New Delhi: Keeping up the momentum of India’s engagement with Africa, President Ram Nath Kovind will embark on a week-long visit to Benin, Guinea Conakry and Gambia later this month.
This will be the highest level visit from India ever to the three West African countries. 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. The visits have been at the level of prime minister, president and vice president. Soon after taking office in 2017, Kovind’s first visit abroad was to Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Kovind starts his visit on 28 July with Benin expected to be his 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. While Kovind’s visit will be the first at his level from India, 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 Annual Meeting of African Development Bank(AfDB) held 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. According to the Indian foreign ministry website, 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 National Assembly Building Complex that was inaugurated in October 2014. India has also trained some 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 – it is one of the 18 missions that New Delhi announced it would be opening in Africa in a bid to shore up its engagement with the African continent.
During the 2015 India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, India had recognised 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, lack of resident diplomatic presence in countries such as Rwanda, Djibouti, and Burkina Faso, besides Sao Tome and Principe, was a weak link in its Africa strategy.
In the 1960s-1980s, India was seen as a key influence in Africa, supporting independence and decolonization in the continent. However, its prominence has since faded and has been 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 significance of other countries in the region.
In the past decade, however, India has been working to recast its ties with Africa, which is seen as a major growth pole and a major source of resources. New Delhi has hosted two of three India-Africa Summits held so far, including the last one in October 2015 which was attended by representatives from all 54 African countries.