Modi in Africa : Adding Substance to Historic Ties
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five day visit to four African countries is significant in intensification of geo-economic linkages
Prime Minister Modi’s eventful Africa safari adds momentum to the NDA-II’s foreign policy endeavours that are being underpinned by intensification of geo-economic linkages and reactivating diaspora connectivity. This two-fold foreign policy priority is well reflected in New Delhi’s choice of the four African countries –Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya – while crafting its first Prime Ministerial level political visit to Africa in the second week of July 2016 as a follow up to the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS)-III held in New Delhi at the end of October 2015 with participation of 41 African leaders. Located in the East Coast of Africa forming India’s extended neighbourhood, the four African countries have a volume of trade with India around US$ 22 billion (2014-15) and approximately 1.7 million Indian communities.
While Africa remains a significant area of New Delhi’s external engagement, India-Africa relation has developed its own trajectory. Since ancient times, the two regions share a strong people to people contact with Indian Ocean as a connecting line. Consequent to the external intervention under medieval and colonial periods, this natural linkage between India and Africa was replaced by a system of controlled contacts in terms of slavery and indentured labour practices. With India drawing nearer towards independence, political solidarity became the linking point between India and African countries striving for South-South cooperation against the colonial-apartheid regimes.
Grand Reception by Diaspora
Even in his brief visits to the four African countries, Prime Minister Modi did not miss the opportunity to meet Indian Diaspora. Community reception to PM Modiji in Nairobi was one of the best programmes. Lot of planning, creative thinking and near perfect execution made it a great success. Tremendous enthusiasm, lot of energy, and team work of Diaspora and their equally deep affection for PM Modi and Bharat Mata were apparently seen. PM and the President of Kenya were being welcomed by the artists of cultural program. In Nairobi, the volunteers distributed 20000 free food packets of 14 items each, to those who attended the event. PM also met members of the large Indian diaspora in Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania.
The post-colonial political linkage between India and Africa has taken a concrete shape under the process of economic globalisation in which, both the sides have recognised each other as development partner on the basis of mutuality of business interests. Since security cooperation is the logical extension of a deep economic partnership, both the sides are not only consolidating their commercial ties, but also are exploring ways and means of elevating defence collaboration. The exchange of visits at the level of heads of State/Government indeed prepares the political backdrop for economic and security engagements. The heads of all the four African States that Prime Minister Modi has visited have already been welcomed in New Delhi in the past two years. India’s relation with these Indian Ocean littoral states has moved towards a deeper interface between security and economic partnerships.
First, Mozambique has received Indian Prime Minister after a gap of 34 years, where India has developed huge stakes in its energy and maritime security sectors. Modi emphasised the age-old relationship between the two countries, saying, “…Siddi community that resides in parts of India….. trace its ancestry to Mozambique…. are a living testimony to age old links that have connected our people, their ideas and traditions, and culture and commerce.” He defined the partnership being driven by a convergence of capacities and interests in areas such as agriculture, health care, energy security, natural resources, technology, skill development and defence. Three agreements on reduction of drug trafficking and psychotropic substances and related materials, cooperation in the field of youth affairs and sports, and long term agreement for purchase of pulses were signed during this visit.
Second, South Africa has bilateral trade with India grown almost 380 per cent in the last ten years and has about one fourth of India’s total investments in Africa. Prime Minister Modi during his visit aptly described it as an “important strategic partner, with whom our ties are historical and deep-rooted.” He visited Phoenix Settlement and Pietermaritzburg Station, closely associated with Mahatma Gandhi's stay in South Africa. He undertook the train journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, the railway station at which Gandhi was forcibly evicted from the train in June1893.
Prime Minister Modi thanked President Jacob Zuma for South Africa's support to India's Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership. This is significant, since there is likely to be an interim NSG meeting in 2016 before the next annual meeting in Switzerland in 2017. Zuma, on his part, welcomed relaxation of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rules in India by lifting the caps on FDI in nine sectors including defence, food retail, local airlines, private security firms and pharmaceutical. Modi identified minerals and mining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, high-technology manufacturing, and information and communication technology as potential areas of future cooperation.
Third, Tanzania has bilateral trade with India around US$ 3 billion and similar amount of Indian investments as well. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit, the two sides signed an agreement under which India will provide a Line of Credit of US$ 92 million for rehabilitation and improvement of Zanzibar's water supply system. They also signed agreements on visa waiver for diplomatic/official passport holders. Modi held a meeting with 'Solar Mamas', a group of rural women solar engineers from Africa, who have been trained under New Delhi-supported programmes to fabricate, install, use, repair and maintain solar lanterns and household solar lighting systems in their villages. Prime Minister called for deepening partnership in agriculture and food security, working together in development and use of natural gas, partnership in the building of industrial economy, capacities and institutions in Tanzania and, finally deepening trade and investment partnership by encouraging greater industry to industry ties.
Fourth, Kenya like Mozambique has received Indian Prime Minister after a gap of 35 years. During this visit, Prime Minister Modi reiterated New Delhi’s consultative norms of engagement by stating that India is ready to join hands with Kenya in fulfilling its development priorities in sectors of its choice; and at a speed of its preference; and, be it: agriculture or health care; needs of education, vocational education or training; development of small businesses; renewable energy or power transmission; and building of institutional strengths. Prime Minister Modi and host country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta jointly addressed a business enclave in Nairobi, where the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with the Indian government’s Technology Development Board took a delegation of twenty one Indian innovation led start-ups, showcasing low cost goods and services for Tanzanian consumers. This represents a unique opportunity for India to enhance its South-South cooperation while opening new markets for Indian start-ups.
Prime Minister Modi described closer cooperation in maritime security as an important component of the overall defence and security engagement between India and Kenya. During his visit, a MoU on defence cooperation was signed for strengthening institutional cooperation between defence establishments of the two countries. This would include greater staff exchanges, sharing of expertise and experiences, training and institution building, cooperation in hydrography, and supply of equipment. Prime Minister Modi and President Kenyatta recognised terrorism and the rapid spread of radical ideologies as posing a common challenge to their people, their countries, to the region and to the whole world. Both the leaders agreed to deepen their security partnership including in the fields of cyber security, combating drugs and narcotics, and human trafficking. Significantly, Modi addressed Indian community at Kenya’s Kasarani Stadium and described them as the country’s true ambassadors.
Such high profile visit coveys New Delhi’s commitment towards its relations with Africa, offering substance to wide-ranging engagements unleashed under IAFS process. The litmus test of this effort, however, lies in maintaining an intertwined linkage among political, economic and security facets of the growing India-Africa relationship. Nevertheless, the political visit as highest as Prime Minister’s level does provide impetus to the existing policy programmes concerning India-Africa engagement. Furthermore, in the age of 24-7 media coverage, it immensely generates Indian people’s interests on African affairs, which is very crucial for forging a symmetric and sustainable connection between the two regions.
(The writer teaches at the Department of African Studies, University of Delhi)