By Ranjana Narayan
India’s Africa policy, based on development partnership, has been growing steadily over the past few decades to envelop most parts of the continent. Since New Delhi hosted the Third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, there has been a marked upswing in the number of high-level visits to Africa, including by President Ram Nath Kovind who has devoted all his three foreign tours since assuming office to Africa.
As part of its endeavor to keep up the pace in its deepening contact with Africa, the Indian government has approved the opening of 18 new missions in Africa over a four-year period from 2018 to 2021.
The new missions are to come up in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland and Togo, taking the number of resident Indian missions in the commodity-rich continent from 29 to 47.
In addition, India is to embark on a unique initiative to build convention centres across 21 African countries.
This would include a mission in Niamey, the capital city of Niger, a landlocked country in western Africa. The convention centre would host the African Union Summit in 2019, according to a report.
India will also build convention centres in eight other African countries — Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Togo, Gabon and Liberia, besides 12 other African nations.
India has built the Presidential Palace or Flagstaff House in Ghana, built by Indian firm Shapoorji Pallonji in 2008, and is working on expanding the Parliament building in that country.
India’s outreach comes in the backdrop of China’s considerable influence and presence among the 55 countries of the continent. These countries will also have a crucial say in India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, whenever that expansion takes place.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has himself visited several African countries and hosted several leaders of the continent, said at the inauguration of the annual meeting of the African Development Bank in Gandhinagar in 2017 that, after assuming office in 2014, he has made Africa “a top priority for India’s foreign and economic policy”.
He also said that India has extended 152 Lines of Credit to the tune of almost $8 billion to 44 African countries for developing agriculture, infrastructure, public transport, clean energy, irrigation, and manufacturing capacity.
India-Africa trade has also increased, to reach nearly $72 billion in 2014-15.
Giving an insight on India’s diplomatic outreach to Africa, Abhishek Singh, Director (East & Southern Africa Division) Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, said that 23 VVIP visits, about 100 high-level bilateral visits in the recent past and the setting up of 18 more new missions in Africa are signs of an upsurge in India’s multi-pronged relationship with Africa.
Speaking at a round table organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in collaboration with the African Studies Association of India (ASA) on May 23, 2018 to commemorate Africa Day on May 25, he described India as a development partner of Africa.
Singh said that connectivity projects undertaken by India are the cornerstone of its relationship with the African continent. India and specific African countries are collaborating with each other in fighting terrorism, piracy, and have even ventured into new areas of cooperation like renewable energy, he said.
Requesting India to be more visible in Africa, Morocco’s Ambassador Mohamed Maliki noted that the problem in Africa is not lack of funds or technology, but lack of absorbing capacity. India and Africa should consider creating a free trade zone to boost relations, he suggested.
Maj Gen Chis S Eze (Retd), High Commissioner of Nigeria to India, said the interface between the government and the business houses needs to improve to further boost trade and commerce in the region. Ernest Rwamucyo, High Commissioner of Rwanda to India, emphasised on promoting unity between the two regions for mutual benefits.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at email@example.com)