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Interaction with African journalists at IDSA

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  • January 27, 2011

    Five African journalists -- Benon Herbert Okula, Mugambi Lee Muiti, Irne Wambui Wamunyu, Fazil Sherdad Khan Mahomed and Hayley Herman visited IDSA on January 27, 2011 for an interaction.

    Dr. Arvind Gupta, Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair, first gave an overview of the IDSA and followed it up with a briefing on India’s foreign policy. Dr. Gupta noted that Indian foreign policy is extremely diversified and for long it has been defined by non-alignment which included taking a position on global issues. After the end of the cold war, India’s foreign policy began to change. India opened its economy in 1991. It exercised its nuclear option in 1998 which changed its interactions with the world. Since 2005, India and the United States began engaging with each other much more intensely. Dr. Gupta noted that despite the recent global economic crisis, the India economy was not much affected. India also enjoys a demographic dividend since nearly 50 per cent of its population is below 25 years of age.

    Discussing the challenges for Indian foreign policy, Dr. Gupta noted that unstable Pakistan and Afghanistan pose a serious challenge for India. the Rise of China is creating uncertainty in the whole world. In the last 20 years, India’s engagement with ASEAN, Japan, South Korea, and Australia has increased. Despite its rise, India is not being seen as a threat. Because of the rise of China, these nations want closer engagements with India. Dr. Gupta pointed out that in the Gulf region, 4.5 million Indians are working. Nearly two third of India’s oil imports come from this region. India-GCC cooperation is also growing. India’s relationship with Israel has also grown considerably. India’s relationship with Central Asia has been good but because of Af-Pak conflict its relationship with these countries has been blocked. However, he noted that India will join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

    Dr. Gupta pointed out that the relationship with the United States is the most important for India’s foreign policy. India-Russia relations are also smooth. There is a regular dialogue going on with the European Union. The EU and the world at large have several lessons to learn from India on the issue of counter- terrorism. At present India is the chair of an important UN committee on terrorism.

    Senior researcher and Africa expert Ms. Ruchita Beri noted that so far the Indian media has projected Africa negatively. There is a need to portray a positive picture. Welcoming the delegation, she observed that journalists may provide fresh insights and new perspectives on Africa. She pointed out that India’s contact with Africa is not new. Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru are revered by African countries and their people. She referred to a statement made by Dr. Nelson Mandela who had said about Gandhi that ‘you gave us a lawyer and we gave you Mahatma’. She added that there is an emotional bond between India and Africa. She provided ‘Five Mantras’ for India’s Africa policy which are: Empowering Africa; Economic cooperation; Energy Cooperation; Engaging with Indian Diaspora in Africa; and Preserving peace in Africa.

    Ms. Beri noted that India would be willing to transfer technological skills to Africa. There are 5,000 African students studying in India. Indian business and industry has identified Africa as an important investment destination. Energy is a major field of cooperation between India and Africa. India is engaged in procuring oil resources from Africa and the focus has been on joint development. There are three million Indians in Africa mostly in South Africa. There are 33,000 Indian troops involved in peace keeping operations in many parts of Africa such as Sudan, Congo and Liberia.

    Mr. Beri also observed that India is recognizing the strategic importance of Africa, partly because of globalization, the trans-national nature of challenges, etc. The Indian Ministry of Defence includes the eastern part of Africa within the country’s extended strategic neighbourhood. Discussing the challenges, she noted that terrorism and piracy are major challenges that India faces. She also noted that for India, Africa is not a hopeless continent rather it is continent of hope.

    Several questions were raised by the delegation members during the discussions including: whether India would support democracy in Sudan?; How India is planning to engage with Africa?; what is the impact of the referendum in Sudan on India’s Africa policy?; Is India diversifying its resources?; Is there any competition between India and China with regard to their investments in Africa?; What is India’s policy towards Zimbabwe?. The IDSA team provided answers to these questions. Delegation members expressed their satisfaction and thanked IDSA for providing them the briefing.

    Report prepared by Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastava, Research Assistant, IDSA