Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  (Photo: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi begins expanding its diplomatic footprint in Africa

  • India is appointing ambassadors to nations such as Djibouti, where it had no representation before
  • With the new appointments, India seeks to extend its reach to 47 of 54 African nations, up from existing 29

India has begun to implement plans to expand its diplomatic footprint across resource-rich Africa, appointing ambassadors to countries where previously it had no representation, such as Djibouti and Burkina Faso.

New Delhi seeks to extend its diplomatic reach to 47 out of 54 African nations, up from the existing 29, with the new appointments. Indian embassies will also be set up in Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland and Togo, in a phased manner up to 2021, according to a decision taken by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union cabinet last year against the backdrop of strategic rival China having embassies in almost all African countries.

Budgetary constraints have come in the way of such appointments in the past, according to Rajiv Bhatia, former Indian high commissioner to South Africa and Kenya and currently with the Mumbai-based Gateway House think tank. Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said the lack of personnel had hampered India’s efforts to ensure a wide diplomatic presence.

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 their 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 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 case of Rwanda, India had declared the country a strategic partner in 2017, though New Delhi did not have a full-fledged diplomatic presence in the country.

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.

The Chinese presence in Africa dwarfs that of other countries with its trade deals, help to build infrastructure, and provision of cheap finance.

In the past decade, India has been working to recast its ties with the African continent, 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 held in October 2015 and attended by representatives from all 54 African countries.

New Delhi has ensured high-level engagement, including visits at the presidential, vice presidential and prime ministerial levels, besides ministerial interactions.

Rajiv Bhatia was also of the opinion that Indian businesses need “to be energized to invest more in Africa, and to export more" for India to ensure an upgrade of its profile.

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