Following the successful India Africa Forum Summit hosted by New Delhi last October in which all 54 African countries participated, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four-nation visit to the continent from July 7 to 11 have given a pronounced leg-up to India-Africa ties.
Modi’s five-day tour to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya came after President Pranab Mukherjee’s trips to Ghana, Cote d’Ivore and Namibia and Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visits to Morocco and Tunisia in May and June.
Modi’s trips to Mozambique and Kenya were the first prime ministerial visits to these two countries in 34 and 35 years respectively. The visit has given a fresh dimension to India’s outreach to Africa in terms of food and energy security and defence and maritime cooperation.
The agreements signed with Mozambique and Tanzania for import of pulses have given a significant boost to India’s food security as well as to the welfare of African farmers.
“The long-term agreement with Mozambique on import of pulses is an excellent win-win situation,” Rajiv Bhatia, who has served as India’s Ambassador to South Africa and Kenya, said.
“The people of Mozambique don’t consume dal that much, so in India they have found a readymade market,” he said.
While India signed a long-term agreement, lasting up to 10 years, with Mozambique for import of pulses, Modi and Tanzanian President John Magufuli agreed to “deepen our partnership in agriculture and food security, including through enhanced export of pulses from Tanzania to India”.
According to Malancha Chakrabarty, associate fellow in the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India’s latest agricultural deals with Africa are a departure from the earlier model.
“As against earlier when farmers from Punjab and Andhra Pradesh used to go to African countries, India now gives the opportunity and security to African farmers by offering minimum support price (MSP) to sell to India,” Chakrabarty said.
“At the same time we are ensuring that the quality suits Indian preferences,” she added.
With India gifting a Bhabhatron, a state-of-the-art cancer therapy machine, to Tanzania and Kenya, health care is another area of India’s engagement with Africa.
“India is concentrating on building cancer hospitals and contributing medical equipment,” Chakrabarty said.
In his joint press conference with Modi on Monday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also said that India would help set up a pharmaceutical company in Kenya to manufacture drugs.
Energy security is another area where India will look to Africa with Mozambique being the third biggest supplier of natural gas after Qatar and Australia and Tanzania emerging as a gas giant with a series of finds since 2011.
“East African countries are found to have gas reserves and India is speeding up its (gas import) diversification process,” Bhatia said.
Chakrabarty explained that unlike in the case of the on-the-cards Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, African countries were friendly to India and there were no security issues in terms of gas imports.
Maritime cooperation is another area which was a common theme with all the four countries Modi visited.
“I am very gratified that India is extending maritime cooperation with Africa,” strategic affairs expert C Uday Bhaskar, director, Society for Policy Studies, said.
“This is a logical extension of Modi’s island tours (of Seychelles and Mauritius) on SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region policy of India). We should see this as a logical security enabler in the region.”
Bhatia said that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) in defence cooperation that India signed with Kenya was important.
“It is not everyday that India signs defence MoUs with countries,” he pointed out.
As for the China versus India debate on the African continent, Chakrabarty was very clear: India cannot compete with China but concentrating on niche areas and cooperative engagement will help in the long run.