Volodymyr MUZYKA, interviews Volodymyr Butiaha, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Republic of the Gambia (the posts combined)
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How do the matters stand at present in the relations of this country with the nations of the African continent? What are exactly the interests that the Embassy of Ukraine protects in such countries of your accreditation as Nigeria and the Gambia?
"Perhaps you know that the most important task laid down for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is to put the foreign policy on economic footing. In the developing countries, particularly African, it is possible to promote Ukrainian goods that are in less demand in the countries of the West.
"The advanced countries are not always interested to import Ukrainian produce since besides also having present-day technologies they carpingly protect the interests of their own makers. In contrast, the African countries feel the need to have unsophisticated machinery that is, easy to operate, maintain and service. They readily buy our tractors, trucks, agricultural machines, electric power generators, etc. Such equipment is not demanding and provides fail-safe operation under unfriendly climatic conditions. Also in demand are chemical fertilizers and metalware,
which import from Ukraine is subject to quotas in the West. Aside from that, the countries of this region favor the complex machinery for the oil industry, production of shipbuilding, as well as enormous experience of Ukrainian experts in geology, power engineering, fishery, environment protection, etc.
"One should not forget that Ukraine during the Soviet Union was one of the centers that trained national cadres for the developing countries. You can meet graduates of the Ukrainian institutions of higher learning on commanding positions at the government ministries and departments both of Nigeria and the Gambia, the other country I am accredited at. The Embassy's one-and-a-half-year-long experience of operation in Western Africa shows that the region can and must be a big market for the output produced in Ukraine.
"With the purpose of making the positive trend in bilateral relations with the Federal Republic of Nigeria achieved within the year and a half long term of the Embassy's operation stronger, we are planning to continue the goal-oriented work of securing qualitatively new level of cooperation with this country, and to intensify the dynamics of political dialogue between the leaderships of Ukraine and Nigeria. The priorities in this plane could be, primarily, the more active trade and economic relations and goods turnover boost between out countries that within a short period has reached 145 million US dollars per year. Also deserving prior attention is more intensive drawing of Ukrainian companies into important economic projects that Nigerian government plans to realize in the nearest future. As to the Gambia, a small country that may be located not on every world map, only last year alone contracts with it had been signed for dozens of millions of US dollars. "
As we know, this was not the first attempt to open our regional Embassy in Nigeria. Couldn't you tell a few words how it all began and why, properly speaking, it happened in this country?
"Indeed, it was not the first, but this time successful attempt to open Ukrainian diplomatic representation in this important from political and economic point of view country of Africa. With a population of over 120 million, the country is the sixth world oil producer and the biggest military power in the region, playing the leading role in settlement of conflicts and development of integration on the African continent, and could not be unheeded by our country's diplomacy.
"As of today, diplomatic representation of 75 countries and more than forty offices of international and regional organizations are open in Nigeria. You will not object that to conduct serious political activity in Africa without considering the Nigerian factor is entirely impossible, the more so being regional, and the responsibility of our Embassy involves the majority of the countries in western Africa. I would like also to add that emergence of the Ukrainian diplomatic representation in Nigeria was long expected since even at the time of the FSU representation of Ukrainian production makers was considerable on the local market. Thus, the Nigerian side knows well the industrial potential of Ukraine, with which they are going to develop cooperation in every sphere.
"I would like to draw your attention also to the fact that the opening of the Embassy had become possible thanks to the competent and selfless work of its employees, especially the advance group of diplomats. "
Volodymyr Ivanovych, You have just mentioned the Gambia, a small country in the west of Africa. What is the status and outlook for development Ukraine-Gambia bilateral cooperation? What interest does such European country as ours find in this republic?
"Republic of the Gambia is indeed a small country and approximates in size and number of population to our Poltava oblast. However the bilateral cooperation between these two countries, especially in the field of economy, may serve as model for others. Although diplomatic relations were established in 1998, the cooperation was effected primarily through the representations of these two countries at the UNO. The real and serious work started after the two main political events that stirred up the activity of relations between the countries, moving them into practical field. The first was the visit of the Gambia President Yahya Jammeh to Ukraine in the summer of 2001 that resulted in highly fruitful negotiations with the Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma. The second one happened to be the almost concurrent inauguration of the regional Embassy of Ukraine to be located in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
"Within a short time, thanks to the political and diplomatic assistance rendered by the Embassy to the Ukrainian producers contracts were signed for the construction of three ferryboats, which delivery is planned for the autumn of this year. Besides, the issues are under consideration of ordering two dry cargo ships and reconstruction of the shipyard at the seaport of the Gambia capital Banjul. At the end of the last year the first of the 450 tractors ordered by the Gambian side and produced the PIVDENMASH plant of Dnipropetrovs and farm machinery made by other Ukrainian enterprises. Quite promising are also such new forms of bilateral cooperation as efforts in the field of power engineering, prospecting and joint operation of the oil- and-gas deposits on the Gambia territory and the sea shelf; founding of joint air transport enterprise; construction of a flour-grinding production; and training of specialists at the Ukrainian educational institutions. Cooperation is also initiated in the spheres of tourism and health care, fishery, ecological research, plant breeding, as well as export to the Gambia of the Ukrainian agricultural produce (grain crops, oil, sugar, and so on). It is worth mentioning that during recent negotiations this April, the representatives of the Gambia business circles expressed interest in construction on the territory of the republic of two powerful power plants to be built by the Ukrainian specialists.
"Cooperation with the Gambia attracts also by the stability of political power, uniformity of the society and by the young and resolute President who is well affected towards Ukraine and takes decisions quickly. I had the occasion to meet President Yahya Jammeh several times and discuss with him urgent issues of bilateral relations during my work trips to Banjul. I may say it with full responsibility that thanks to his personal
persistency, efficiency and ably selected members of his government the Gambia will turn into trade gate to West Africa. "
Now, Mr. Ambassador, let us get back to Nigeria. I know that several years ago, when you headed the Embassy of Ukraine in Iran, Ukraine supplied there freight cars in great number and had built an aircraft plant in Isfahan that now makes the Ukrainian AN-140 planes. Are there any perspectives to realize similar projects on territory of Nigeria. How do our economic relations with this country take shape in general?
"In my opinion, there are such perspectives, which are quite real. The results of my meetings with the President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo and leading ministers of the government prove it. For instance, during the Soviet times, Ukraine played important role in the construction of the biggest in western Africa Ajaokute metallurgical works, which involved immense industrial and human potential of our country. The Embassy is busy presently with the issue how to engage our potentialities to complete the project worth several billion USD.
"Nigeria is one of the leading trade partners of Ukraine in Africa. In particular, this is proved by the fact that during the first quarter of this year the volume of the Ukrainian exports to this country amounted to USD44m. While analyzing the dynamics and structure of export-import operations of Ukraine with Nigeria, one may state that certain positive changes are present not only in the quantitative indicators, but also in the structure of goods. Thus, the share of advanced technology products has increased lately in the Ukrainian export. These are bulldozers, trucks and electric generators, giving grounds for optimism regarding further development and intensification of the bilateral trade and economic relations, as well as to talk about gradual return of its positions on the African continent lost after the FSU collapse. "
Could you name at least one of the hot issues in the bilateral relations between Ukraine and Nigeria?
"There are no issues in relations between our countries that could create barriers for progressive development of cooperation in all spheres of social life.
"However, both Ukrainian and Nigerian sides in arranging such cooperation pay considerable attention to control of the illegal migration of Nigerians to this country. Despite the high level of understanding on this issue reached at negotiations with the representatives of the foreign policy department of Nigeria, the final settlement of the problem of illegal migrants from Nigeria will still require additional efforts of both countries. With the said, one of the embassy priorities includes framing of the conventional legal basis between Ukraine and Nigeria that would permit optimal interaction of both sides to solve the above problem.
"According to the data of the Nigerian immigration service made public by local media, close to 50 thousand of illegal migrants are taken out. Dozens of thousand of them are women, which, as a rule, walk the streets of Europe and Asia bringing huge profits to international criminal organizations. Hence, the problem of illegal migration is not new to Nigeria with its population 128 million and extremely low standard of living. By various
assessments several thousand illegal migrants from Nigeria are in Ukraine. Some of them stay in Ukrainian prison. Since some of them have neither sufficient education, nor elementary social maintenance, their stay in our country causes annoyance for the Ukrainian society and difficulties for them. To exclude possible social disorders connected with the above problem, it is urgent to speed up the adjustment of legal mechanism to return illegal migrants to Nigeria. It is worth adding that Nigeria has already positive results of cooperation in this sphere with the European countries that render its departments material assistance to prevent illegal migration from the country. I hope that the collaboration of Ukraine and Nigeria on this issue will also bring the desired results."
As a multinational country and one of the leaders of the African continent, Nigeria's legislation has, undoubtedly, its distinguishing qualities. Has it ever happened that certain peculiarities of the Nigerian Law were the cause of legal conflicts that violated the rights of foreigners in the country, and, in partricular, of Ukrainians?
"The Federal Republic of Nigeria is, indeed, comprised of both "Christian" states and the states of predominantly Muslim population with the right to establish Sharia to administer Islamic civil law, thus making for variegated situation in the legislation sphere. However, that did not lead to the violation of the rights of Ukrainian citizens except one case that happened in 1997 before the Ukrainian Embassy was opened there. The vessel M. V. Dubai Valour was unlawfully detained with its Ukrainian 27 member crew arrested and held in detention for more than a year on claim of the Nigerian Chief Humphry I. C. Idisi.
"Nevertheless, after the counterclaim set up by the ship's crew, in which they demanded their immediate release and 5 million US dollars to compensate for unlawful detention, as well as due to the active diplomatic steps by the Ukrainian side, the Nigerian judicial authority passed the sentence. It stated violation having been made of the fundamental rights of foreigners vested in the Constitution of Nigeria. At the same time, the demands by the Ukrainian crew-members for reimbursement was found ungrounded.
"The Embassy started its operation in 2001, with protection of rights and interests of the Ukrainian legal and physical persons becoming one of the main directions of the diplomatic institution activity either in Nigeria or other countries of western Africa that belong to the zone of our responsibility on the regional principal. The principal stress is laid here on the most extensive information of the Ukrainian citizens about the specific character of the country they stay in. In particular, it concerns the most common types of fraud, especially in financial sphere, rampancy of crime, as well as sanitary and epidemiological situation."
Nigeria and Ukraine are very different countries. With this in mind, we would appreciate if you specify the coincidence of their interests. In case of difference, what exactly they consist of?
"I think that it would be appropriate to speak not about difference, but about interests of our partners that do not always coincide with that of this side. It
is necessary to study them and take proper account of, but be guided primarily by the interests of our own. That is just what the art of diplomacy consist of-reaching reasonable balance of interests acceptable to both sides. I guess we are successful in this in relations both with Nigeria and the Gambia. "
How can you assess the level of Ukrainian presence within the mass communication of Nigeria?
"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that projecting positive image of this country is a priority in the daily work of the employees of the Embassy. All their painstaking activity is devoted to contacts with representatives of government and business circled, media, as well as foreign diplomats accredited in Abuja.
"Our government representative abroad is promoting the prestige of this country mainly by a single means of meeting foreigners, convincing them in the advantages of cooperation with Ukraine, and clarifying the specificity of this country sometimes not clear enough for the outsiders. "
Recently, the attention of the world was drawn to Nigeria connected with riots caused by the final round of the Miss World competition. Could you say a few words on the subject?
"It is hard to add anything to what has already been reported the by world information agencies concerning reasons and causes of the disturbances. However, the local authorities did not waste time and reestablished control over the situation and stopped the riots. In particular, situation in the Nigerian capital Abuja public order was restored literally within hours, and an in a few days the organizers and participants of the unrest were brought to trial. Unfortunately, loss was also caused to our diplomatic office by the angry crowd that damaged one of the embassy cars, on which the driver was returning home after the mission at the airport. Fortunately, the driver himself was not hurt, although he had a frightening experience.
"In general, one should say that in the country, which population is divided by half into Muslims and Christians, the government structures find it not easy to control the situation, the more so the inter-religious clashes more often now acquire political coloration. The riots in question were not exception. If at the beginning they started as spontaneous reaction of the youth to the disrespect towards the Muslim values, the local media repeatedly mentioned implication of some political forces.
"For us, it turned out to be a lesson of the sort since it made us revise our attitude towards the safety of the Embassy operation. Specifically, measures were taken to reinforce the security guard of the Embassy premises, the diplomats' dwelling house, and the Ambassador's residence. At the same time we watch carefully for the signs of possible such situations, and initiated for the staff of the Embassy to include wardens on duty. I would like to note that we find full support and understanding with the leadership of our Ministry. "
Mr. Ambassador, diplomatic profession is known to be prestigious in any society, and the requirements for the personnel doing this job have grown lately. Would you tell what were your decision criterions to select cadres?
"All diplomats on the job at the
Embassy have extensive professional experience of carrying out mission overseas and are characterized solely positively. During their selection foreign language was not the only quality taken into account as were often done in other deputations, where I had chances to be employed too, but professionalism, decency and the desire to honestly toil for the benefit of Ukraine. It is exactly due this fact that the Embassy operates effectively and expands its activity to other countries of the region despite inhospitable climate, tribulations of everyday life, tropical diseases that the employees and their families came through, etc."
Our readers would like to know about accomodations for our diplomats. What compensation do they have? Incidentally, can you recall how you earned your first money?
"Honestly, it did not come to rest yet. At first, it never occurred that we would encounter problems that never existed in the countries I or other diplomats of the Embassy had a chance to work. Abuja is a new capital of Nigeria that is still under construction and, to an extent, remindful of a vast building site. It was hard to find premises not only to dwell, but also to locate the diplomatic representation. For almost four months the members of the front group resided at a hotel, where from they started to deploy the ambassador's headquarters. The next six months everybody, including the Ambassador, lived and worked at their offices. Only last May we were successful to hire a decent dwelling. Personally, it was just recently that I moved from the Embassy.
"No less problems we had while furnishing our offices and habitation with furniture, office equipment, stock, and so on. If the offices, being equipped as priority, now look more or less as rooms of diplomats, and one can say that everything was provided with 'starting with a pen and ending with the premises', the habitation still left much to be busy with. It was not a trifle issue at all, since family members were to stay at the office without a chance of visiting a theater, movie, or even to have a stroll: under conditions of factual lack of infrastructure and complicated criminal atmosphere existing it could be perilous. I would like to note, however, that in view of the present situation in Ukraine, our country does all in its power so that its diplomatic representatives could adequately represent its interests.
"I remember my first earned income very well. It was at brickwork where we unloaded just baked brick from oven. The work was hardly for someone to begrudge. Those were very hard times when we scrambled along in the world with out parents trying to build a home. At times, the mission to pile up boards at the power-saw seemed like heaven. For the first money earned, I bought a long-dreamt "Vostok" watch for 27 rubles. By the way, it still works being in use by my father in the country. I guess he values it as a remembrance."
Mr. Volodymyr, you have spent almost fifteen years with diplomatic mission overseas. How did you manage not to lose ties with the Poltava Oblast, your native land?
"I have never broken ties with my homeland and am proud of it. In particular, during the years I worked in Iran I made for the products of the Ukrainian
manufacturers reach the markets of the Middle East. For instance, Kriukov Carriage- Building Works supplied to Iran cars and railroad equipment for dozens of million US dollars. This money arriving in Poltava somewhat relieved the fate of the common people in the region. I see great services here of Director-General V. Prykhodko, a talented organizer, scientist, highly decent sort of man and real patriot of our country.
"Besides, due attention was paid to cultural links. For instance, a great success in Iran was the concert tour of the Poltava "Puppet-Show" famous well over the borders of Ukraine. The performances of the group on stages in Iran and at the Ukrainian Embassy for the diplomatic corps accredited in Teheran retained in the hearts of spectators a good memory about out native land. "
And, at last, the final question: Are you satisfied with your appointment to particularly Nigeria.
"My reply is like this. I have never been looking for light work. Hence, when the President took the decision of appointing me exactly to Nigeria, I took it with satisfaction. "
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