India’s outreach to Africa paying dividend

The support of Africa is crucial for the realisation of India’s aspirations to be a member of the United Nations Security Council. Our wider footprint will also enable us to keep a track of China’s rising political, economic and military clout in Africa.

Surendra Kumar
Former Ambassador

Unlike PM Modi's other out-of-box and imaginative initiatives in the domain of foreign policy which have, at best, produced mixed results — inviting all SAARC leaders at his oath-taking ceremony in May 2014, stopping over in Lahore on December 25, 2016 to wish Nawaz Sharif a happy birthday — his well thought-out and focused outreach to Africa is transforming India's relations with this continent for the better. A decade ago, at most African capitals, the constant refrain from African leaders was that no Indian president/vice-president/PM has visited their country in decades and invitations for the African leaders to visit India were few and far between. But not anymore!        

Modi has set his own example by visiting Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. President Pranab Mukherjee had visited Ghana, Namibia and Cote d 'Ivoire and Vice-President Hamid Ansari had visited Tunisia and Morocco. The current President, Ram Nath Kovind, has visited Swaziland, Equatorial Guinea, Djibouti and Ethiopia, Mauritius and Madagascar and is all set to visit Benin, Guinea-Conakry and Gambia.

Speaking at the 52nd meeting of the African Development Bank in Gandhinagar on May 23, 2017, Modi asserted that since he became PM, he had "made Africa a top priority for India's foreign and economic policy."

Taking a cue from the Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues, contrary to the visible reluctance betrayed in the past, have also made a beeline to undertake trips to Africa. No wonder, there is hardly any African country today which has not been visited by an Indian minister in the past five years.

According to TS Tirumurti, MEA's secretary looking after economic relations, “There has been unprecedented intensification of our political engagement with Africa, with 29 visits to African countries at the level of President, Vice-President and Prime Minister, apart from several ministerial visits." India has hosted over 35 leaders from Africa for various events in the past five years or so, besides 41 Heads of State/ Government who attended the Africa-India Forum Summit in October 2015.     

Above all, India has already opened six of the 18 additional missions in Africa. Five years back, none would have thought that India would have resident missions in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland and Togo. Currently, India has 29 resident missions, in Africa; this number is expected to rise to 47 by 2021.

The selection and spread of the countries for opening new missions reflect various factors which have led to their inclusion. Some offer markets for Indian products while others look attractive for investment; some have rich mineral (including uranium) and energy resources which we need while others have risen in strategic significance on account of the changing regional and international geo-political scene. Some new missions would serve India's maritime interests and address pirate attacks on merchant vessels which have been on the rise off the west coast of Africa.

The support of Africa is crucial for the realisation of India's aspirations to be a member of the UNSC. Our wider footprint will also enable us to keep a track of China's rising political, economic and military clout in Africa (China's military base in Djibouti has become operational).

In 2017-18, India's bilateral trade with Africa was estimated to be worth $62.18 billion, which was an increase of around 21.50 per cent over the previous year. India is Africa's third largest export destination and fourth largest trading partner. While 18 per cent of India's import of crude oil comes from Africa, roughly 20 per cent of Africa's pharmaceutical imports are from India. Several leading private sector Indian companies have a significant presence in Africa; Bharti Enterprises still offers telephone services in more than a dozen African countries. Agriculture, pharmaceuticals, energy, automobiles, IT services, computer science, hydrocarbons are among the areas which show considerable prospects for Indian investment. 

Thirty eight African countries benefit from India's Duty Free Tariff Preference Scheme for the least developed countries. India has offered credit lines of over $12 billion in recent years. Her technical assistance and ITECH scholarships are aimed at capacity-building in Africa which is widely appreciated.

India's partnership with Africa is based on a model of cooperation which is responsive to the needs of African countries. It is demand-driven and free of conditionalities.  

India is also helping the African countries bridge the digital divide and has launched the second phase of the Pan Africa e-Network project — e-VidhyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati Network Project (E-VBAB) — which aims to provide five years of free tele-education to 4,000 students, free medical education to 1,000 doctors/nurses/paramedics and free medical consultancy. 

In the International Solar Alliance, out of the 48 countries which have signed and ratified the ISA framework agreement, 25 are from Africa. India has announced 23 solar energy projects in 13 African countries in consultation with local governments for the effective implementation of a $1 billion line of credit which it had offered.

Narendra Modi's 10 Commandments for engagement with Africa enunciated while addressing the Ugandan Parliament in July 2018 still remain the guiding principles for productive and mutually beneficial partnerships with Africa.

While the mindset of the ministers has changed, regrettably, it hasn't impacted many IFS officers; the blue-eyed boys and girls (who have godfathers and godmothers) scrupulously avoid serving in Africa. The fact that in the last 70 years not even half a dozen foreign secretaries have served in Africa speaks volumes about this phenomenon. Hopefully, PM Modi's enthusiasm for Africa will rub on them too.

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