New Delhi: The killing of an African youth in the national capital and the outrage it has sparked among African diplomats here comes at an awkward time as vice-president Hamid Ansari will undertake a five-day visit to the North African nations of Morocco and Tunisia beginning May 30 as part of efforts to consolidate diplomatic gains from the India-Africa Forum Summit held in October last year. There is also speculation that PM Narendra Modi may visit the southern African nation of Mozambique and possibly South Africa too in the coming months.
In New Delhi, furious African diplomats relented and decided to attend the ICCR function after a mammoth discussion among themselves that lasted two-and-a-half hours on Thursday morning. They are understood to have made it clear to the MEA that while they would attend, their core concerns remained on the serious issue of attacks against Africans in India.
A senior diplomat from Ghana read out a poem in memory of “our son Oliver”, the Congolese student who was brutally murdered last Friday. He wondered why Africans have to meet such a fate and said Africa would receive the “blood from the Ganges”.
Other African diplomats, including those from Nigeria and Eritrea, angrily pointed out at a roundtable discussion at ICCR that Indian-African friendship would ring hollow unless urgent steps were taken by the Indian government to tackle the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India.
The African diplomats wondered whether Africans, particularly students, were safe in India. Some of them also demanded that the police play a more proactive role in ensuring security for African students.
Speaking at the event, Sola Enikanolaiye, acting high commissioner of Nigeria, was quoted by news agencies, as saying, “Racism against black Africans in India is a major concern. Ugly incidents, like what we consider barbaric attacks on Africans, murder in cold blood, have met with outrage. Recent incidents in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and in Delhi last week and several such incidents in last three years, counting Goa, have given cause for very serious concern.” He said ideas of brotherhood and friendship will remain “hollow” if Africans don’t feel safe in India.
Understanding the anguish of the African diplomats at the ICCR function, MoS for external affairs Gen. V.K. Singh (Retd.) asked everyone present to stand for a minute’s silence in memory of the slain student.
He said he was shocked and deeply hurt at the murder of Oliver by criminals and said India would always welcome African students with open arms.
At a briefing on Thursday evening meanwhile, the MEA spokesperson reiterated India’s position that while strict action was being taken against the culprits, criminal acts should not be projected as racial attacks. The MEA spokesperson further said certain isolated incidents should not be generalised to say that all African students are insecure or in danger.
The MEA also pointed out that Indian bystanders had rushed to the rescue of the Congolese student but that they too were beaten up by the criminals, two of whom have been arrested.
Asked whether the murder of the Congolese student had an impact on Indo-African ties, the MEA spokesperson said, “Certainly, I will not deny.... The fact that African HoMs (Heads of Missions) were forced to issue a statement shows that there was depth of concern on their part,” he said.
(THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE ASIAN AGE AS MAY THE CASE BE)