Interview of Ambassador Victor I. Sibilev to European Times magazine
1. Roles and Goals of the Embassy
The Russian Embassy was opened in Gaborone in 1976, six years after the diplomatic relations had been established. Initially, Soviet Ambassador in Zambia was accredited to Botswana. This year in August we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Embassy.
The goals of the Embassy are determined by Russian law and international legal instruments such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. The main objective is to promote bilateral ties between Russia and Botswana in various fields, which means working with governmental authorities, business community, NGOs, educational institutions and other organizations of both countries. The mission exchanges information with them on what is going on in Botswana in terms of political activity, economic development, social life and other spheres. We also engage in the work on expanding the legal framework of cooperation, i.e. creating new agreements, memoranda and other international documents. A very important function of any Embassy, including ours, is to protect Russian citizens in Botswana, champion their lawful rights and extend help if they get into trouble in this country. Luckily, such cases are very rare. At the same time, the Embassy carries out the whole range of consular functions including issuing visas for local citizens who want to visit Russia.
Russian Ambassador to Botswana is also accredited to the Southern African Development Community as the Special Russia’s Representative, thus the Embassy closely interacts with the SADC Secretariat.
2. The main challenges the Embassy faces in achieving its goals.
Russia-Botswana relations are traditionally friendly. We have a number of areas of cooperation, some of which, however, are yet to be developed.
To begin with, there is no Botswana Embassy in Russia. The Ambassador accredited in the Russian Federation permanently resides in Stockholm, Sweden. It is, however, admitted in Botswana’s Foreign Ministry that the question of opening a resident mission in Moscow is ripe. One of the reasons for such a decision is the fact that over 300 Botswana nationals are currently residing in Russia. These are mostly students who chose our country to receive higher education. Some of them are admitted under the program of Government scholarships. In June 2016, the MoU between the two Ministries of Education was signed providing for the extension of annual scholarship quota up to 30 people. The most called-for specialties are medicine, engineering and agriculture. Moreover, the pace of expanding public ties in the area of education creates incentives for more Botswana students to study in Russia on a self-sponsored basis as Russian universities are gradually becoming more attractive in terms of affordability and quality.
Economic cooperation between Russian and Botswana business sectors is still lagging behind. The scarce presence of Russian investors in the country can probably be explained by factors such as shortage of information, lack of convenient transportation and established patterns of interaction between the two countries. However, the Embassy makes efforts to enhance ties between private businesses of the two countries. Together with our partners we organized a Russia-Botswana business forum in November last year, which gathered representatives of seven Russian companies, including such majors as Alrosa, Gazprombank and Rostec. Russia and Botswana being two main players of the rough diamond market that possess all key ingredients to glue a partnership. Russian JSC Alrosa, a global leader in rough diamond production, has already been prospecting for diamonds in this country in a joint venture with British «Botswana Diamonds». Diamond exploration in Orapa and Gope areas is currently underway, and recent findings indicate good prospects for boring.
3. Plans for the future.
Russia and Botswana each boast rich wildlife and nature, possess well-established tourism industry. Together we can explore ways of forging direct links to develop mutually beneficial cooperation in these areas. This March the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Honourable Tshekedi Khama met with the Minister of Natural Recourses and Environment of Russia Sergey Donskoy in Moscow. It was agreed to work out a Memorandum of Understanding between the two ministries on environmental protection. Its draft is now being considered by Botswana experts.
Another MoU on cooperation between the Ministries of Healthcare is almost complete. After conclusion, which, as we hope, will be quite soon, the document will pave the way to exchange programmes for medical specialists, organization of joint seminars and workshops and creating a Joint Working Group on Healthcare.
Another promising area is telemedicine. Russia’s National Agency of the Telemedicine is interested in creating a telemedicine system designed specifically for Botswana. This means bringing medical services to remote and scarcely populated areas where people do not have access to healthcare facilities. Besides, there are several possible projects based on inter-university partnership in the field of nuclear research and telemedicine..
4. Ambassador’s personal message
The Embassy has been playing an important role in maintaining burgeoning relations between Russia and Botswana. Over time, our bilateral ties have become more solid and diverse, which entail new tasks for our governments and for the Embassy. We shall continue to expand our cooperation in various areas and extend support to Botswana in its developmental efforts. I am convinced that the deepening of our partnership following the time-tested traditions of friendship, equality and mutual respect makes Russia and Botswana stronger, more prosperous and resilient to all sorts of challenges. What brings our countries closer is the common commitment towards ensuring stability and security, sustainable development and international peace. As Botswana proudly celebrates 50 years of independence this year, I wish well-being and prosperity to the citizens of this remarkable country in the following 50 years.