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India’s African Focus Continues

PM pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi in Sou (CC BY-SA 2.0) by narendramodiofficial

It appears that the next Chief Guest for the Republic Day 2019 will be Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, after a reluctant US President expressed his inability. It was for the good in any case. We should have leaders who value and respect the gesture and dignity of the invitation and with whom we have a great relationship since it is a unique honour.

With South Africa, our relations are millennia’s old and ever expanding in bilateral and multilateral formats like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) and G-20 in the modern context. It is also timely, as we are celebrating 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi for whom South Africa became the cradle of his conviction for India’s liberation from the yoke of British colonialism. As Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, during his three-nation recent tour to Southern Africa also mentioned, “It was this soil of Africa which gave the nourishment and inspiration and made Mahatma Gandhi what he was. It was Africa that transformed his vision and gave greater clarity to his life’s mission. Africa has always close to Mahatma Gandhi”. So, is Africa to India and the Indians.

What has lacked and been lamented by the African leadership is the infrequency of high-level visits from India to Africa. South Africa may have been an exception where the ministerial preferences stopped. It was in fact Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru who had visited many countries in Africa in 1960s and propagated for their independence and development. India also garnered tremendous goodwill as a result of its quest for their wellbeing. The toil of the Indian origin diaspora became a bridge of continuity in the post-independence period. Somehow, while we received and hosted a large number of African leaders either bilaterally or through the multilateral meetings like the Non Aligned Movement or India- Africa Forum Summits in India, the agenda for our top leadership for visit to African countries in a focused manner was missing. It became a real concern over time as many of the strong African leaders from large countries felt slighted.

Fortunately, the trend has been reversed. We have seen a spate of interactions at different levels from both sides and India developed an ambitious agenda of mutually beneficial cooperation from trade and economic collaboration to capacity building. During the last four years or so more than 26 outgoing visits by Indian President, Vice President and Prime Minister have taken place which is a testament to the ‘Africa Focus’ in the Indian foreign policy establishment.

Most recent interaction with southern part of Africa was from October 31-November 5 when Vice President Venkaiah Naidu paid a visit to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi, which have been marked by lack of exchanges except Lilongwe where former VP had visited in 2010. The visits to the three countries, part of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), was aimed at further strengthening the bilateral relationship. However, apart from highest level bilateral interaction with counter parts and overview of relations, a common denominator was closer collaboration in 4-Ds (Defence, Digitalisation, Diamonds and Diaspora). In Botswana, Vice President inaugurated the Global Expo 2018 where 25 Indian companies were participating and addressed a CEOs meet apart from institution of India-Africa Diamond Institute and visit to Diamond Trading Centre. Direct supply of the rough diamonds was on the cards despite the monopoly of the global players like De Beer. As for the defence cooperation, revival of capacity building and training of the Botswana forces also in peace-keeping made ample sense since during 1978-2012 there was significant collaboration between the two countries in the defence sector. Membership of International Solar Alliance was valued by the host country.

The visit after a gap of 21 years to Zimbabwe was highly significant since it was major visit after the country got out of the Mugabe shadow and is mainstreaming after the recent elections where India was also an observer. Tremendous business-to-business opportunities exist in mining, agriculture, information and communications technology, human resources development, healthcare, diamond trading and traditional medicine which was clearly evident from the several MoUs that were signed. Harare also wanted to export rough diamonds directly to India. They wanted urgent help in the medical sector especially in life saving drugs and India immediately agreed to provide the requisite drugs and ambulances. Also was announced a line of credit of US$ 310 mn for upgrade of Hwange Thermal Power Station as well as for Bulawayo Plant and that for Deka Pumping Station and the Indo-ZIM Technology Centre. India also agreed to help Zimbabwe back to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) fold.

In the final leg at Malawi, India extended a line of credit of US$ 219.75 mn. An important MoU in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy was also signed and closer collaboration in disaster relief and management was agreed to. Bio-fertiliser, construction, tea, sugar, telecom, power transmission etc. were identified for intensifying trade and investment and technology upgrade. As such, about 100 Indian companies are operating there. Inauguration of India-Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural Development will go a long way in exploiting the synergies to mutual advantage. Over 8500 strong Indian diaspora is pretty active. Hence the visit of Shri Naidu was not only highly symbolic and reassuring but was also equally substantive.

Prime Minister Modi, while speaking at the Parliament in Kampala in July this year outlined his Africa vision through his ten guiding principles which include: Africa is among top priorities for India and momentum of cooperation will be sustained through regular exchanges; development partnership as per African priorities; preferential access to Indian markets for African products; assist in harnessing digital revolution in Africa; improve Africa’s agriculture potential; fight climate change together; work together to keep oceans and maritime lanes free for all; Africa instead of becoming a theatre of competition should become nursery for its youth; and aspire and work together for a just , representative, democratic global order. These are ideal, achievable and collaborative policies that dictate a paradigm shift compared to other big powers who are trying to get into the ‘Gold Rush’ for exploitation by way of neo-colonialist approaches.

China has been in the lead for their Africa outreach for decades through their ‘Chequebook Diplomacy’, with consequent debt traps for their local clients. But they still secured the early bird advantage which despite the realisation by Africans and prevailing goodwill for India will be difficult to dislodge. They do have deep pockets and it was only in September this year at their Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that the Chinese announced US$ 60 billion in financial assistance aid to Africa while waiving loans to some countries.

India will have to learn to coexist and collaborate with the Chinese in Wuhan Spirit, if necessary, so that a win-win outcome for all stake holders, especially the Africans, remains the hallmark of partnerships. China may not be averse to it. It could perhaps be on the pattern of Africa-Asia Growth Corridor (AAGC) where Japan is a major partner and the US and others are exploring to collaborate, even though as of now this ambitious project has much less to boast about. In the meantime, India has to strive to expeditiously deliver on its promises, be it on the lines of credit, project implementation, or for that matter capacity building. It may be recalled that at the India-Africa Forum Summit III (IAFS) in 2015, India had announced a line of credit of US $ 10 bn with $ 600 mn in grants and over 50,000 capacity building scholarships.

At a recent conference organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), most of the African Ambassadors expressed concern at delays in implementation of high decibel pronouncements. They also repeatedly made a point of the slow delivery mechanisms and recommended that a Constant Monitoring System with respect to India’s projects be instituted. These are genuine demands and realistic expectations, and are essential for making the Indo-Africa Partnership functional and mutually beneficial in this and the next century as Africa has great potential to be crucial to India’s food and energy security.

Amb. Anil Trigunayat (VIF)
29 November 2018

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