India’s President Ramnath Kovind, who is on his first state visit abroad to the strategically significant countries of Ethiopia and Djibouti, has said that choosing Africa for his first visit is “no coincidence but a conscious decision” which underscores the continent’s importance to India.
Addressing an Indian community reception after he touched base in Djibouti on October 3, the President said that though historical ties between India and Djibouti have existed for centuries, there is a need to “rediscover this shared history and identity.” He added, “Much effort is required to resurrect our common heritage, not just for old times’ sake but to build a contemporary partnership. Prospects of the blue economy and the connect of the Indian Ocean provide immense possibilities to build a sustainable future.”
Mr Kovind also exhorted the Indian diaspora to become partners in India’s growth story. “Our diaspora has an important role in building bridges between India and the world. India is on a high growth trajectory. There is optimism and excitement in our country. We have undertaken to transform the lives of ordinary people by 2022 when we celebrate 75 years of our Independence. We want to embrace and connect with our diaspora abroad,” Mr. Kovind said.
Stressing on the importance of Djibouti as an Indian Ocean partner, the President expressed his gratitude for the help extended by the tiny country during the Yemen crisis of 2015. “Djibouti was supportive of Indian efforts to evacuate Indian citizens, and those of other countries as part of Operation Rahat, and offered use of an air strip.”
Strategically located in the Horn of Africa, and in a volatile region that has seen several upheavals in the recent past, Djibouti has played an important role as a base for many major world powers like the US, Britain, France and Japan. China has also recently opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti which has set alarm bells ringing on its long-term maritime aspirations in the Indian Ocean region.
President Kovind’s visit also assumes significance in the light of Prime Minister
Narendra Modi’s extensive diplomatic outreach to Africa, marked by a spate of two-way high-level visits, in the last three years. Speaking at the 52nd African Development Bank (AfDB) meet held in Gujarat earlier this year, Mr. Modi had expressed his vision for a greater India-Africa connect. “After assuming office in 2014, I have made Africa a top priority for India’s foreign and economic policy,” he had said.
The third Indo-African Summit hosted by New Delhi in 2015 brought together leaders and representatives of all 54 African countries to India for the first time. It was attended by more than 40 heads of states and governments from Africa, underscoring the continent’s growing interest and confidence in partnering with India.
The president’s visit also comes close on heels of the launch of the Indo-Japan Asia Africa Growth Corridor, which received a fresh impetus after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to India. The initiative, focussed on people-centric human resource development and industrial corridors, is widely seen as an alternative to China’s grand One Belt, One Road project and aims at countering China’s growing influence in the African continent.
(Soumya Nair contributed inputs for this article)
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