NEW DELHI: India is stepping up the intensification of its outreach to Africa with two high-level visits to the resource-rich continent on Sunday.
President Ram Nath Kovind will travel to three countries in West Africa, Benin, Gambia and Guinea, the highest-level visit from India ever to the three nations. The second will be a three-day visit starting on Sunday by defence minister Rajnath Singh to Mozambique, seen as a maritime neighbour of India across the Indian Ocean.
Kovind’s week-long visit is seen as one that will lay the foundations of India’s engagement with a part of Africa that hasn’t figured very high on India’s agenda, partly because the countries in the region were part of Francophone Africa. During the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, India had recognized that, while its links with Anglophone Africa were quite strong because of the common colonial past and it had substantial presence in large Francophone countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Portuguese-speaking Angola and Mozambique, the dearth of contacts with countries such as Rwanda, Djibouti, and Burkina Faso was a weak link in its Africa strategy.
Singh’s visit to Mozambique is seen as an attempt to strengthen strategic ties with a country where India has sizeable economic investments. Indian investments in Mozambique amount to $7 billion, mostly in energy and coal, accounting for about 25% of Indian investments in Africa. In 2017, India was the largest destination for Mozambican exports, accounting for about 35% of its total export revenue. Mozambique was also the first country Modi visited in 2016 during a five-day tour of four African nations that included South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
Since the Modi government took office in 2014, there has been a rise in high-level visits to resource-rich Africa, especially since the third India-Africa Summit in 2015. In the 1960s-1980s, India was seen as a key influence in Africa, supporting independence and decolonization on the continent. However, its prominence faded and was supplanted primarily by China, as India focused on closer ties with developed economies for investments and technology. Chinese presence in Africa through its trade deals, infrastructure building, and provision of cheap finance, dwarfs the presence of other countries.
Since 2015, there have been 29 visits from India to Africa at the level of President, vice president, and prime minister. “Our relations with Africa have undergone an unprecedented transformation" with high-level intensified political engagement," Vijay Thakur Singh, secretary east in the Indian foreign ministry, said on Thursday.
Ashok Malik, press secretary to Kovind, said with the visits to Benin, Gambia, and Guinea, Kovind would have visited 10 African countries since becoming President in 2017. On Sunday, Benin will be Kovind’s first port of call. The country, situated between Nigeria and Togo and also bordered by Niger and Burkina Faso, is one of India’s key trading partners in West Africa and regarded as one of the fastest-growing economies in the region. Kovind’s visit will be the first at his level from India, but New Delhi has received two presidents of Benin in recent times. Then President Boni Yayi visited New Delhi for the third India-Africa Summit in October 2015. Benin’s current President Patrice Talon visited India to attend the Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank(AfDB) in Ahmedabad in May 2017.
Kovind’s second stop is expected to be Gambia, sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau on the Atlantic coast of Africa. New Delhi has extended several lines of credit to Gambia, including $6.7 million in 2006 for a tractor assembly plant and approximately $27 million for construction of the National Assembly Building Complex that was inaugurated in October 2014, according to the Indian foreign ministry. India has also trained senior Gambian officials in its officer training academies in India.
The President’s last stop is expected to be Guinea, also on the Atlantic coast of Africa. India has recently re-opened its diplomatic mission in the country, one of the 18 missions that New Delhi said it would open in Africa to shore up its engagement with the continent.
The centrepiece of Singh’s visit to Mozambique will be the handover of two interceptor boats to the Mozambican government. The two sides will sign three agreements on exclusive economic zone surveillance, sharing of white shipping information and hydrography with the underlying objective of boosting bilateral defence cooperation.