VI) To advise the Government of the Republic of The Gambia through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on matters relating to policy and relevant issues that can/may affect our bilateral ties with the Russian Federation.

VII) To request from the Head of Chancery (Deputy Head of Mission) and the Finance Attaché to present the books of accounts for inspection.

I assumed my duties as ambassador on December 4th 2017, the day after my arrival in Moscow. Among the areas of concern that I brought to the table for discussion were:

A) Finding a solution to The Gambia’s perennial electricity problem and energy supplies for the population

B) Collaboration with the learning and training institutions – to absorb Gambian youths at different academic levels for training in diverse fields. That way they would be able to participate and contribute to our country’s development as the future leaders and engines of our socio-economic advancement.

C) STEM/TVET as priority areas (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics/ Technical and Vocational Education and Training)

D) To find support in rebuilding our dilapidated health sector.

E) To find investors/companies who would invest and train our own people in the exploration of our newly-discovered gas and oil deposits, laying the foundation stone for our future to be in our own hands.

F) To solicit support for the improvement of our agricultural sector.

First, a copy of my letter of credence was presented to Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov on December 15th, 2017. On April 11th, 2018, I presented my letter of credence to His Excellency, President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin with 17 other ambassadors from different countries around the globe at the Grand Alexander Hall in the Grand Kremlin. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and President Putin left a big impression on me. In addressing each country through the ambassador, President Putin promised to continue assisting The Gambia by training our young people and professionals as well as supplying new agricultural machinery to our farming sector. When it was one-on-one with the president, I remember I was the second to last ambassador to meet him, before Ghana’s ambassador. I was overwhelmed and ended giving him a bear hug which he gracefully embraced. I want to believe that I am the only ambassador ever to have done so. Temporarily, I forgot I was a diplomat.

During my tenure in Moscow as The Gambia’s Ambassador to Russia, (2 years, 8 months, 2 weeks and 3 days), I was able to visit ministries, universities and institutions. I attended and participated in different fora like the St Petersburg Women Economic Forum, the Russian Federation Security Council Summit in Sochi, the Eurasian Aviation Conferences in Kazan and Krasnoyarsk – Siberia, the first ever Russia-Africa Summit also in Sochi, the presentations of the different regions in Russia at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, chaired by Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Agricultural Machinery Forum. Worth mentioning are the visits to: The Ministry of Energy, The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Africa Department & Department of Protocol, The People’s Friendship University of Russia – RUDN (Former Patrice Lumumba University), PIROGOV (The Russian National Medical Research University), The Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, The Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Russian Federation, The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine and Biotechnology – MVA named after KI Skryabin, The Ministry of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, The National University of Science and Technology MISiS (formerly, Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys State Technological University) and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO)

Welfare of Gambians in the Russian Federation

There are more than forty Gambians in the Russian Federation and the majority are students in different universities reading different fields, from medicine, engineering, veterinary medicine, ICT, international relations. Scholarships were sparsely granted due to the fact that The Gambia was unable to accept all the scholarships that were given (no tangible excuse was given). For example, Russia would grant five scholarships and The Gambia would send two students. Fortunately, this trend is being progressively reversed. The last unprecedented offer we had from one single University (RUDN) was 10 scholarships in post-graduate studies.

Achievements and accomplishments

Definitely, not as a sign of blowing my own trumpet or beating some jembeh drums to attract fanfare, but simply a humble report that during my tenure, with a lot of dedication and unrelenting hard work, the following were achieved or are under consideration:

1)  The Gambia was selected as the hub of the West African Cluster of Russian Education in Africa. There are three Russian Clusters in Africa: Southern Africa, East Africa and West Africa. Among the countries in the West African Cluster are Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana. Our Embassy made a bid arguing why The Gambia is the best alternative to be the hub. We won.

2)  An MoU was signed between The Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science & Technology (MoHERST) and RUDN, People’s Friendship University, (former Patrice Lumumba University)

3)  An MoU was signed between The University of The Gambia (UTG) and RUDN People’s Friendship University, (former Patrice Lumumba University)

4)   Commencement of cooperation in agriculture between the RUDN Agrarian Technological Institute and NARI.

5)  Negotiations with the Dean at the Faculty of Science for capacity building program for the staff of GTTI.

6)   A proposal from the Federal Medical Biological Agency of The Russian Federation (FMBA) to build a state-of-the-art Hospital ($80 Million – D4 billion) in The Gambia. Thereby, transferring the technology to manufacture some drugs and vaccines locally like is done in India, Brazil and South Africa. In a complementary package, the building of staff quarters, a training in Russia component for doctors to specialise, midwives, nurses, lab technicians and biomedical personnel.

7)  Tourism from The Russian Federation and the first direct flight from Russia to The Gambia

8)  A proposal to build in The Gambia the first Aviation Flight Academy in West Africa (A Pan African Flight Academy). This came about as a result of a conference I attended in Kazan at the Eurasian network Forum and a follow-up conference in Rabat (Morocco) with AFRAA (The African Airlines Association).

9)  Initiatives have been taken to assist in transforming the GTTI to an Engineering and Technical University in collaboration with the National University of Science and Technology MISiS (formerly, Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys State Technological University)

10) 4 scholarships have been awarded to The Gambia from The Russian Federation Ministry of Higher Education and 4 scholarships have been awarded by RUDN making a total of 8 scholarships at the undergraduate level. 10 scholarships have been awarded by RUDN for post graduate studies at the Master’s and PhD levels in different fields from Medicine, Engineering, Agronomy, Food Science, ICT bringing the total number of scholarships to 18. This is unprecedented. Earlier the scholarship offer was 4 (more than 4 times higher).

11) The Embassy assisted embattled Gambians in the Russian Federation, especially students. With last year’s Covid-19 outbreak and Government’s response to support Gambian students abroad, the formation of a students’ WhatsApp group (acting upon the advice given on my first visit to meet Gambians in St. Petersburg), made data compilation on each student very easy for further transmission to the MOFA/MoHERST. The WhatsApp group later formed the Gambia Students’ Union. In fact, the Moscow Model was the first of its kind which was adopted by the MoFA as a standard application form to be used by the rest of the other Missions. For example: Name, Surname, E-mail, University, Phone number, Scholarship/None and the Amount needed. The form was later modified to include passport copies, the name of the course, the duration and which year the student is currently enrolled in as well as their university ID)

12) The building of a Medical Simulation Centre – electronic equipment lab for practicing standard medical situations of various complexity levels before practicing on real patients is being considered. In Russia all practicing doctors are required to get their qualifications checked and upgraded on a regular basis by law.

13) A project of waste to Energy Factory – turning solid waste into electricity is on the table.

Here is the description

14) A vote for the Welfare of Gambians was approved in the mission’s budget since 2019. Financial constraints are a feature of the struggles waged by Gambian students in Russia as in other parts of the world. We were able to convince MoFA/MoFEA to allocate a vote to address some of their needs. Unfortunately, this has not been optimal.

15) The non-visa regime between our two countries for holders of Diplomatic and Service passport holders has been put in place.

16) The Historic Russia-Africa Sochi Summit (23-24 October, 2019) was attended by the President and a delegation consisting of the Secretary General, The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and other officials.

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