Strengthening Ties with Africa
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to embark on a tour of four African countries – Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya – from July 7 to 11, 2016. This is his second tour to Africa. Last year, he had visited Seychelles and Mauritius. His tour also comes on the heels of President Pranab Mukherjee’s and Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visits to several African countries in West and North Africa. The forthcoming visit will add to the number of initiatives that have been taken by the Prime Minister to strengthen ties with African countries.
Focus on Indian Ocean Rim countries
In March 2015, Modi visited Seychelles and Mauritius, signalling India’s intent to enhance ties with the African Indian Ocean Rim Countries. During the visit, he signed landmark agreements to build security ties with these island states. In Mauritius, he enunciated India’s policy vision for the region thus: “We seek a future of Indian Ocean that lives up to the name of SAGAR – Security and Growth for All”.1
He also signed an agreement for infrastructure development for improving sea and air connectivity on Agalega Island. In Seychelles, Modi launched a coastal surveillance radar project, announced the transfer of a Dornier aircraft and signed an agreement to build infrastructure on Assumption Island. In a step to boost maritime cooperation, he invited both Seychelles and Mauritius to become part of the existing cooperation arrangement with Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Third India Africa Forum Summit
Subsequently, Modi hosted the third India Africa Forum Summit in October 2015. In a break from past tradition, he invited the Heads of State of all 54 African countries to participate in the summit. During the Summit, Modi reaffirmed that development cooperation was the cornerstone of the India Africa partnership and offered an additional USD10 billion concessional credit over the next five years. He has also offered a grant of USD 600 million and created an India-Africa development fund of USD 10 million.
He announced that India’s cooperation will be in line with the objectives set by the Agenda 2063 initiative of the African countries. In a bid to enhance agricultural cooperation, Modi called for collaboration for improving farming techniques, water management and increasing investments in the agri-business and food processing industry. Acknowledging the lack of energy access in Africa, he sought to intensify cooperation in renewable energy sources.
He also mooted the idea of a global solar alliance at the summit. In view of the importance of the blue economy for sustainable economic development, Modi called for greater cooperation in this field as well. Given the African focus on education and skills enhancement, he pledged 50,000 scholarships for African students over the next five years. Finally, since security and development are closely linked, he announced support for African efforts in diverse fields such as peacekeeping training, counter-terrorism, maritime, space and cyber security.
Apart from strengthening bilateral relations with African countries, Modi has taken steps to enter into triangular engagement with key partners. At the end of the two day India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in Washington last year, India announced a joint initiative with the United States to provide training for troops in five African countries before their deployment in UN peacekeeping missions. Similarly, during Modi’s visit to Japan in September 2014, India and Japan agreed to enhance cooperation with African countries.
Africans in India
As Modi speeds up engagement with African countries, there is an important challenge that he faces within. India will have to make efforts to make African nationals feel welcome. In recent months, there has been a spate of assaults on Africans based in India. As a result of the large number of scholarships offered to African students by the Indian government, thousands of African students are living in India. These assaults generate a negative image of India in Africa and may impact on century-old ties with the continent. President Mukherjee has gone on record to say that “It would be most unfortunate if the people of India were to dilute our long tradition of friendship with the people of Africa.”2
The Indian government was prompt in responding to these events and issued statements condemning these acts of violence. External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, Minister of State for External Affairs, VK Singh, and Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, met with African diplomats and students to reassure them with regard to the safety of Africans in India. However, in order to find a long term solution to this issue, the government and civil society in India should devise mechanisms to promote greater understanding between local communities and Africans living in India.
As Modi embarks on his tour, he is faced with the task of convincing African countries that India is interested in forging a long term partnership that will help in promoting sustainable development, security and a better rapport between the people of India and Africa.
1.“Text of the PM’s remarks on the Commissioning of Coast Ship Barracuda,” (Accessed June 29, 2016).