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Modi’s Tour of Africa Revitalises Relations

Ruchita Beri is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • August 21, 2018

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour of Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa from 23 to 27 July 2018 reiterates the growing importance of Africa for India and will go a long way towards revitalising relations with the continent. This is Modi’s third visit to the continent. He visited Seychelles and Mauritius in 2015, followed by a tour of Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya in 2016. The current visit, along with earlier initiatives, such as the high profile Third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015 and the launch of the Asia Africa Growth Corridor, an initiative to enhance connectivity and people to people partnership between Asia and Africa in collaboration with Japan in 2017, demonstrate the high priority that India accords to the continent.

    Rwanda: Increasing strategic importance

    Modi’s first stop was Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. During the visit, India signed eight MoUs and other agreements for cooperation in trade, agriculture, defence, leather and dairy products, including two lines of credit valued at $100 million each for the development of industrial parks and an agriculture irrigation scheme.1 Modi’s visit, the first by an Indian prime minister, denotes the growing importance of Rwanda. There are a number of reasons for according importance to Rwanda. First, Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in Central Africa. According to the World Bank, it had a GDP growth rate of eight per cent per annum between 2001 and 2015.2 Second, President Paul Kagame is the current chair of the African Union. He has supported several initiatives for African integration and reform. Earlier this year, Rwanda hosted the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The free trade area aims to deepen the African integration process and will allow free movement of people and trade across the continent.3 Third, Rwanda has moved ahead of India to become the third largest troop contributor to United Nations Peace Keeping operations.4 Currently, a total of 7086 Rwandan uniformed personnel are serving with the UN in conflict prone areas, such as Sudan (Darfur), South Sudan and Central African Republic.

    Fourth, Rwanda is one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. According to the Corruption Perception Index, 2017, Rwanda is the third least corrupt country in Africa, after Botswana and Seychelles. 5 Globally ranked 45th on the index, Rwanda is way ahead of India, which is ranked 81st in the report.6 Hence there is a lot India can learn from Rwanda in the fight against corruption. Finally, Rwanda is one of the most pro-women countries in the world. According to the World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda is among the top five countries with respect to gender equality. It appears that Rwanda is head and shoulders above a large number of developed countries, including the United States of America. For example, Rwanda has one of the highest rates of female labour force participation in the world. Similarly, in terms of political representation, the country tops the global list of the highest number of female parliamentarians.7

    Uganda: Rebuilding economic and diaspora ties

    Modi’s next stop was Kampala, Uganda, where he signed four MoUs on defence, cultural exchanges, and diplomatic ties and for the setting up of a material testing laboratory for highway construction. He also announced two lines of credit - one worth $141 million for energy infrastructure (power and electricity) development and another of $64 million for the agriculture and dairy sector.8 This visit by an Indian prime minister came after a long gap of 21 years. Modi was also the first Indian prime minister to address the Ugandan parliament.

    Uganda’s importance for India rests on three factors. First Uganda is estimated to have oil reserves of 6.5 billion barrels,9 which were discovered in 2006. The commercial production of oil has, however, taken a while and is expected to commence in 2020. 10 A land locked country, Uganda is also planning to lay a crude oil export pipe line through Tanzania. Currently, the French company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) are the major stake holders in this field. As an energy deficit country, it is quite natural for India to be interested in energy cooperation with Uganda and opportunities for expanding this cooperation in future do exist.

    Second, Uganda is important regionally, as President Yoweri Museveni is the current chair of the East Africa Community (EAC). The EAC is a regional organisation of six partner states that include Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and South Sudan. Museveni is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders and has been credited for the revival of the grouping.11 Perhaps, it is with Uganda’s role in the EAC in mind that Modi announced a million dollars in assistance to the EAC. Finally, Uganda is home to around 30,000 people of Indian origin. Before their forced exodus during the Idi Amin regime in 1972, Ugandan Indians dominated the economy and accounted for about 90 per cent of the country’s tax revenue.12 Since their return from exile in the mid-1980s at the invitation of Museveni, Ugandan Indians have started to regain prominence in the economy. Currently, they account for 65 per cent of Uganda’s tax revenues.13 Connecting with the Indian diaspora seems to be an equally important driver for Modi’s visit to the landlocked country. While addressing a gathering of Indian community in Kampala, Modi recalled the historical links between the two countries and acknowledged the role they have played in shaping Uganda’s economy and politics.14 He further remarked that the presence of a large Indian diaspora is one of the reasons for the growing importance of Africa for India.15

    South Africa: BRICS Summit

    Modi’s last stop was Johannesburg, South Africa, the venue of the 10th annual BRICS Summit. The visit to South Africa was also important bilaterally, as 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic ties. It is also the 125th anniversary of the Pietermaritzburg incident, related to Mahatma Gandhi, and the 100th birth anniversary of Nelson Mandela. On the sidelines of the BRICS summit, Prime Minister Modi and President Cyril Ramaphosa reaffirmed their partnership and signed three MoUs for cooperation in the fields of space technology, agriculture and skills enhancement.16

    However, the larger focus of the visit was the 10th annual BRICS Summit whose theme was ‘BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution’. Brazil, Russia, India, China came together in 2009 to form an informal grouping and were joined by South Africa in 2011. Over the years, the BRICS countries have taken fresh initiatives for South-South Cooperation and global governance, the most prominent being the establishment of the New Development Bank. During the Summit Modi highlighted India’s efforts with regard to South-South Cooperation in Africa and called for multilateralism, international trade and a rule based global order that is free of terrorism and extremism. Here it is to be noted that the Johannesburg BRICS summit was held in the backdrop of the tariffs imposed by the United States on China. In his address, Xi Jinping sought the support of India and other BRICS partners in the fight against President Trump’s unilateralism and protectionist tendencies. South Africa, on the other hand, was more interested in seeking more investment in the African continent for sustainable development. The Johannesburg declaration reflected the BRICS partners’ efforts to adopt a coordinated stance on global issues. It reaffirmed the importance of multilateralism and sent a clear message against trade protectionism.17 It also factored in India’s interests by calling for a comprehensive approach to dealing with terrorism. At the same time, it reiterated its support for African development priorities and initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area.18

    Conclusion

    Prime Ministers Modi’s Africa tour is significant for four reasons. First, it allayed some of the criticism relating to India’s visibility deficit on the continent, which has often been articulated in the past. Over the last four years, 26 high level Indian visits have been made to the continent. Nine of these were by the Prime Minister himself, and the rest at the President and Vice President level. These visits demonstrate the Modi government’s desire to have a high level dialogue with the African leadership.

    Second, the visit highlights the growing importance of Africa in India’s larger foreign policy framework. In his speech at the Ugandan parliament, Modi laid out the principles of India’s Africa policy. He emphasised that India is keen on building a development partnership with Africa that is unique, encourages free and open trade, empowers people, equips the youth, enhances mutual security and encourages reform of the global order. He emphasised that the partnership stands in “solidarity with Africa’s endeavours, is transparent and … respects the principle of equality.”19

    Third, this tour may enhance business cooperation between India and African countries. While addressing the India-Rwanda Business Forum in Kigali, Modi called for greater cooperation at the business to business level between India and African countries. He stated that there were “limitless possibilities” of cooperation in various sectors such as infrastructure, small scale industry and solar power.20

    Finally, the visit to the three African countries has resulted in a greater understanding of mutual concerns and priorities. In order to retain its immense goodwill on the continent, India should ensure that it delivers at the earliest on the promises made during this visit.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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