President Akufo Addo Exchanging Pleasantries with the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, IIham Aliyev

Time check, its 19:05 on the 21st of October, in the year of our Lord and guess what, the pages of the travelogue gets flipped one more time! The mission is a multilateral stopover in Baku, Azerbaijan for the 18th edition of the Non Aligned Movement conference.

Turkish Air Flight TK 0630 enroute to the Heydar Aliyev Airport in Baku via Istanbul, Turkey, is ready for boarding. The six and a half (6:30) hour flight to Istanbul and the two and a half hours (2h 30 minutes) subsequent trip to Baku, Azerbaijan were both very smooth and trouble free inspite of the nearly six hours  transit wait at Istanbul.

Arrival and Visa Self Service

At about 15:30 hours local time in Baku (11:30am in Ghana) on the 22nd of October 2019, the team of three journalists arrived in Baku. Upon disembarking, we were confronted with a self-service free visa-on-arrival automated system. After scanning my passport and keying in all information demanded by the digital system, I got my visa print out and a soft copy delivered to my email in real time. I proceeded to assist my two other colleagues to obtain same. The team thus proceeded to boarder agency where we were cleared and admitted into Baku.

Off to the Hotel

An assigned embassy official, already stationed at the airport, promptly identified us and ushered the team out of the airport to begin out 30-minute journey from the airport to the Boulevard Hotel.

The Blend of Old and New

The typical Airport and town taxi in Azerbaijan

Our drive from the airport in one old traditional taxi and another modern Toyota vehicle quickly registered in my mind how that the Azerbaijani people make do with both their tradition and trendy worldwide as well. It was therefore not surprising to see how the architecture of the City of Baku reflects both the old and new era of building construction.

Ghanaian Officials in discussion with an Azerbaijani official to get things sorted out

The efficiency of the Azerbaijani people will quickly come to play by virtue of the speed and enthusiasm with which they assisted us to get our bags into the hotel lobby. As if that was not enough, our media accreditation tags had already been printed and all they were waiting for was our arrival to deliver same. Even though there were a few issues with the hotel reservation made on behalf of the team, the issues were resolved after a few hours of consultations and our rooms were allotted to us. The team settled in, effectively bringing day one to a close.

The Ministerial Meeting

As a prelude to the meeting of the NAM Heads of State, Ministers and Foreign Affairs officials from all member states met ahead of the formal engagements to prepare the way for the Heads of State meeting. Madam Mavis Esi Kusorgbor, the Director of the Multilateral Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration and Daniel Okaiteye, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Ghana to the United Nations (UN), led the Ghanaian team at the meeting.

Arrival of the President

Ahead of the NAM conference, President Akufo Addo was in Sochi, Russia where he attended the first ever Russia – Africa Summit. The President thus departed the black sea city of Sochi enroute to Baku, Azerbaijan. Ever though the media team did not make it to the airport, we were made aware that the President Akufo Addo touched down in Baku AR about 23:00 hours local time in Baku, (19:00 GMT). The President and his entourage recessed into their hotel, bringing the 24th of October, 2019 to a successful end.

The NAM Conference

The 18th NAM Conference underway in Baku

The over one hundred and ten Heads of State and Governments, from about 9am, started arriving at the conference venue (the Baku Congress Center) to a warm reception and photo session with the host, President of Azerbaijan IIham Aliyev.

The general debate of the 18th NAM Conference was on the theme, ‘Upholding the Bandung Principles to Ensure Concerted and Adequate Response to the Challenges of Contemporary World.’

In his address as the 11th speaker during the debate, President Akufo Addo, stated that the socio – economic transformation of Africa is likely to occur at any moment even though it had taken a lot of time for same to be achieved even after a successful liberation of the continent from colonial rule. President Akufo Addo indicated that he remains highly optimistic about the ability of the African continent to liberate itself economically.

In his address, the President noted that the successful struggle against colonialism and imperialism, one of the aims of the Bandung Principles that gave birth to the NAM, has been accomplished.

“An independent Africa, the beneficiary of the work of the conference, must always remain thankful for its intervention.

“But I have no doubt that the promoters of the conference wanted more than just to fulfill the dreams of political freedom and independence of the peoples. The promise implicit in the drive for liberation was that freedom will inspire the rapid enhancement of the quality of life of their people and banish the specter of mass poverty bequeathed to us in Africa by the long period of colonial exploration,” President Akufo Addo said.

He further said, “Alas that has still not happened for a variety of reasons, internal and external. Be that as it may, our generation has an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to guarantee the liberties and freedoms of our peoples and eradicate mass poverty in Africa.”

In registering his confidence in the ability of African to overcome its rather difficult economic crisis currently, President Akufo Addo reiterated the fact that he is an incurable optimist and that he believed in the continent’s capacity to achieve these ends.

“The socio-economic transformation of Africa is imminent, which would permit us to build a new progressive Africa on the values of freedom and justice and allow us to make our own unique contribution to the growth of world civilization. It is within reach if we in Africa work together,” President Akufo Addo opined.

President Akufo Addo Addressing the Plenary of the 18th NAM Conference

The Non-Aligned Movement

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was created and founded during the collapse of the colonial system and the independence struggles of the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions of the world and at the height of the Cold War. During the early days of the movement, its actions were a key factor in the decolonization process, which led later to the attainment of freedom and independence by many countries and peoples and to the founding of tens of new sovereign states. Throughout its history, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries has played a fundamental role in the preservation of world peace and security. The founders of NAM have preferred to declare it as a movement but not an organization in order to avoid bureaucratic implications of the latter.

Primary of Objectives of NAM

The Baku Congress Center, the venue for the 18th NAM Conference

Thus, the primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power or block influences and rivalries; the struggle against imperialism in all its forms and manifestations; the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, foreign occupation and domination; disarmament; non-interference into the internal affairs of states and peaceful coexistence among all nations; rejection of the use or threat of use of force in international relations; the strengthening of the United Nations; the democratization of international relations; socio-economic development and the restructuring of the international economic system; as well as international cooperation on an equal footing.

During its over 60 years of existence, the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries has gathered a growing number of states and liberation movements which, in spite of their ideological, political, economic, social and cultural diversity, have accepted its founding principles and primary objectives and shown their readiness to realize them. Historically, the non-aligned countries have shown their ability to overcome their differences and found a common ground for action that leads to mutual cooperation and the upholding of their shared values.

The Ten Principles of Bandung

The ten principles of Bandung are; respect of fundamental human rights and of the objectives and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations, recognition of the equality among all races and of the equality among all nations, both large and small, non-intervention or non-interference into the internal affairs of another -country and respect of the right of every nation to defend itself, either individually or collectively, in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations. The rest are, non-use of collective defense pacts to benefit the specific interests of any of the great powers, as well as non-use of pressures by any country against other countries, refraining from carrying out or threatening to carry out aggression, or from using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country, peaceful solution of all international conflicts in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations, promotion of mutual interests and of cooperation and respect of justice and of international obligations.

After the first day of debate, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, IIham Aliyev, hosted all his guest to an official dinner at the Heydar Aliyev Center. The first day of the two day conference slowly grinded to a halt with this event.

President Akufo Addo in a group picture with his colleague Heads of State at the NAM Conference

The President Departs

At about 14:00 hours Baku time, President Akufo Addo departed his hotel in the company of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, and other members of his team to the Heydar Aliyev airport back to Ghana.

Time to Explore

Having successfully seen the President off, it was time to experience the city of Baku as much as was possible with the time left before the departure of the team.

The Burning Mountain

The “Yanar Dag”, the burning mountain in Baku

Yanar Dag (Azerbaijani: Yanar Dağ, meaning “burning mountain”) is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan (a country which itself is known as “the Land of Fire”). Flames jet into the air 3 metres (9.8ft) from a thin, porous sandstone layer. Administratively, Yanar Dag belongs to Absheron District of Azerbaijan.

Unlike mud volcanoes, the Yanar Dag flame burns fairly steadily, as it involves a steady seep of gas from the subsurface. It is claimed that the Yanar Dag flame was only noted when accidentally lit by a shepherd in the 1950s. There is no seepage of mud or liquid, which distinguishes it from the nearby mud volcanoes of Lomb at anor Gobustan.

The territory of Yanar Dag, State Historical-Cultural and Natural Reserve was established by the Presidential decree dated 2nd May, 2007, which operates under the control of the State Tourism Agency of Azerbaijan. After major hauling between 2017 – 2019, Yanar dag Museum and Yanar dag Cromlech Stone Exhibition were launched in the area of the Reserve.

A long view of the “Yanar Dag”, the burning mountain in Baku

Love for Wood

Indoor public sitting area designed with wood

I just couldn’t help but take note of the usual public facilities that are made of wood. From chairs in the park way and hotel lobby to lighting facilities in the city as well as in the hotel restaurant, it was obvious that the Azerbaijani people have a deep love for and a special attachment to wood products.

Outdoor public sitting area designed with wood

Under Bridge Road Crossings

Some Foot-travelers using the under bridge facility

As part of the Architectural design of the city of Baku, road crossings in the heart of the city are built underground. The underground facilities are fitted with escalators to aid quick access to same. Road accidents resulting from pedestrian road crossing are almost nonexistent.

Wi-Fi in the Park

A Wi-Fi sign post indicating the availability of free Wi-Fi at a public park in Baku

As part of efforts aimed at boosting domestic tourism, the city managers have provided free Wi-Fi to persons visiting the city park for recreational purposes. City managers of Accra perhaps need to take a cue from this Baku principle I guess, if they so desire to boost domestic tourism in Ghana.

Facing the Sea

The Boulevard Hotel and several other buildings designed to face the Caspian Sea

It is obvious that the city of Baku has been undergoing some major reconstruction to reflect a modern outlook ahead of the very much anticipated Azerbaijan Expo 2025. As part of this re-engineering of the city Baku, the city planners have decided to turn the sea to face the only water body in their region, the Caspian Sea instead of turning its back to the largest lake in the world. Ghana unlike Azerbaijan is blessed with over 450 kilometre coastline (The Atlantic Ocean), are the city planners of Accra, Cape Coast, Ho and Takoradi. Who is willing to give consideration to turning our cities on the coastline to face the beautiful Atlantic Ocean? Ghana stands to be the ultimate beneficiary with such a policy if you ask me.

Photo Request on the Streets of Baku

Two of my colleagues grant the request by a family for a picture

While on an hour walk along one of the principal streets of the city of Baku, the team was pleasantly surprised at the several requests by both young and old to take pictures with the “Black Caucus” roaming their streets. It was interesting to hear from some Azerbaijanis that we were the first ever blacks they had met.

Rural Azerbaijan

A man walks up one of the rough roads in the capital of Azerbaijan

Even though Azerbaijan is in a hurry to catch up with the modern world, there clearly still exist the rural Azerbaijan. During my road trip to the “burning mountain”, I captured one such area.

Uber in Baku

A branded Uber vehicle on the streets of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan

Uber has become an international phenomenon and it was not any surprise to note the services of same in Baku. What was different though was the fact that every Uber vehicle was branded in the city. Obviously, the authorities in Azerbaijan have decided not to subscribe to the international transportation service blindly.

Religious Tolerance

In a country where the three most controversial religions in the world (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), are all practiced through their churches, synagogues and mosques, it was very refreshing to know that the three dwell together in perfect harmony. What a pleasant world we would have if the rest of the world would emulate this Azerbaijanis blessing.

An Observation

As I interacted with a few people who could express themselves in English in Baku, I noticed that as a country, Azerbaijan is on a collision course to do away with everything Russian and to embrace fully the Azerbaijanis heritage after gaining independence from Russia control. It turns out that the current generation of young people are prevented from learning and studying in the Russian language. So the older generation can speak both Russia and the Azerbaijan language but the younger generation are made to speak only the Azerbaijan tongue. If this agenda goes according to plan, in a few years, no one will be able to speak Russian in Azerbaijan.

The food Fact

Food is served in Baku

Food is certainly a religion in Azerbaijan. From a variety of baked bread, to vegetables and real grilled meat, the peoples of Azerbaijan love their food.

The writer stands by the burning mountain in Azerbaijan

The “Land of Fire”, Azerbaijan is surely on fire and as long as the burning mountain continues to burn, the quest of the European/Asian state to stand up and be counted amongst the world’s greatest will be pursued unabated. The Gold Coast, Ghana, our beloved Republic, must as a matter of urgency set her own fire. Let’s set fire on all the mountains hindering our progress and let’s allow the perpetual flame of the black star of Africa to burn afresh in our hearts. The travelogue takes a bow for now while we yet await the destination.

Choh Sagoh – Thank You Very Much!!!!

Salamat Galin – Peace Be Unto You!!!

Source: Ghana/ Asare