Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on his maiden tour to Africa during which he will travel to Mozambique (July 7), South Africa (July 8-9), Tanzania (July 10) and Kenya (July 11). Although this visit comes after more than two years of his assuming office, it will be fallacious to presume that Africa has been off his radar screen. Mr Modi organised the Third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-III) in October last year when for the first time he invited all 54 heads of state/government (HOS/G) of African countries as well as President of African Union. Forty-one countries were represented at IAFS-III by leaders at HOS/G-level, while others were represented by vice-presidents and senior ministers. Several far reaching decisions were adopted, including grant of additional concessional credit of $10 billion over five years, grant assistance of $600 million, including an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and an India-Africa Health Fund of $10 million, 50,000 scholarships in India over the next five years, continuation of Indian support for and expansion of Pan African e-Network project, etc.
This major initiative was followed by two recent high-ranking visits by President Pranab Mukherjee to Ghana, Ivory Coast and Namibia in West Africa and vice-president Hamid Ansari to Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa. Mr Modi’s visit to South and East Africa represents an attempt to reach out to all parts of Africa. All four countries that Mr Modi will visit have long coastlines and are linked with India by the Indian Ocean. India has been active in guarding trade routes, securing coastlines and countering piracy around Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean. Maritime security along with blue economy are likely to be priority areas for discussions. Talks will be driven primarily by convergence of bilateral interests but also due to growing ambitions of China in the Indian Ocean and its recent foray in establishing a base in Djibouti. Terrorism and radicalisation will be seriously discussed as India and these countries are severely afflicted by the twin scourges. Influence and reach of ISIS is expanding and it is essential to evolve and implement multi-pronged, joint strategies.
With South Africa in particular, contacts have been frequent, regular and vibrant. In addition to the meeting at IAFS-III in India, President Jacob Zuma and Mr Modi met at Brics summits at Fortaleza in July 2014 and at Ufa in July 2015, as well as at G-20 summit in Brisbane in November 2014. Both South Africa and India are members of Brics, IBSA, Basic and G-20. It was reported that at recent plenary of Nuclear Suppliers Group at Seoul, South Africa had raised some procedural queries regarding India’s membership of the body. Mr Modi’s visit will provide a useful opportunity to address South Africa’s concerns and solicit its unequivocal support for the next NSG meeting.
The new Tanzanian President who took charge last November has launched several initiatives in areas like cleanliness, combating corruption, climate change and protecting human security. Mr Modi will find a kindred soul in him. Mr Modi’s meetings with leaders of the four countries will present a crucial opportunity to energise bilateral ties, identify fresh areas for collaboration and take relations to new heights. There is keen interest in these countries to further expand, diversify and strengthen bilateral and regional linkages with India. Trade and economic relations as well as energy ties form the bedrock of multi-faceted links between India and these nations.
Bilateral trade in 2014-15 with Tanzania was $4 billion, with Kenya $4.3 billion, South Africa around $12 billion (having come down from $15 billion in 2011 on account of India’s restrictions on gold imports) and Mozambique around $2.4 billion. Except for South Africa, trade is heavily weighted in India’s favour. Exports to the four countries comprise of drugs and pharmaceuticals, motor vehicles, petroleum products, textiles, engineering goods, etc., while imports consist of gold, cashew, timber, spices, minerals, steam coal, etc. A serious proposal to produce pulses in Mozambique for export to India is likely to be taken up during the visit.
Out of the total Indian investment of around $32 billion to Africa, Mozambique alone accounts for $8 billion and Tanzania $3 billion, most of them in the energy sector. Indian companies have invested heavily in coal and gas sectors in Mozambique and in natural gas in Tanzania. Several Indian companies like Tata Group, OVL, OIL, JSPL, JSW, Reliance, Mahindra, Ranbaxy, Cipla and many more are active in these countries.
Energy security, agriculture and food processing, education, health, skill development and infrastructure will be other key areas of discussion. By boosting Africa’s food production, India can meet its requirements through imports. Indian diaspora is present in considerable numbers in these countries, the highest being about 1.5 million in South Africa. There are 50,000 people of Indian origin in Tanzania in addition to 10,000 Indian nationals, and 80,000 persons including 20,000 Indian passport holders in Kenya.
As has become the norm for Mr Modi’s visits to foreign destinations, he will address a mammoth 20,000 strong rally in Nairobi on July 10 and a smaller 10,0000 crowd of Indian origin residents in Johannesburg on July 8. Mr Modi will undertake the symbolically significant and historically important train journey from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, the railway station at which Mahatma Gandhi was forcibly evicted from train because he refused to leave his first-class compartment in June 1893. Mr Modi’s visit will help to quell concerns about alleged racist attacks against African students and nationals in India, which have been in news recently.
Africa is a region that India cannot afford to ignore. Six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are located in Africa. Huge complementarities exist to strengthen bilateral collaboration in diverse areas. Africa’s partnership and active engagement is crucial for progress in global and regional issues. Africa’s support becomes critical while negotiating subjects like India’s bid for permanent UN Security Council seat, UN reforms, etc. Mr Modi’s first visit to Africa is timely and portentous. It will strengthen political, strategic, security, economic and people-to-people ties with these countries as also with the whole continent. This will give an impetus to security, stability, peace and prosperity in the region and the world.
The author is a former ambassador...