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Keynote Address by Shri Navtej Singh Sarna, Secretary (West): 3rd India-Africa Strategic Dialogue

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  • Shri Navtej Singh Sarna, Secretary (West)
    March 03, 2015

    Good morning Brig. Dahiya, distinguished participants from Africa, distinguished participants from the Indian think tank community, scholars, senior diplomats and friends, first of all my apologies for reaching late. It is a privilege to be here, the inauguration of the Third India-Africa Strategic Dialogue, following the other two, which have been mentioned in 2011, 2013 and it is a privilege to be at IDSA which was marked out as part of the India-Africa Forum Summit process to take care of this dialogue in the second summit. IDSA has built a formidable reputation for itself as a premier institution for defence and strategic thinking, original research and dissemination and we are very happy to be associated with it in the Ministry.

    I do have a keynote address but when I see this audience, many of whom have been deeply involved in Africa policy, I think it would be more of just a repetition of things which are already well known. So, I will pick and choose and rather prefer to put forward a few thoughts rather than a very structured keynote address and I hope that will push you into your real deliberations at the sessions.

    First of all the linkage between peace and development does not need to be elaborated upon. There can be no peace without development and there really can be no development without peace. This linkage is extremely important and I am glad that that has been chosen as the subject of this conference. I don’t think it can be more important than it is in the African context and than it is in the Indian context. I think we have seen it happening to ourselves. We are the two of the fastest growing areas in the world and for that it becomes critical. We are somewhere other countries have been 30, 40, 50 years ago. So, for us this is a very steep curve ahead of us. It has to be traversed, it has to be climbed and it has to be done only if we have peace and that has been the fundamental guiding principle of so many foreign policies and that is the entire purpose of bilateral and multilateral dialogues. So, I think these linkages are quite obvious.

    But in the case of Africa, I think it is very important to remember as mostly anywhere but particularly today in the case of Africa, peace is simply not the absence of war. I think peace is an entire ecology that we have to be thinking about, the ecology which involves good governance, the ecology which needs good neighbourliness, the ecology which allows the individuals and societies, particularly multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies allows people in those societies to actualize their potential and actually come up to say that they have developed, that we can provide education, we can provide habitation, we can provide water, we can provide opportunities, we can provide skills for these people. So, simply to say that there has been on war in this region for the last 10 years is an essential for peace but it is not the complete peace.

    Just to give you a couple of numbers to show where Africa stands and why people say it is the continent of the future etc., but why. It is 30 million It has shown an average GDP growth rate of over 5%, which is very rare in the world today. There is a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion dollars and a coast line which is becoming increasingly important, and I can delve on this a bit more, of 26000 km. In terms of mineral resources, it is unmatched. You have 95% of the world’s platinum in Africa. You have 90% of chromate, you have 84% of phosphate, and I am not even going to talk of the oil and other resources, of which there have been recent, very encouraging discoveries in countries like Ghana, Uganda and potentially Namibia. Countries have shown high growth despite all the difficulties that they have faced. These growth rates would be the envy of most European countries today. You have 7 of the 10 fastest growing economies of the world in Africa. Key countries in sub-Saharan Africa have been showing 7% growth. The social indicators are increasing. You have 45% of the population falls between the age of 15 and 45. So, there is a demographic dividend to be reaped, hence the need to develop skills, hence the need to concentrate on education and human resource development. The middle class in Africa is matching middle class in India. So, soon Africa was going to become a potential and important market for the rest of the world also besides being a supplier.

    As far as India and Africa are concerned, I think everybody is aware of the old linkages, some of it has been mentioned in terms of our recent historical past but actually it goes far beyond. It goes beyond sometimes the colonial connections in the migrations that we all talk about. In Mozambique for instance there is a Shiva temple which is 320 years old and of course linkages in Mauritius and all everybody is aware of. Of course the recent political connections, some of it were referred to by Ravi Kant, the connection of Mahatma Gandhi, the connection of the fact that it was on African soil that he achieved the status of Mahatma and then came to India, the common fight against apartheid and colonialism, all that have given us a tremendous basis on which to work together. I frankly believe if we keep only talking about that basis and don’t do anything more, we are not going to get anywhere. But it does give us a tremendous basis. When India walks into Africa and talks there is a certain pre-set bank of goodwill which is available and which needs to be worked. So, we are working on it. We have a very wide ranging policy on Africa and I can mention to you some of the elements here.

    We have an extensive diplomatic presence. It is not the largest presence, there are other countries who are also increasingly present there. China is increasingly present there as we all know, Turkey is increasingly present there, and there are other countries. But India is one of the better represented countries on the African continent. We do have a tradition of high level exchanges, more so from incoming visits than outgoing visits, I am afraid, but that is something which needs correction and which hopefully we will be able to put into place in the coming years.

    We have a very successful exchange for the purposes of education and trade. This is an unspoken sort of undramatic kind of cooperation which works in ITEC and other areas but when you actually go and work in the African missions or you visit Africa you realize how important this is because you find people in all sorts of key policy making influential places, who have either studied in India in an education or have been to a military training and so on and so forth. This is something which can bear a lot of addition if we can afford it. We have some very successful projects including the pan Africa e-network which is today operating in about 48 countries very successfully and allowing tele-medicine and tele-education to work. We are trying to see if it is to be handed over to the African Union, they have wanted an extension of two years which has been given. So, it is still being done by India for the next two years and sooner or later will be handed over to the African Union to take over.

    A direct factor in terms of securing peace is our peacekeeping and today most of our forces, the majority of Indian peacekeeping forces is on the African continent. In two operations itself, MONUSCO AND UNMISS, we have roughly about 7000 peacekeepers and these peacekeepers have been keeping the peace in very difficult circumstances and they have been working under conditions which no classical peacekeepers and some of you here maybe amongst that community, would recognize today as peacekeeping. They have been having to execute very difficult mandates under a strict resource crunch. We have lost lives, we lost 7 people in UNMISS couple of years ago and we have had other accidents in the DRC and other areas. But the fact remains that Indian peacekeepers are heavily present there. This is again something which is recognized and appreciated in the African context.

    There are growing investments in Africa from the private sector. We recently had some major investments into Mozambique. There have been investments earlier in several other countries, in oil, in the resource sector, in mineral resources, in coal and this is something which is again going to increase because if you see it as a symbiotic relationship, then Africa is a resource, a resource which has to be cooperatively developed to the mutual benefit of both sides and provide an injection for our development process.

    We have strategic defence relationships with several countries in terms of training, in terms of presence of Indian military teams and defence teams and these are again very crucial in building a fabric in which there can be capacity building for security purposes in African countries using the Indian expertise in different areas and the Indian institutions.

    There are several other areas of cooperation and I wont even go into the multilateral area but some things have been mentioned like climate change etc., but we do have a very wide ranging interaction there. The India-Africa Forum Summit framework which has been set up is something which has succeeded in at least if not completely in execution, at least framing out the elements of our cooperation, the parameters within which we are working, setting up of vocational training institutes, for instance setting up of other common projects on a regional basis, we are looking forward to the third summit now, we have proposed dates and hopefully once we get the okay we would be having this summit in near future. All this is happening but this is happening amidst challenges and these are the real challenges to development because there are challenges coming out of security.

    First of all is the need to build infrastructure which ensures energy security and food security, both of which are critical for Africa. This is easier said than done because it involves huge investment, it involves again a secure situation, for instance, Nigeria, Nigeria is a great source of oil but you need peace and stability in Nigeria. You need the absence of Boko Haram. It is easier said than done. But this is a major challenge and I am just going to throw it there for you to talk about. I think there is the challenge of increasing extremism and fundamentalism which of course links in to what I just said. From the Horn of Africa across the sub-Saharan space, you see a number of groups which are mushrooming as terrorist groups, one linking to the other, some things that have come out of what happened in Libya, some things that are home grown and these pose a real threat to the development story in Africa because if all the energies of African governments and their partners go into handling these then very little energy is going to be left for the positive agenda.

    Maritime security. While we have seen a fading out of the threat of piracy in the Western Indian Ocean, there has been a spike in the Gulf of Guinea. So, maritime security is again something in which India has been cooperating closely, our ships have been patrolling the area, we have been cooperating there, we have lost people there, we have hostages, all those things have happened. But again this is something which is a ripe subject for a discussion as a challenge.

    Epidemics and health, the damage that Ebola has caused is huge. We think that it is only three small countries in one corner of this large continent but Sierra Leone was the successful story of Western Africa. Sierra Leone was the country that came out of 11 or 12 years of civil war, had successful series of elections and was on the path to proper development when Ebola has hit them. This is something again which India can understand, India can appreciate, India can relate to and try to help and we did try to help within our limited resources, $12.5 million was put in in one way or the other.

    Frankly, when I say all this, my purpose is simply to try and get the thinking community, the people who feed the policies, frankly Ravi Kant and I sitting in offices which many of you have sat in, know exactly the kind of pressures that you face when you are sitting in those offices, when you really have one crisis after the other, one message or one telephone call after the other and nobody really has the time to think strategic policy. Strategic policy, frankly the options have to come from here out of gatherings like this and if they come with options and thoughts as direct inputs to the foreign policy machine, I think they really are worth their weight in gold. So, what I am saying is, yes, we have Africa everybody knows how important Africa is, everybody knows how important it is to India and we are all doing various things. What we need is frankly a rejig in our strategic priorities. We need a ranking, we need a prioritisation; Africa is not a monolithic space. There are problems in West Africa, what should be our response; there are problems in East and South Africa, what should be our response? What are the strategic areas on which we can work together, on which we have been working together, are we doing the right thing or not? We have our ideas and some of these I have shared with you. But frankly what we look forward are ideas from all of you.

    I don’t know if this is defined as a keynote address but I am going to end here and if there are any comments, I will be happy to talk about it, or questions if I can answer. Thank you.