What lies behind India’s Africa outreach?

Modi’s visit to these countries is a reflection of the intensity and seriousness of New Delhi’s engagement with Africa.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Published: July 25, 2018 12:25:47 am
What lies behind India’s Africa outreach? Rwanda President Paul Kagame waves at Prime Minister Narendra Modi (PIB Photo via PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping — both of whom are headed to South Africa for the BRICS leaders’ summit — have visited Rwanda within a few hours of each other. Modi went on to Uganda, while Xi is visiting Senegal and Mauritius.

Why Rwanda, the country Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister (and Xi the first Chinese President) to visit?

It is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, and President Paul Kagame is chair of the African Union. India signed two loan agreements worth $ 100 million each for investments in agriculture and the development of special economic zones; China gave a loan of $126 million to build two roads.

After the end of its civil war, Rwanda is moving steadily on the path of recovery and national reconciliation. About 3,000 Indian nationals and PIOs live in the country — its only sugar refinery, only modern textile mill, and a soap and cosmetic factory are all PIO-owned. The Rwandans have always had a positive attitude towards the Indian community. During the infamous 1994 genocide — in which an estimated 500,000 to a million Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, were massacred in a window of 100-odd days — no Indian was killed or injured, and neither the government forces nor Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front interfered with the evacuation of Indian nationals by the Indian government from Rwanda to Bujumbura (Burundi) and Nairobi (Kenya).

India-Rwanda bilateral relations have been cordial and have grown steadily over the years. In 1999, Rwanda officially opened its mission in New Delhi and posted a charge d’affaires; in 2001, it appointed its first resident ambassador in New Delhi. India has taken a decision to open a diplomatic mission in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and the modalities are being worked on.

In Uganda, India established its diplomatic presence in 1965, even though the countries’ relationship dates back to the era when traders ferried goods in dhows across the Indian Ocean. Eventually a number of Indians settled in East Africa, and many made Uganda their home. India’s freedom struggle inspired early Ugandan activists to fight colonialism, and the country achieved freedom in 1962.

Under President Idi Amin in the early 70s, nearly 60,000 Indians and persons of Indian origin were expelled from Uganda. President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who came to power in 1986 and continues to rule Uganda, however, reversed his country’s anti-Indian policies.

Modi’s visit to these countries is a reflection of the intensity and seriousness of New Delhi’s engagement with Africa, which got a fillip with the visit of more than 40 Heads of State and Government for the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in October 2015, and of several other Heads during the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Founding Conference this March. President Kagame visited India to participate in the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017, and again the following year for the ISA conference.

Uganda is currently chair of the East African Community. There are over 30,000 Indians/PIOs in the country, and President Museveni is credited with inviting back many Indians and assuring them of their safety and security. He has also been hosting the Indian community for Diwali dinners in the State House.

With both Rwanda and Uganda, India signed defence cooperation agreements — a key takeaway from Modi’s visits.

While India’s structured outreach to Africa began in 2008, China was quicker — President Jiang Zemin began the process in 2000, with the first ministerial meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. “Africa, in many ways, has been a learning ground for China’s international role. What China has been doing in the continent must be watched closely as it showcases the future of Chinese power… It was the Sudan conflict where China first took a proactive position on an internationally significant conflict; it was in Mali that China sent its first combatant unit under the UN peacekeeping framework in 2013; and Djibouti will be the first location of the People’s Liberation Army’s overseas base,” researcher Avinash Godbole wrote in a 2015 paper, China’s Deepening Engagement with Africa and Its Implications, for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

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