More than six months after the grandly-staged India-Africa Forum Summit, Vice-President Hamid Ansari heads on the first such trip to the North African countries of Morocco and Tunisia. The five-day visit of Mr Ansari, which begins May 30, to the Arab Africa region will be watched keenly as it signals New Delhi’s political resolve to step up ties with the emerging African continent.
Time for Africa
“This is the time for Africa, and he will set the ball rolling,” said Amar Sinha, Secretary (Economic Relations) said in New Delhi, setting the tone for what promises to be months of intense Africa outreach by the NDA government. The vice-president’s visit is expected to be followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique in July.
Replenishing mutual goodwill and enhancing business ties will top the agenda. In Morocco, Mr Ansari will hold talks with Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and would jointly launch the India-Morocco Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Rabat.
The two countries will be looking to develop and diversify bilateral economic cooperation and explore new avenues of co-operation and partnership on a wide range of issues of shared common interest. Mr Ansari will also call on King Mohammed VI and convey India’s intention to bolster bilateral ties across the spectrum. The speakers of both Houses of Moroccan Parliament and the Minister of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation will meet Mr Ansari. He would also visit the picturesque city of Marrakesh where he would be hosted by the Governor.
Casablanca has emerged a major destination of Indian investments. Some of the leading investors from India include Tata Motors, Ranbaxy. Morocco could also possibly act as a springboard for Indian export and investment into Europe, West Africa as well as to the US.
Besides diplomacy and business, Mr Ansari, a scholar and a former envoy, will also have time for cultural connect. Bollywood has acted as a potent cultural ambassador of India to Morocco, with Indian films and actors hugely popular in this country. He will deliver a talk at Mohammed V University in Rabat. The members of Indian diaspora would interact with him in Rabat.
Complementing diplomacy with cultural outreach, Mr Ansari will also meet the intellectuals, the Imams, and addressing the diplomatic community at Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies. “He will talk to them about India and how India looks at the world and India’s position in the 21st century,” said Mr Sinha.
In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Mr Ansari has varied engagements. Mr Ansari will hold discussions in Tunis with Prime Minister Habib Essid and President Beji Caid Essebsi on a wide range of issues, including issues the Middle East peace process and terrorism. He would also be meeting multi-party Members of Parliament and Tunisian-India Parliamentary Group.
Democracy and capacity building
The visits to Morocco and Tunisia will also renew the spotlight on Trade, Technology and Training – the three Ts that frame India’s engagement with a rising African continent. Many pacts in areas of capacity building and sharing of India’s expertise are expected to be signed. Food security is an important pillar of India’s relations with Morocco and Tunisia, which is home to Indian companies partnering in the production of phosphoric fertilizers.
In both Morocco and Tunisia, bolstering democratic institutions will be an important thrust of India’s diplomatic outreach. Ahead of the visit, India has described Morocco and Tunisia as “great examples of democracy which have adjusted to post Arab spring situation in the region and have been close partners historically for India.” India, the world’s largest democracy, is looking to partner these nascent democracies in a more proactive manner in days to come.
- 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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