In twelve of nineteen bilateral conversations Prime Minister Narendra Modi had Wednesday, leaders of African countries focused on counter-terrorism, defence cooperation and anti-piracy operations, South Block officials said.
This is being seen as a significant shift in the bilateral conversation with African leaders who would otherwise focus on concessional lines of credit, agriculture, education and increased investments in infrastructure.
“This is a major change which we observed on the first day of bilateral meetings with the African leaders who are battling the rising spectre of terrorism and piracy in their backyard. They want to increase the capability of their defence forces and have a robust intelligence-sharing mechanism,” a top South Block official told The Indian Express.
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The African continent has been witness to the rise of the Boko Haram and Al Shabab terrorist groups which have been carrying out terror attacks.
Recalling the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said “both countries, India and Kenya, are victims of terrorism” and New Delhi and Nairobi should “widen” anti-terrorism and security cooperation. “He asked for Indian help in capacity building and better information exchange between governments,” Tanmaya Lal, Joint Secretary (East and South Africa) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said, alluding to scope for “intelligence-sharing”.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who went to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington as a young army officer, called for increased training of military officers. Officials said that this is what Buhari feels is needed to fight the dreaded Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which means ‘western education is forbidden’, has ravaged large parts of north-east Nigeria and carried its violence into Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Early this year, Boko Haram declared its allegiance to the Islamic State.
While Cameroon Tuesday asked for help, Niger President Issoufou Mahamadou too raised the subject of security and counter-terrorism. He explained the difficulty in the neighbourhood. “This was a clear reference to the menace of Boko Haram and they asked for assistance,” an official said.
Lesotho Prime Minister Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili also discussed defence cooperation, and praised the Indian armed forces who have been training officers from Lesotho. “He asked for more slots to train their officers,” the official said.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who holds the African Union’s Presidency, also discussed closer cooperation in the fight against terror.
Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama raised the issues of maritime security and cyber security. According to the official, the Gulf of Guinea is emerging as a hub of piracy, and is a “concern”.
Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh also talked of assistance in anti-piracy operations, and recalled Indian ships visiting his country’s ports. He also called for cooperation in maritime security, cyber security and defence cooperation.
Chad President Idriss Deby Itno too raised the issue of security and counter-terrorism cooperation, while South African President Jacob Zuma said they need to take more concrete steps to fight terrorism.
Mozambique Prim Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, who once served as ambassador to India, sought greater defence and security cooperation with India.
Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba not only raised the issues of terrorism but also transnational crimes and the need for cooperation to take on the menace. Ghana President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni too pushed for greater cooperation between the defence forces of the two countries.