Home / News / World /  Narendra Modi likely to visit Africa in July

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to travel to Africa in July to consolidate relations with South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique as well as boost ties with the resource-rich continent.

Plans for the visit are still being worked out, say Indian government officials. While South Africa and Kenya, with sizeable Indian diaspora, and Mozambique, seem certain to figure in Modi’s first visit to the continent of Africa, oil-rich Angola and/or resource-rich Tanzania too could be part of the trip, said one of the officials cited above.

Technically, Modi visited Africa last March—touring Mauritius and Seychelles as part of a three-nation tour of Indian Ocean countries. But this would be his first visit to the African mainland. Prior to this, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stopped off in Nigeria in 2007 and in Tanzania in 2011 on bilateral visits.

“The visit will be a good way to keep up our contact and connect with Africa," said Ruchita Beri, head of the Africa programme at the government-funded Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses think tank in New Delhi.

“One grievance against India has been that there are not sufficient number of high-level visits to Africa from India," Beri said pointing to India’s past record of preferring to host African heads of state or governments rather than make trips to the continent like the Americans or the Chinese.

“Modi’s visit will serve the purpose of conveying to African countries that India wants to keep up its engagement with Africa and we are not waiting till next (India-Africa) summit to connect," she said, referring to the India-Africa Summit that Modi hosted in New Delhi in October.

India has been sharpening its Africa focus and policy in the past decade—hosting the first India-Africa Summit in New Delhi in 2008 and the second in Addis Ababa in 2011. The aim of the India-Africa summits have been to rescript New Delhi’s ties with Africa that were politically strong in the 1960s and the 1970s, given India’s strong support to the decolonization movements on the continent.

But with India adopting market reforms in the 1990s and concentrating on reshaping ties with the US, ties with the African continent slackened. Now, India sees Africa as the perfect partner for sharing its home-grown technologies as well as a source of resources and energy to fuel its economic growth. India-Africa trade was almost $70 billion in 2014-15 and investments into Africa in the past decade amounted to $30-$35 billion.

Yet, the figures pale in comparison with the continent’s trade and investment ties with China which has invested more than $180 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa in areas ranging from energy to transportation during 2005-2015, according to a study by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute think tank. China-Africa trade in 2014-15 alone was worth $200 billion.

“Africa is important to India for many reasons: one is of course that it is rich in natural resources that India needs for its economic growth, for instance oil and gas," said Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary. “In Mozambique for instance, we have substantial commitments in the energy sector."

“In terms of business outreach, Africa is favourable ground, meaning you don’t have to compete like you need to do in advanced societies like Japan. Africa is virgin ground for Indian businesses in that sense. There is also a sizeable number of people of Indian origin in Africa—especially South Africa and Kenya. With South Africa, there is the Gandhi connect," said Sibal alluding to the evolution of Mahatma Gandhi from a lawyer in South Africa to India’s main freedom icon.

Besides this, the support of African countries is key when India seeks a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council, Sibal said. Lastly, with China looking to build up its equity with many countries in Africa, the Indian Ocean region will become important for the Asian giant, which would be a cause for concern for India, Sibal said.

According to Beri, besides looking for resources in Africa, China is also looking to engage Africa in its One Belt One Road and Maritime Silk Route projects. It envisages the creation of an economic belt that includes countries in Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as a maritime route that links Chinese ports with the African coast. The project aims to redirect China’s domestic overcapacity and capital for regional infrastructure development that will in turn boost its trade with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa and Europe.

Beri noted that Modi has placed emphasis on building ties through the Indian Ocean region proposing the “blue economy initiative" which aims to build on maritime trade links between India and the countries situated along the Indian Ocean. With South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique among these, Modi’s visit is expected to strengthen India’s ties with these key countries that are also on the Chinese radar, she added.

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