With the expansion of commercial, diplomatic and aid links, India is developing ever closer ties with the African continent. G Parthasarathy reports


Entering his third year in office, Prime Minister NarendraModi headed for Africa, where he visited four countries: Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The groundwork for these visits was laid when he hosted the third India-Africa Summit in New Delhi last October.

Narendra Modi’s third year in office commenced with visits to four African countries.

All 45 African countries with which India has diplomatic relations participated in this summit, mostly at heads of government level. The focus was predominantly on economic relations – India’s trade with Africa has doubled to $70 billion in the past four years, with 34 African countries enjoying free trade access to Indian markets. India has committed to releasing a further $7.4 billion as concessional credits and $1.2 billion in grants for African countries.


In the past few years over 25,000 Africans have been educated and trained in India in fields ranging from information technology to hotel management. Dozens of military officers have been trained in Indian military institutions.


Each of the countries Modi visited has had a long association with India. Mozambique’s freedom movement, led by SamoraMachel, received Indian political, economic and military support during its 1970s struggle for independence from Portugal, while India’s links with the movement to challenge racial discrimination trace their origins to the struggle waged by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa.


In East Africa, India was closely associated with Presidents Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, who led their countries to freedom from colonial domination. And Tanzania received military assistance from India before and during its conflict with Uganda’s Idi Amin – one of the very rare instances of such Indian involvement in a distant conflict. All four countries that Modi visited are also home to large Indian diasporas.


There was good reason for the Indian PM to make Mozambique the first African country he visited. After the shale revolution commenced, with Nigeria fast becoming a major exporter of oil and South Africa a major supplier of coal and briquettes, Indian state-owned oil and gas firms had already invested $6 billion in the Rovuma gas field in Mozambique. Further investments of $6 billion by Indian state-owned companies are envisaged in coming years. Moreover, major Indian companies such as Tata Steel, Jindal Steel and Power, the Essar group, Coal India and Damodar Ferro have made substantial investments in coal, iron ore and other minerals.


If present investment trends continue, Mozambique could well become a major source of liquefied natural gas for India, a development that could give it substantial leverage in future negotiations with traditional suppliers like Qatar and Iran. India’s major state-owned energy company OVL has invested $8 billion across Africa in oil and gas exploration projects, and is scheduled to double this investment in the next three years. MrModi has promised further Indian investment for gas exploration in Tanzania, while private Indian hydrocarbon firms, including Reliance and Essar, have invested in refineries and retail outlets in Kenya, stakes which are set to grow.


Defence co-operation is also becoming increasingly important for ties between India and both Mozambique and South Africa. Indian warships provided security along Mozambique’s coast when the country hosted the African Union Summit in 2003 and the World Economic Forum’s Africa Economic Summit in 2004. Sales of defence equipment are growing, and India has participated in anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique Channel.


Relations with South Africa are qualitatively different from those with other countries that MrModi visited. Indian investment in South Africa by leading private sector players Tata (automobiles, IT, hospitality and a ferrochrome plant), Mahindra (automobiles), Ranbaxy and CIPLA (pharmaceuticals) is steadily growing. South African companies, in turn, have growing investments in India in sectors such as banking, insurance, set-top boxes and the upgrading of Mumbai airport.

BIG SPENDERS: Indian state-owned oil and gas firms have invested $6 billion in Mozambique's Rovuma gas field
BIG SPENDERS: Indian state-owned oil and gas firms have invested $6 billion in Mozambique’s Rovuma gas field.

While commercial investments are important, what has been a real source of pride in India has been a $125 million aid project, conceived by India’s former President Dr Abdul Kalam. This links seven Indian and five South African universities, 12 Indian and five African super-specialty hospitals and 53 telemedicine and tele-education centres in Africa. This unique link has been enabled by an undersea cable network and satellite connectivity, with a HUB earth station in Senegal. Each partner nation in Africa has tele-education and telemedicine terminals. This pan-African e-network project is designed to benefit 10,000 students over a five- year period in both graduate and postgraduate courses. It will also help to train doctors and nurses across Africa.


Is India, one wonders, competing with China by these efforts in Africa? The answer is that New Delhi’s developmental strategy, priorities and approach are different from those of Beijing.


Many Africans appear to feel that India and China complement each other,


but there are some important differences.

India has no intention of competing strongly with China in all capital-intensive construction, exploration and infrastructure projects, especially where there are environmental concerns. China sends large numbers of its citizens to implement its projects, especially those involving construction, whereas India prefers a minimal presence of its nationals, emphasising extensive and early local participation in construction, operation and maintenance.

'TWO BRIGHT SPOTS OF HOPE': Modi's view of India & Africa at last year's India-Africa Forum Summit
‘TWO BRIGHT SPOTS OF HOPE’: Modi’s view of India & Africa at last year’s India-Africa Forum Summit

India is also understandably cautious about getting involved in mineral exploration, given African sensitivities. There is enough political and economic space in Africa for India and China to compete in different ways, without making competition counterproductive for Africa and Africans.


Modi’s Africa journey complements the foreign and security policies he has set in place. Across India’s eastern shores, he has established good working relationships with the members of Asean, while expanding India’s outreach across the South China Sea to Vietnam, Japan and South Korea. Relations with Australia have also been significantly improved.


Looking westwards, Modi has steered clear of Arab-Persian and Sunni-Shia rivalries, with successful high-profile visits to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Iran, and he is likely to visit Israel this year. He has very clearly defined India’s maritime frontiers as extending across the Indian Ocean from the Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Straits and beyond, to the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

G Parthasarathy is a retired career Foreign Service Officer and was a Commissioned Officer in the Indian Army from 1963-1968. He is currently Visiting Professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

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