The Bold Voice of J&K

Strengthening India-Africa ties

0 63

Mayuri Mukherjee 

India’s relationship with the African continent may be a centuries-old civilisational compact but as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to reinvigorate that relationship in all its nuances and across the full spectrum of diplomatic ties, the focus must, first and foremost, be on intensifying political engagement. This is essentially what the mega India Africa Forum Summit held last year in New Delhi, and attended by more than 50 African heads, was all about; and the Prime Minister’s four-nation tour of continental Africa that starts today must be seen against this same backdrop.
Indeed, it is no coincidence that Modi’s visit comes within weeks of President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari’s Africa tours. While the former visited Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia in June, the latter went to Tunisia and Morocco in May. The Prime Minister himself starts his tour with Mozambique, from where he will travel to South Africa, followed by Tanzania and Kenya. Technically, this will be his second trip to Africa – as he visited the island nations of Syechelles and Mauritius last year. Notably, India’s ties with these east African countries in particular can be go back about 2,000 years when commercial ties were first established between traders from India’s west coast and the African east coast. The sea-borne trade was facilitated by the direction of the monsoon winds and a whole host of items were traded back and forth. In fact, the cotton and silk in which the Egyptian mummies were wrapped are believed to have come from India.
Though not many Indians settled in Africa at this time, a few did make their home in the trading towns of modern day Kenya, Zanzibar, Mozambique and the Comoros Islands, while some Africans made their home in Gujarat and along India’s western coast. In fact, one of the most famous ancient African traders, Bava Gor, is today worshipped by India’s Siddi community which descended from Africa’s Bantu tribe. Much later, in the 17th century, Dutch traders brought the first set of Indian labourers to South Africa, and they were followed in the 19th century by the British, who took about 30,000 Indians, mostly Sikhs from Punjab, to south-east Africa to work on large infrastructure projects, primarily the railway line that would connect Mombasa on the Kenyan coast to Kampala in interior Uganda.
In addition to the labourers brought by the British colonialists, ‘free traders’ from India also continued to make their way to this region and, in fact, helped east Africa move from a barter society to a money economy. As is well-known, these diaspora linkages, formed over centuries through shared experiences, were effectively leveraged, as both India and the African nations struggled to lift the yoke of colonial rule. Mahatma Gandhi is, of course, the most recognisable figure in this regard, but those familiar with Indian and African history know that he is not alone.
This historical context, though it hardly does justice to the depth and complexity of the Indian diaspora in Africa, is necessary to underline for it is what separates India’s relationship with Africa today from that of other major powers partnering with the continent. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that in all four countries, Modi will be highlighting the diaspora factor. This is also in keeping with the Prime Minister’s overall efforts to enliven New Delhi’s connect with Indian diaspora across the world – be it in the Gulf or the US and Canada.
The other priority areas for Modi in Africa will be strengthening trade ties, consolidating security ties particularly in the Indian Ocean region, ramping up defence cooperation, as well as securing energy ties. This will be in addition to scaling up existing cooperation though developmental aid (a small part of which will be highlighted when Modi meets the ‘solar mamas’ in Tanzania) and lines of credit. While most of these have been on the India-Africa diplomatic agenda even before Modi, what makes this moment in the India-Africa relationship special is the manner in which the interests and aspirations of both partners complements the other. This is best exemplified in two key policy documents that have been adopted in recent years by the member states of the African Union which outline the continent’s economic, security and political goals, which in turn, form the basis for its external engagement.
The first document is Agenda 2063 which maps out a 50-year overarching vision for the continent. This masterplan includes ending conflicts by 2020, eradicating poverty by 2025, doubling intra-African trade by 2022 and transforming nations and economies through large-scale industrialisation and employment generation. India has already been working on these lines through well-established programmes which focus on education, training and skill development. India has also shared its knowhow in a wide variety of sectors, from IT to agriculture to the manufacturing, with its African partners as well set up
several large infrastructure projects across the continent.

Leave a comment
WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By :