India, China woo Rwanda, the African Frontier of Asian Rivalry
Just hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping left the landlocked east African nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Kigali to add his weight to the courtship of Rwanda, which has become the latest frontier for Sino–Indian rivalry in Africa.
Rwanda is the chair of the 54-nation African Union (AU) and, for India, is vitally important, among other reasons, for advancing its ambitions for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council which it hopes to push at the UN General Assembly session this September. India hopes Rwanda’s dynamic President Paul Kagame would better integrate the AU position on UNSC reform and support India’s candidature en bloc.
Kagame, who has visited India four times in recent years, has played a crucial role as the AU Chair in finalising the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) Agreement that has, for the first time, been signed by 44 countries and is the most comprehensive pan-African trading bloc. While Rwanda does not possess the kind of mineral wealth many of its neighbours do, for India, the region provides a growing market for its manufacturing and agricultural exports and a chance to revive its small and medium-scale industrial base.
China, which has had major trade barriers imposed by the United States, is using its deep pockets to woo the region with infrastructure projects and inexpensive manufactured products.
While India can’t match China’s financial clout, what it does offer is a variety of capacity-building developmental options which it hopes will help maintain a strong foothold. In fact, 11 cutting–edge Indian technologies have been scaled and adapted for Rwanda’s requirements over the past year under the India-Rwanda Innovation Growth Programme (IRIGP), something New Delhi feels gives it an edge over Beijing.
Also, with Japan’s backing, India hopes to push the Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) in the region as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a source of infrastructure and connectivity. The first AAGC project being developed jointly in Africa is the Mombasa port in Kenya, which India hopes to showcase to other countries in the region. India, with Japan, aims to offer an alternative method of providing connectivity to the BRI.
Defence hardware export is another key area of interest which India is offering, not only to Rwanda, but in its overall expanded outreach to Africa. India is pulling out stops to offer its low-cost military technologies and hardware to Rwanda, which is the third largest troop contributor for peacekeeping in Africa, sharing another area of commonality with India.
India has close relations with defence forces of many African countries, many of whose defence chiefs for example were trained in this country. India also has defence cooperation agreements with almost all the lateral states of the Indian Ocean. It is looking to push its maritime cooperation and raise its defence collaboration particularly with coastal nations of East Africa, lapped by the Indian Ocean.
Kagame travelled to India for the launch of the ISA in March 2018 and Rwanda has signed and ratified the Framework Agreement of the International Solar Alliance. Membership of the ISA is something China does not share.
“Rwanda is the key to Africa,” Modi said, addressing the India-Rwanda Business Forum, jointly organised by FICCI and the Rwanda Development Board, in Kigali. “When you have come to Rwanda, don’t think that you are confined within its boundaries,” Modi said. “You will find the gateway to the whole of Africa here,” he added, clearly outlining India’s interests and expectations.
Ties between India and Rwanda were elevated to that of a Strategic Partnership in January 2017. India is opening the first of the 18 new diplomatic missions it announced earlier this year in Kigali to further bolster that partnership. Modi’s two-day visit to Rwanda is the first to that country by an Indian Prime Minister.