India values its engagement with Africa has been a major message behind President Pranab Mukherjee’s just concluded three African nations’ visit, writes Shankar Kumar
India values its partnership with Africa has been the key message behind President Pranab Mukherjee’s just concluded six days visit to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia. This high-level visit is though in accordance with initiatives followed after India Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi last year, it indicated India’s desire to consolidate its ties with Africa. Prior to President Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari undertook a visit to Tunisia and Morocco and in the first week of July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make his maiden trip to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.
With this, it is also a true that never an Indian head of state visited to either Ghana or Cote d’Ivoire before. Shankar Dayal Sharma was the first Indian President to visit Namibia in 1995. It was preceded by first ever prime ministerial visit to the Southwest African country by V P Singh in 1990 March. He had visited there to participate in its independence celebration. In 1998, Atal Behari Vajpayee was the last Indian Prime Minister to land in Windhoek, the Namibian capital. Given this, President Pranab Mukherjee’s three African nations’ visit renewed India’s engagement with the continent with which New Delhi shares long historical ties. Significantly, the visit took place at the time when China is trying hard to leave a bigger foot print mark on Africa’s economic and developmental landscape. China’s possession of surplus money is credited to be playing a significant role in enhancing Beijing’s influence in Africa.
In contrast, India’s way of engagement with Africa is through capacity and institution building agenda. Development and economic assistance through Line of credit (LoC) add to the continent’s growth. In Ghana where the President landed first, these agenda could well be seen in the shape of Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in IT. It was set up with Indian assistance of 2.86 million US dollar. During the visit of President Mukherjee to the IT Excellence Centre, a further grant of 1 million US dollar to it was announced, indicating India’s commitment to continue with capacity building measures in Ghana where New Delhi has invested nearly 3 billion US dollar so far.
According to an estimate, India is engaged in more than 700 projects in Ghana and of them, 222 are in the manufacturing sector. Bilateral trade between the two nations has also increased from 538 million US dollar in 2010 to 1.2 billion US dollar currently. However, it was signing of three agreements between President Mukherjee and his Ghanaian counterpart John Dramani Mahama which provided further glue to the bilateral ties of the two nations. These agreements included visa waivers for holders of diplomatic and official passports, setting up a Joint Commission and cooperation between India’s Foreign Service Institute and Ghanaian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The first ever presidential visit also paved the way for India and Ghana talking about greater cooperation in defence and security area, UN Security Council reforms, cooperation in the civil nuclear field and building of rail network to link Ghana with its northern neighbours.
But it is existence of warmth between India and Cote d’Ivoire which needs no further analysis. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara himself went to the airport in Abidjan to receive his Indian counterpart. The West African nation which got independence from France in 1960, is the main contributor to India’s agricultural needs. The two way trade jumped by 40 per cent between 2014 and 2015 to reach 841 million US dollar. As many as 18 Indian companies operate in Cote d’Ivoire’s mining and cashew cultivation sectors. However, what highlighted first ever two days presidential visit to this African nation was that it paved the way for the reopening of the regional office of Exim Bank, India’s premier export and import bank.
In the same manner India shares a deep and abiding relationship with Namibia. In the independence of this Southern African nation in 1960 New Delhi had played a significant role. The country’s former President Sam Nujoma visited India a record 11 times during his 15 years term. Despite enjoying such a strong relationship between the two sides, Namibia has failed to supply Uranium to India. In 2009, the two nations had signed civil nuclear cooperation agreement. The reason given by Namibian authorities for non supply of Uranium to India is that the Southern African nation is bound by an African Union agreement which prohibits implementation of nuclear agreement with New Delhi. However, Namibia, the fourth largest producer of Uranium has assured President Mukherjee during his visit to the nation that it would look into legal ways through which Uranium can be supplied to India. Nonetheless, the first ever presidential visit by India to Namibia in the last 22 years has remained successful. President Mukherjee who supervised signing of two agreements one on capacity building for civil servants and the other on setting of centre of excellence in IT, had an opportunity to address the Namibian Parliament too. These developments cannot be termed as mere tokenism, rather indicate India’s desire to empower Africa for its better tomorrow, a concept which is part of New Delhi’s South-South cooperation.