Mission To Moscow

2179

Mission to Moscow

(H.E. Ambassador Jainaba Bah)

All Thanks and Praises Belong To ALLAH, Lord of The Universe. It was HIS (SWT) Decree that I would be an Ambassador to the Russian Federation for the period it lasted. Not a second more or a second less, all measured. I am grateful, I am thankful for the experience. Allhamdulillah Rabil Aalamiin!

Tirelessly advocating for human rights, Anderson pushed against expectations set by society and the media and in the process demonstrated that diplomacy’s requisite skills—intelligence, poise, determination—are held by women and men alike” (Mrs. Ambassador: The Life and Politics of EuginieAnderson (the first woman appointed Head of Mission at the Ambassador level in US history) – written by Mary Dupont.)

In the second week of May, 2017 as Muslims around the globe braced themselves for the month of Ramadan, I received a call from the Gambian Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation & Gambians Abroad, The Honourable Lawyer OusainuDarboe informing me that he had nominated my name for Ambassador to Moscow (The Russian Federation) and that His Excellency, President Adama Barrow accepted the nomination. He wanted to know if I would acknowledge and take up the appointment. After thanking him and by extension thanking the President for endorsing the nomination, I asked him: “Why Moscow and why me?”. He replied: “We have two Missions in the US; one in Washington DC and our Permanent Mission at the United Nations in New York. Looking at the geopolitics of the world, it is important we have one in Moscow”. Secondly, he said: “I believe you will make a good Ambassador”. I thanked him for his response and requested to be given some time to consider this unexpectedly incredible news in order to make consultations with my family and take in their reaction. The Honourable Minister agreed.

The discourse with my family went smooth. My Mother, my Husband, my Sisters and my Children in a unanimous voice applauded the offer and encouraged me to say yes and take working for my country to the next level. My children assured me that I had sacrificed years of my professional career bringing them up, that now is the moment to do something differently rewarding for The Gambia and for my own experience. I sat down and gave myself time to evaluate, reflect and think about this prospective appointment as Ambassador.

I was not a Career Diplomat. Following everyday news, trying to be abreast on what is happening around the world and being an activist is not the same as taking on the job of an Ambassador, I thought. I have been a Biomedical Scientist/Researcher, A Public Health Professional, a Teacher (in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology) and a Lecturer (in Anatomy). I have done work on Hepatitis C and Liver Cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma), drawing much joy from the fact that the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus. I have done research on HIV/AIDS looking at the prophylactic effects of Cotrimoxazole (brand name: Septrin) in HIV patients with CD4 counts below 500 cells/mm3. (WHO recommendation states less than 200 cells/mm3 but my research was done at a health facility, (MRC-Fajara) whose guidelines were from less than 500 cells/mm3). Being an activist for causes ranging from students’ rights to anti-apartheid fundraisings, adding one’s voice to refugees in Sweden fighting for the restoration of democracy in their respective countries means being firebrand, ready for battle with a mantra: No Retreat, No Surrender! You speak the language of Amilcar Cabral, look up to Che Guevara, reminisce Thomas Sankara and Titina Sillah. You constantly remind yourself that you are a child of Madiba. You speak your mind; you stand for a cause!   

When I called the Honourable Minister back, his first words were: “I hope you have some positive news for me”. The answer was: “Yes” and from that moment to today, he addresses me as “Your Excellency”. Indeed, once Ambassador always and Ambassador.

On May 17th, 2017, I received a letter dated 16th, May 2017 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs written by the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Njogu Saer Bah. The introduction read: “I have the honour to inform you that His Excellency the President of the Republic is pleased to appoint you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of The Gambia to the Russian Federation with effect from 16th May 2017.”

The writing of this article is principally to report back to the general Gambian population both at Home and in the Diaspora, especially the former, who paid my salary and upkeep during my tenure as Gambia’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation. Secondly, I would want this report to be a source of inspiration for young people, especially our young women, to venture into the Diplomatic field, invest and build their careers on the international arena and most importantly do great work for our country in particular and our continent and the world at large. For them to bring energy and eloquence to a career less populated by women. To choose to represent our Country; to be a Diplomat and make History.

Background

On January 19th, 2017, in a unanimous verdict, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2337 (S/RES/2337). This resolution congratulated the Gambian people for the holding of a peaceful and transparent Presidential election on 1st December 2016. The Security Council endorsed the decisions of ECOWAS and the AU to recognize the will of the Gambian people in voting for a change of government through the ballot box. It strongly condemned the statement by former President Jammeh on 9thDecember rejecting the December 1st official election results and in so doing attempting to usurp the will of the people and undermining the integrity of the electoral process in The Gambia. The Russian Federation was among the members of the Security Council who voted in favour of the resolution.

Introduction

The Republic of The Gambia and the Russian Federation (former Soviet Union) established diplomatic relations on July 17th 1965. The Embassy of the Republic of The Gambia to the Russian Federation was first opened in 2016 just to be closed 6 months later. It re-opened in September 2017 after having being closed for nine months. I became the first Ambassador to assume duties at our new Embassy in Moscow.

On September 11th 2017, I left Stockholm for Banjul. My Agrément had arrived a couple of days earlier meaning Russia/President Putin accepted to receive me as The Gambia’s Head of Mission to the Russian Federation. In Banjul, I underwent two training workshops for Diplomats, familiarized myself with The Gambia Foreign Service Rules booklet (FSR) and left for Moscow, arriving on a frosty morning on December 3rd 2017. Moscow is an elegant city with the world’s most extraordinarily beautiful underground.

Moscow is a strategically located capital. It serves as a hub for easy connection with all the former Soviet states. Russia, within the context of the former Soviet Union supported the liberation struggles of many African states. The majority of the World’s nations have their embassies in Moscow and there is a need for the Gambian Embassy to portray a new and better picture of our country after its abrupt and unceremonious closure within 6 months of opening in 2016. Russia, as the former Soviet Union was the country that trained the majority of our doctors and engineers in the past. Whilst working with other global development partners, it is equally important to nurture our bilateral relations with Russia for the mutual benefit of our two countries and peoples.

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world with a land area of 17,125,200 square kilometers sharing borders with 16 countries by land: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Japan, China, North Korea and the USA. It has a population of 146 million people who have a strong cultural identity and a great sense of patriotism. They have emerged victorious against invading aggressors making them own the slogan: “anyone who comes by the sword will die by the sword”. They defeated fascism and continue to celebrate ‘Victory Day’ every year on May 9th, marking the capitulation of Nazi Germany in the Second World War in 1945. They believe that a strong leader translates to a strong country.

Russia’s extensive mineral and energy resources are the largest such reserves in the world, making Russia one of the leading producers of oil and natural gas globally. It is the number one diamond producing country followed by Botswana. Russia has been characterized as a superpower. The Russian Armed Forces have been ranked as the world’s second most powerful and the most powerful in Europe. Russia is a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council and an active global partner of ASEAN, BRICS and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

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.

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 (Value Added Tax), 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 5 of us coming from Africa.

France

Gabon

The Gambia

Ghana

Honduras

Mexico

Mongolia

Iceland

Netherlands

Rwanda

Singapore

South Africa

Before leaving Moscow, Rwanda, South Africa, 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 8 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 (to Indonesia).

The Head of Mission

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” (The Gambia Foreign Service Rules)

Her/His Excellency, The Ambassador is the overall Head of the Mission and 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 advice 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 4th2017, 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 moments of a life-time experience and President Putin left a big impression. In addressing each country through the Ambassador, H.E. 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’s 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 Saint 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 K.I. 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 5 scholarships and The Gambia would send 2 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/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/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 specialize, 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 G.T.T.I 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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cmmMlOILqE&t=6s

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 (23rd  – 24th  October, 2019) was attended by H.E, the President and a delegation consisting of the Secretary General, The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and other officials.

Constraints/Setbacks

After every visit to the different Ministries, Universities and Institutions, a report was written and sent to MOFA, as to what the next step is expected to be from the respective Gambian side. Unfortunately, the response from home has always been very slow, if it comes. For example, despite writing letters, phone calls and even involving third parties, some of the Ministries we reached out to never bothered to respond to the urgency of our efforts. This means a lot of doors are still out there wide open for us to tap into and benefit. The only Ministry that has been consistently proactive is the Ministry of Higher Education, Research Science and Technology (MoHERST – under the Honourable Minister Badara Joof). At the end of the day, you face the reality that we are a country that is not good at making use of opportunities.

Culture

An area I would have loved to explore was to have had some cultural exchanges between our two countries (The Republic of The Gambia & The Russian Federation). Russian culture highly values extended family and maintaining close friendships. Islam is the second largest professed religion after Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

For Russian Literature I will recommend works by Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy (especially his Anna Karenina), Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and Fjodor Dostoyevsky  

Etiquette

If anyone elderly is present, direct your attention and respect towards them.
Offer advice and help when the opportunity arises; however, do so directly. If you try to be delicate and pose ideas as suggestions, it may be taken as exactly that – a suggestion – and may be ignored.
Try your best to perform a favour if a Russian asks one of you. To request a favour from you indicates they feel a personal trust with you, and failing to perform or return the favour can jeopardize this. Similarly, consider that they should be willing to do something for you at a later time in return if you need it.
Mentioning your own family closeness can earn admiration as many Russians consider the English-speaking West’s treatment of family ties to be quite negligent. For example, residential care for the elderly is uncommon in Russia and is considered a last resort.
When pointing out a mistake or critiquing something, do so privately and directly. The best approach would involve offering your assistance to help solve the problem as you point it out. Any criticism is also likely to be appreciated more when it is delivered as the problem is occurring, as opposed to later on when the person can no longer do anything about it.
Try to refrain from voicing judgement of people until you have a clear understanding of their situation. Russians tend to be very sympathetic towards those in desperate situations. They are unlikely to judge someone who has fallen for the vices of social ills or broken rules to get provisions as harshly as others would.  
Avoid critiquing or offering your opinion on Russia, its politics or the President unless you are well informed.
Avoid mentioning past failures of the Soviet Union or Russian state. Conversations around communism are generally acceptable, but straight criticism is unlikely to be appreciated. Similarly, respect any tributes to Soviet achievements. Russian pride of this era may be affected by a revisionist history, but a core patriotic feeling remains.
Do not make jokes about Russians being drunks or women being mail-order brides for foreign men. Such comments can become insulting if delivered insensitively or too often.
Avoid bringing up wars Russia has been involved in. If the topic arises, consider that many Russians would’ve had family members that participated in the conflict. Also, be aware that the Russian account of history may differ from your own. The country’s involvement in conflict has been seen as a necessary defense against aggressive neighbours.
Do not make comments that could be perceived to have a disrespectful undertone. Russians can be sensitive to condescending remarks.

My distinctive role was to represent the interest of The Gambia in the Russian Federation whilst overseeing the overall successful running of the Mission. As Ambassador when things work out well, the whole Team takes credit but when there is failure, the buck ends at the feet of the Ambassador. In this role, I have had my trials and tribulations; my integrity, patience, character and intelligence have been tested. I have had both the highs and the lows, but was determined to choose tenacity by dwelling on the positive side and let the negative be worthy lessons.

My greatest sadness came from witnessing the darkness that can emanate from the human soul; from one’s own within close quarters of work. The length human-beings can go to destroy you; tarnish your image, work tirelessly and obsessively to end your career. Confronted with these, I consciously allowed the negativity to consume itself and turn to ashes in oblivion. I gave the forces of evil one paragraph during my tenure and this is their epitaph.

I have witnessed the accomplishment of great feats, impossible assignments that became doable. I have enjoyed the loyalty and unconditional love from colleagues, staff and my host country. I have benefitted from the random kindness of total strangers and made friends and family in the land of the Bolsheviks, home of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. During my tenure two Audit Teams (from the External and Internal Audit) audited our Embassy in 2019 and 2020 respectively. It has been a great relief and a sense of both joy and accomplishment for me that not a single dalasi went missing in my name. The last butut was accounted for. This I want the Gambian tax-payers to know.

My successor, H.E. Mr. Alhaji Nyangado arrived in Moscow in October 2020 and found a strong foundation in place, which he can attest to. It is a work in progress: to be built upon, improved, taken to the next level and perfected. I wish him a very successful tenure with the hope that he will supersede what I have done. If that happens it would mean Gambia has succeeded. This is my humble prayer for him and for our Beloved Country.

Beautiful Memories

Many positively outstanding things happened during my tenure and three incidents stood out. All three involved helping bring back the health of individuals who were all on the brink. Fortunately, all three survived and are today living their lives to the fullest. Among these three, one stood out significantly. In May 2018, A Spectacular Urgent Action was taken by the Russian Government under the Leadership of His Excellency, President Vladimir Putin to send 8 doctors, 1 translator and 11 crew members on a private jet from Moscow to Banjul to come and help save precious life, because I made a plea. This gargantuan humanitarian act of solidarity, has left an indelible impression that I will take with me to the grave. The Medical Team met an Atlantic storm on their way to Banjul after a stop in Algeria. They had to make an emergency landing in Mauritania, return and start again before finally arriving in Banjul. It was under Ramadan and I remember fervently praying for their safety. Thinking, if anything were to happen to them, how could I live with that tragedy, that loss. Fortunately, they came, did a flawless job, left and arrived safely back in Moscow. They were Brilliant, Professional, Hardworking, Gracious, Nurturing, Decisive, Energetic, Brave, Analytical: in a nutshell, they were Russian!  

Thank you, Your Excellency, President Vladimir Vladimrovich Putin. Thank you to the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation under HonourableMinister Veronika Skvortsova, thank you HonourableMikhail Bogdanov, thank you Madame Daria Shimanovokaya and Thank you Dr. Professor Vladimir Uiba and the FMBA Team (Federal Medical Biological Agency of Russia). Thank you to all who made the effort possible, rewarding and worthwhile.

My visits to other parts of Russia like Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Sochi and Krasnoyarsk gave me the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful sceneries in nature, cutting-edge engineering and technology that left an everlasting impression on me.

Victory Day celebrations with the parade at the Grand Kremlin grounds are the most spectacular display of military might I have ever witnessed.

The Fifa World Cup in 2018

The most expensive world cup to date ($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, H.E. 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 Mosocw, 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. An incident that left a mark on me was: I went to a grocery store and when it was time to pay, I was short by some roubles. 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 realizing 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/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 His Excellency, the President 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 epitomizes 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 His Excellency, President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The man under whose Leadership a Team of 8 Medical Doctors, 11 Crew members and an Interpreter were flown to Banjul to attend a “Special Patient” upon my humble request as Gambia’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation. The Man under whose Leadership the building of an $80million Hospital in The Gambia is on the table. The President who promised that the Russian Federation will support and assist the Republic of 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 Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Mr. Sergey Lavrov. Mr. Lavrov is known as the Nr. 1 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, Honourable Sergey Lavrov always had a smile and a compliment to offer each Ambassador/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 like to extend my gratitude to:

H.E. Mr. Bogdanov Mikhail Leonidovich Deputy Foreign Minister for Africa and the Middle East,

H.E. 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 Par Excellence (Moscow State Academy of Veterinary Medicine)

The Gambians/Gambian students 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 center of refuge who brough 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’ahs 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 His Excellency, Honourable Lawyer Ousainu Darboe for nominating my name for Ambassador and His Excellency 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.

N.B.

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 & Respect!

Join The Conversation