The Narendra Modi government has flagged off its enhanced Africa diplomacy, which will be telescoped in India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s first bilateral visit to two key partners of New Delhi in the resurgent African continent – Tanzania and South Africa.
The forthcoming African safari of Mrs Swaraj will cohere the trinity of India’s engagement with Africa that pivots around three Ts: Trade, Training and Technology.
Setting stage for India-Africa summit
The minister’s interactions with her counterparts in Dar es Salaam and Pretoria are going to focus primarily on stepping up bilateral relations across the spectrum, but will also involve some preliminary consultations on the evolving agenda of the third edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-III) in New Delhi later this year.
This will be the Modi government’s first summit-level interaction with the leaders of African countries, and promises to be bigger and grander than the previous two summits in New Delhi and Addis Ababa. The IAFS-III will be the first time India will be inviting leaders of all African countries, as opposed to the earlier Banjul formula which envisaged the participation of African leaders in the summit as heads of the Regional Economic Communities.
The March 28-31 visit of Mrs Swaraj, which was formally announced by Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry on March 20, will be watched closely in the continent as this will signal the Modi government’s desire to raise the bar for this vibrant multi-faceted relationship that some feel was not given enough attention during the first few months of the new Indian government. Prime Minister Modi recently visited Mauritius and Seychelles, two crucial littoral states of the Indian Ocean, but the visit was more in the context of New Delhi’s maritime diplomacy. Mrs Swaraj had also visited Mauritius last year, but this will be her first exclusive visit focused on sub-Saharan Africa.
Tanzania: Knowledge and Development
In Dar es Salaam, which literally means the abode of peace, the discussions are expected to focus on enhancing trade and investment and upscaling developmental cooperation. India-Tanzania bilateral trade is already thriving at $4 billion, but there is clearly scope to do much more, with the East African economy performing well on key economic indices.
Knowledge partnership forms the heart of the evolving India-Tanzania relationship. India has set up India-Tanzania Centre for Excellence in Information and Communication Technology and the Pan African e-Network Project, which brings tele-medicine and tele-education to Tanzanians.
Bolstering infrastructure through soft loans has been the overriding focus of India’s diplomatic outreach to the East African nation. The Indian government extended a Line of Credit (LOC) of US$ 40 million for supply of tractors and agricultural equipment in June 2009 and another LOC of US$ 36.56 million for supply of Ashok Leyland trucks to Tanzania. During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tanzania in 2011, India unveiled another LOC of US$ 178.125 million for the development of water supply projects.
The minister will also be reaching out to the 50,000-strong Indian community who have made Tanzania their home and set new standards of excellence and integration.
Pretoria: Gandhi, business…
In South Africa, the continent’s second largest economy, the agenda will be more diverse, and will have economic and cultural components. South African leaders often boast, and rightfully so, that India sent a barrister called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to their country and they returned him as Mahatma. Fittingly, the minister will be attending functions and places associated with this iconic apostle of non-violence to mark the centenary of the return of Gandhi from South Africa to India.
Business diplomacy will be high on the agenda as South Africa is India’s second largest trading partner in the continent, after Nigeria. The dynamism in economic relations is evident from the fact that the two countries revised bilateral trade target to US$ 15 billion as the earlier target of $10 billion was achieved in 2010-11. Leading Indian corporates have set up their base in South Africa, and the South African companies have also been investing in diverse sectors in India. The blossoming business ties have been complemented by the South African Indian-origin community, which numbers around 1.5 million and comprises about 3% of South Africa’s total population.
It’s time for IBSA
Bilateralism apart, there will be some multilateral diplomacy as well. India’s foreign minister will hold tripartite talks with her counterparts from Brazil and South Africa to firm up the agenda for the next IBSA summit, a tri-nation grouping straddling three continents, which is looking to reinvent itself in the aftermath of more visible groupings like the BRICS. One can expect discussions on issues relating to South-South developmental cooperation and the reforms of the UN Security Council, which has acquired an urgency as the world community gears up to commemorate and celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in September this year.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story. He is also Editor of Two Billions Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship).
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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