Despite the Russian city being a cultural and religious melting pot, there is a definite lack of knowledge about Africa, writes Carla Bernado.
Ufa, Russia – Ufa, the venue for the 2015 Brics/SCO summit in Russia, is the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan and one of the largest in the Russian Federation.
There are over 100 ethnic groups in Ufa, with a population exceeding four million. Of the 22 faiths practiced in Ufa, Islam is dominant, with its 900 mosques, the most famous of which is the Lala Tulpan.
It is then fair to call Ufa a cultural and spiritual melting pot.
There are clear influences of the West in Ufa, with its fast food joints and Ikea stores. With its closer proximity to fellow Brics nations India and China, the adoption of eastern style and flavour in architecture and food is evident.
What is, however, lacking, most explictly so for a visitor from the only African Brics member state, is knowledge of the continent.
“The only thing I know about South Africa is apartheid and that Richard’s Bay has good weather,” said an Ufa businessman.
“But I don’t know what apartheid actually is.”
It was not the most ideal of starts, nor was the immense language barrier making matters any easier.
But also housed in the international media centre for the duration of the two-day summit with highlights such as the launch of the Brics New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangment, were volunteers from across the Federation.
Most of the volunteers were students from surrounding universities.
One such volunteer was 25-year-old Nikolau Dongala Gama.
Gama, originally from mineral-rich Angola, had made his way to Russia in 2011 to study at the Ufa State Petroleum Technological University.
What was it like to be one of a very small number of Africans in Ufa?
“It is very good, this is my second home,” said Gama.
“The people are very kind and it is a lovely city.”
Gama had managed to pick up Russian and speak it fluently within six months of his arrival.
But it was not his plan to relocate to the Federation permanently: “Angola is developing so fast and they need engineers.”
“I will return to Angola,” said Gama, “I will be a great help to my country.”
Not wanting to live anywhere other than Ufa, but keen to visit South Africa and Namibia was local Liliya Denislamova.
The 26-year-old Denislamova said she did not know much about Africa but was aware of the two countries’ mineral wealth.
With her work as an engineer designing oil pipelines, the interest was unsurprising.
But Denislamova said she knew a number of Africans in Ufa.
“I really like them and I would really like to visit some time.”
An Ufa local with slightly more knowledge of Africa was 36-year-old Yekaterina Telina.
“Africans are tolerant, intelligent people,” she said.
“I know that life can be incredibly hard in Africa, but it is a continent of beauty, of beautiful cultures.”
Telina, a member of the Ufa Brics press office and a journalist outside of the summit, said South Africa was the country she knew best.
“It is the African country with the democratic government and the most stable situation.”
Telina echoed a call made by South Africa’s number one citizen President Jacob Zuma who, on Thursday, called on citizens of Brics member states to strengthen ties with one another.
“Africa is the place I dream of going to,” said Telina. “That is a place I would really like to visit someday”.
And, with a gesture seemingly as rare as spotting an African in Ufa, Telina flashed a smile and made her way back to the summit which was drawing to an end on Friday evening.