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India–Zambia Relations: A Reboot of Friendship

By Meghna Muralidharan | PUBLISHED: 01, Oct 2018, 16:48 pm IST | UPDATED: 01, Oct 2018, 17:05 pm IST

India–Zambia Relations: A Reboot of Friendship The official visit of the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, between 10-12 April 2018, was seen as a historic moment for both the countries, as it was the first time that an Indian Head of the State in three decades was on a State visit. The visit was consequential as it was directed towards strengthening existing ties and to open up new areas of cooperation.

The India- Africa forum summit initiated in 2008 gave a new thrust to the relationship which was previously moving at a slower pace. During the three day visit the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia discussed on issues ranging from bilateral to global level. They restored their mutual interest to strengthen cooperation in the field of socio-cultural, economic and political as well as considered on renewing the Joint Permanent Commission Meeting, last held in the year 2005 at New Delhi. Four Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) were signed to further enhance the cooperation. One of the main agreement was the double taxation avoidance aimed at expanding economic cooperation; judicial cooperation which would culminate in judicial developments and short term as well as long term law training; visa exemption on official and diplomatic passport and the creation of Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Zambia to foster new ideas, enterprises and start-ups in the country, endorsing Zambia’s vision 2030 to bloom its entrepreneurship.

India Zambia strong ties

India and Zambia share cordial relations with each other. Mahatma Gandhi was seen as major source of inspiration for the Zambian freedom struggle leaders such as Dr. Kenneth Kaunda and also continues to admire the citizens of Zambia, young and old. The cordial relations have continued over the years and India is seen as a “time-tested” and “all weather friend” by the Zambian leaders. While India supported the technical and economic development of  Zambia  the latter responded by contributing in issues important to India for instance matters related to Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism and India’s permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council.

 The important element in India- Zambia relation is Diaspora and in recent years interaction with the diaspora has increased to provide opportunities through which they can contribute in India’s overall growth. As compared to the other African countries, the diaspora in Zambia is comparatively less but they have contributed greatly in the economy of Zambia significantly in sectors such as hospitality, industry, trade and transport.

The major focus of the relation is on expanding economic cooperation in capacity building, defence, education, energy and also strengthen trade and investment ties. Zambia receives economic support and assistance from India for setting training programmes as also skillful development of courses. Despite the growing dynamism, economic and bilateral relationship between the two countries has still a long way to go. Bilateral trade between India- Zambia is seen increasing steadily with total trade rising to $1.2 billion from April 2017 to January 2018. Zambia is the largest producer of copper and is India’s major importer of source copper. Items such as semi-precious stones, ores, raw cotton and non-ferrous metals are imported to India while export items include plastic, chemicals, transport equipment and pharmaceutical products. India is considered as one of the top investors in Lusaka with over US$ 5 billion and this investment is mainly in the mining sector.  

A number of private Indian companies have invested in various sectors such as banking, telecommunication, real estate and pharmaceuticals. One of the important investment enterprise is the India Zambia Bank.  It is formed by collaboration between three Indian public sector banks i.e. Central Bank of India, Bank of India and Bank of India along with the Zambian Government.  However the overall investment and trade potential is below expectation due to the geographical setting of Zambia which is a landlocked country and high cost involved in carrying out cross border trade.  

Zambia India handholding

Another important sector where India has provided assistance is in the infrastructure sector and for this a grant of US$ 286 million has been provided by India for the construction of road project. The immense support provided by Indian government is seen significant as it will contribute in providing regional trade. Zambia also avails of large ITEC scholarship under which approximately 2500 Zambian civilians have been trained in India.

Education and health sector has been one of the important area where India is providing assistance to Zambia for capacity- building. The tele-education facility was provided through the Pan-African e-Network project successfully started at the Mulungushi University in Kabwe. India has become a major destination for medical tourism and two MOUs are signed between two multi-speciality hospitals Yashoda group and Apollo hospital and the government of Zambia. In the energy sector a $30 million line of credit for Tezhi power project has been provided by India and has also offered assistance in the biomass gasifier source of energy to Lusaka.

Apart from the bilateral issues, the two countries are emphasizing on improving their relations to overcome common concerns on international stage. Major focus is on strengthening cooperation at the United Nations and other multilateral forums to deal with situations related to global peace and security, climate change and sustainability. In order to control the increasing threat of terrorism, the two countries have also highlighted the importance of international efforts and also stressed on eliminating safe havens and activities of non-state actors.

China Factor

However the biggest competitor for India in Zambia is China which has established itself as important economic player and economic development partner. Zambia has become an important market supply source of energy and raw materials to China. It will be interesting to see how India will continue to maintain its relationship despite of the increasing competition by China. India has already started reaffirming its relationship with Zambia and other African countries and the increasing visits at government levels is seen as an attempt made by India to reach out fruitfully to the African nation.  

Future, that is

Though India- Zambia relationship has strong historical and political backing, the India- Africa Forum Summit has contributed in transforming the relationship between the two countries. The Summit has helped in enhancing economic cooperation and strengthening investment ties likewise it has also increased collaboration in various sectors such as diaspora, health and education between India and Zambia. As India is trying to reengage itself with the countries in Africa, a foreign policy which is economically, politically and socio-culturally diverse needs to be directed towards Africa, will help India gain tremendously despite the increasing competition by western and non-western countries.

About writer
Meghna Muralidharan is a Post Graduate Research Scholar in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India. Her area of interest is India- Africa relations, including Security challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa and China’s investment pattern in Africa, and India’s national security.
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