New Delhi: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Uganda on Tuesday, it marked the 25th high-level bilateral visit from India to Africa in just four years—underlining a significant build-up in India’s ties with the resource-rich continent. Modi’s Uganda stopover was the second leg of the three-nation Africa tour. His first, in Rwanda on Monday, witnessed the signing of a clutch of agreements, spanning agriculture to defence, between the two countries.
Modi is, however, not the only Asian leader to be touring Africa. Chinese president Xi Jinping, too, is on a four-nation visit to the continent. While both leaders will attend the 10th BRICS summit hosted by South Africa on 25-27 July, they are using the opportunity to firm up ties with other African nations as well.
Political analysts say the Africa visits by Modi and Xi are evidence of competition between the Asian giants for strategic space. While India’s ties with the continent were seemingly strong between the 1940s and 1980s, the following decade saw India reorient its policies to attract investment and technology from the West, and in turn, ceding strategic space to other countries, including China.
Besides looking for resources and markets, “China is building up constituencies around the world, including in Africa", said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “Support from such constituencies helps strengthening its international position and, in the process, Chinese ambitions for global leadership gets a boost, as the balance of power tilts towards China."
In recent years, India has reinforced its relations with Africa to reclaim lost ground, focussing on lines of credit and capacity building, including skilling the local people. China, on its part, has emphasised big-ticket investments in infrastructure and business, building roads, stadia, container terminals, ports and railways, and acquiring copper and platinum mines, besides oil and gas assets.
To shore up diplomatic presence, India in April announced that it would be opening 18 new embassies in Africa between 2018 and 2021. India’s new embassy in Kigali is expected to open shortly. China already has diplomatic presence in 43 of the 54 countries in Africa.
India finalized two lines of credit in Rwanda, promising investments of $100 million for the development of industrial parks and the Kigali special economic zone, besides another $100 million for agriculture and irrigation infrastructure. This is addition to the credit line of $400 million extended earlier.
In Uganda, too, India extended two lines of credit of $141 million for electricity lines and sub-stations, and $64 million for agriculture and dairy production.
“Training and capacity building have been the focus of bilateral defence cooperation. India has an Indian Military Training Team (IMTT) stationed at Jinja since 2010," T.S. Tirumurthi, secretary, economic relations told reporters last week.
C.U. Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi Society for Policy Studies, said: “What the prime minister (Modi) has done is to bring Africa on the foreign policy radar. But what is now needed is for the rest of the system to follow up and deliver on our promises."