Prime Minister Modi’s Crucial Visit To Africa To Help Elevate India-Africa Ties

Prime Minister Modi’s Crucial Visit To Africa To Help Elevate India-Africa TiesImage Credit: SCHALK VAN ZUYDAM/AFP/Getty Images
Snapshot
  • Modi’s visit to African countries comes after more than two years of his assuming office.

    Talks will be driven primarily by a convergence of bilateral interests but also due to the growing ambitions of China in the Indian Ocean and its recent moves to establish a base in Djibouti.

    Modi’s meetings with the leaders of the four countries will present a crucial opportunity to energise bilateral ties, identify fresh areas for collaboration and take relations to new heights.

    In addition, Africa’s support becomes critical while negotiating subjects like India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat, UN reforms and climate change.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a 12-hour visit to Mozambique in the first leg of his four-nation maiden tour to mainland Africa on 7 July. He is visiting South Africa on 8-9 July, after which he will travel to Tanzania on 10 July, and the final halt of his journey will be Kenya on 11 July.

Although this visit to African countries comes after more than two years of his assuming office, it will be fallacious to presume that Africa has been off his radar during this time. In fact, quite to the contrary.

Modi organised the Third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-III) in October last year when, for the first time, he invited all 54 Heads of State/Government (HOS/G) of African countries as well as the President of the African Union. Forty-one countries were represented at IAFS-III by leaders at the HOS/G level while others were represented by vice presidents and senior ministers.

Several far-reaching decisions were made during the summit, including a grant of additional concessional credit of $10 billion over five years, grant assistance of $600 million, which includes an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and an India-Africa Health Fund of USD 10 million, 50,000 scholarships in India over the next five years, continuation of Indian support for, and expansion of, Pan-African e-Network project and more.

This major summit was then followed by two recent high-ranking visits; one by President Pranab Mukherjee to Ghana, Ivory Coast and Namibia in West Africa from 12-17 June, and Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari’s visit to Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa from 30 May to 3 June. Now, Modi’s visit to South and East Africa represents an attempt to reach out to all parts of Africa.

Strategic Dimensions

All four countries that Modi is visiting have long coastlines and are linked with India by the Indian Ocean. All of these countries are members of Indian Ocean Rim Association and serve as gateways to other countries on the continent that are land-locked.

India has been active in guarding trade routes, securing coastlines, and countering the problem of piracy around the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean. Naturally, maritime security and the blue economy are likely to be priority areas for discussions during the visit.

Talks will be driven primarily by a convergence of bilateral interests but also due to the growing ambitions of China in the Indian Ocean and its recent moves to establish a base in Djibouti, a country located in the Horn of Africa.

Terrorism and radicalisation are issues of serious concern, as India and the African countries are severely afflicted by these twin scourges. The influence and reach of the Islamic State are expanding, and it is essential to evolve and implement multi-pronged strategies jointly.

Political relations with the four African countries the Prime Minister is meeting are vibrant and deep-rooted, though Prime Ministerial visits have not been frequent. While the visit to Mozambique has occurred after 34 years, the visit to Kenya will take place after 35 years, South Africa after 10 years and Tanzania after five years.

With South Africa in particular, contact has been regular and frequent. In addition to meeting at IAFS-III in India, President Zuma and Modi met at BRICS summits at Fortaleza in July 2014 and Ufa in July 2015, as well as at the G20 summit in Brisbane in November 2014. Both South Africa and India are members of BRICS, IBSA, BASIC and G20.

It was reported that at the recent plenary of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at Seoul, South Africa had raised some procedural queries regarding India’s membership of the body. Such reports have been called inaccurate by the Indian government, which maintains that South Africa was fully supportive of India’s membership of the NSG. In any case, Modi’s visit will provide a useful opportunity to address South Africa’s concerns, if any, and reaffirm its unequivocal support for the next NSG meeting.

The new Tanzanian President, who took charge last November, has launched several initiatives in areas like cleanliness, combating corruption, climate change and human security. Modi will find in him a kindred soul who is motivated by similar impulses.

Modi’s meetings with the leaders of the four countries will present a crucial opportunity to energise bilateral ties, identify fresh areas for collaboration and take relations to new heights. There is keen interest in these countries to expand further, diversify and strengthen bilateral and regional linkages with India.

Trade and Economic Ties

Trade and economic relations, as well as energy ties, form the bedrock of the multi-faceted links between India and these nations. Bilateral trade in 2014-15 with Tanzania was $4 billion, with Kenya $4.3 billion, with South Africa around $12 billion (having come down from $15 billion in 2011 on account of India’s restrictions on gold imports) and with Mozambique around $2.4 billion. Except in the case of South Africa, trade is heavily weighted in India’s favour. Exports to the four countries comprise drugs and pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, petroleum products, textiles, engineering goods, and so on while imports consist of gold, cashew, timber, spices, minerals, steam coal and so on.

Modi’s visit to Mozambique witnessed the signing of three MoUs on drug trafficking, pulse trading and sports. Under the significant “long-term” agreement on pulses, India will buy this commodity from Mozambique to plug its shortfall and contain prices of the commodity. Modi identified agriculture, food processing, education, healthcare, energy security, security, defence and skill development as some areas having a potential for cooperation. These talking points will be relevant in India’s collaboration with other countries that Modi is visiting.

Trade with Mozambique has jumped five times over five years. Out of a total Indian investment of around $32 billion in Africa, Mozambique alone accounts for $8 billion and Tanzania $3 billion, most of them in the energy sector. Indian companies have invested heavily in coal and gas sectors in Mozambique, and in natural gas in Tanzania. Several large and reputed Indian companies like Tata Group, ONGC Videsh Limited, Oil India Limited, Jindal Steel and Power Limited, JSW Steel, Reliance, Mahindra, Ranbaxy, Cipla are active in these countries.

The Indian diaspora is present in considerable numbers in these countries, the highest being about 1.5 million in South Africa, representing three percent of the total population. There are 50,000 people of Indian origin in addition to 10,000 Indian nationals in Tanzania, and 80,000 persons including 20,000 Indian passport holders in Kenya. Mozambique hosts around 20,000 people of Indian origin with 2,000 Indian passport holders.

As has become the norm for Modi’s visits to foreign countries, he will address a mammoth 20,000 strong rally in Nairobi on 10 July and a smaller 10,000 crowd of Indian origin residents in Johannesburg on 8 July. He will meet and interact with the diaspora in other countries in smaller settings. Modi will undertake the symbolically significant and historically important train journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, the railway station where Mahatma Gandhi was forcibly evicted from a train because he refused to leave his first class compartment in June 1893. He will also visit the Mahatma’s Phoenix Ashram in Durban.

Modi’s visit will help quell concerns about alleged racist attacks against African students and nationals in India, which have been in the news in the recent months.

Conclusion

Africa is a region that India cannot afford to ignore. Six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located in this massive continent. Huge complementarities exist to strengthen bilateral collaboration in diverse areas and upgrade India-Africa engagement.

India is Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner with a trade turnover of $72 billion in 2014-15. India has invested around $32 billion in the continent. Baskets of goods imported from Africa are dominated by commodities, particularly crude oil, gas, pulses and lentils, leather, gold and other metals, all of which are of critical importance to the Indian economy and its people. India exports manufactured products like medicines, automobiles, two-wheelers, iron and steel products, plastics, machinery and engineering products and so on, as well as refined petroleum products. Africa represents a new and growing export market. This is significant because India’s traditional export destinations in Europe and North America are declining.

Africa’s partnership and active engagement are crucial for progress in global and regional issues. Africa’s support becomes critical while negotiating subjects like India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat, UN reforms and climate change.

Modi’s first visit to Africa is timely and portentous. It will strengthen political, strategic, security, economic and people-to-people ties with these countries as also with the whole continent. This will give an impetus to security, stability, peace and prosperity in the region and the world.

The author is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is currently President, Institute of Global Studies.”

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