Event Reports

High-level Africa visits need quick follow-up, says ex-diplomat

India is not only conjoined with Africa geographically and historically, but has interests intersecting over a wide range of areas.

Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the India-Africa Forum Summit Business Exhibition on 29 October 2015

Narendra Modi/CC BY-SA 2.0
2016
Nov
22

The importance and significance of Africa to India’s foreign policy priorities is not so well understood or often ignored, said Mr. M. Ganapathi, former Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, while initiating a discussion at the ORF Chennai Chapter on 30 July 2016 on Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Africa and India-Africa relations. He said that India is not only conjoined with Africa geographically and historically, but has interests intersecting over a wide range of areas.

Mr. Ganapathi began by pointing out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Africa was long overdue as he had visited nearly all our important partners on various continents since taking office. The visit to mainland Africa had not been covered barring visits to Seychelles and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Hosting the third edition of the India Africa Forum Summit had provided a platform to overcome this lacuna to a certain extent but visits did carry their import and significance. Mr. Ganapathi said that in this context, from an India-Africa perspective, the visits by the Vice President to Morocco and Tunisia in May 2016 and by the President to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia in June 2016 should be viewed, in addition to the reading of the Prime Ministerial visit to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya in July 2016. He also noted that it was disappointing that the media did not reflect on the significance of the visits by the President and Vice President in the run up to the Prime Minister’s odyssey to southern and eastern Africa. The visits by the three leaders covered the entire continental prism to include north, west, south and east Africa. And significantly, the four countries visited by the Prime Minister were all members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Mr. Ganapathi noted that through these visits, as part of India’s active outreach to Africa, political relations with each of the countries were further consolidated. The President’s visit to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire were the first from India at that level. The Prime Minister’s visit to Maozambique and Kenya was taking place after a gap of over three decades. And in an unusual friendly gesture, the Tanzanian leaders agreed to host the Prime Minister on a Sunday, despite it being a holiday.

The economic dimension of the partnership received a significant boost during the three high level visits. Trade and investment related discussions took centrestage in each of the countries visited. Within Africa, South Africa is our second largest trading partner, while Ghana is the third largest. The trade turnover between India and South Africa was $7 billion and in South Africa’s favour. Mr. Ganapathi said that there was considerable untapped potential in trade with these countries in particular and Africa in general.

Cooperation in agriculture and related fields was noted to have significant opportunities in trade and investment. Vice President Ansari’s discussions in Tunisia and Morocco touched on cooperation in imports of phosphates and setting up of phosphate fertiliser plants. Ghana has significant gas reserves and during the President’s visit, the subject of setting up of a planned fertiliser plant received a major impetus. Agriculture was also a part of the President’s discussion in Cote d’Ivoire. Cooperation in the area of agriculture did get prominence during the Prime Minister’s visit to Mozambique. An agreement was concluded for cultivation and import of pulses. Mr. Ganapathi felt that government-to-government agreements had greater predictability and thus the agreement in Maputo would resonate well.

India has had considerable exposure to Ghana over the years. The Presidential Palace and the Kofi Anan Centre of Excellence have been constructed with Indian assistance. There has been similar investment in the infrastructure sector and this was an important subject touched upon during the interactions.

Mr. Ganapathi said that cooperation in the energy sector was an important element of discussion during the visits. President Mukherjee agreed to have Ghana’s request for cooperation in the area of civil nuclear cooperation looked into. During the President’s visit to Namibia, the subject of Namibia’s supply of uranium came up during the discussions. While an agreement on the supply had been concluded, Namibia had not been taken the process forward. The Namibian side informed the President that despite being a signatory to the Pelindaba Treaty on a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in Africa, Namibia would look into legal ways of supplying uranium to India.

Mr. Ganapathi underlined that Prime Minister Modi’s visit to South Africa was important — India’s relations with South Africa were exceptional and comprehensive bilaterally, supplemented by membership of IBSA, BRICS, BASIC, G20, among others. India had been at the forefront in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid and was among the first to impose sanctions in 1946 against apartheid South Africa even before it had become independent. It was the first country to welcome the South African cricket team after their suspension from the sport was lifted in 1990. The Indian diaspora in South Africa is among the largest in Africa, over a million. South Africa was also spiritually and philosophically relevant where Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became the Mahatma.

Defence and security cooperation was also discussed during the visits of the Indian leaders. Mr. Ganapathi said that the issue of terrorism affecting various parts of the African continent came up in the discussions between the visiting Indian leaders and their hosts. India offered to cooperate in sharing its expertise in tackling terrorism. At the same time, the need for an early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the United Nations was reiterated. Piracy was also an area of concern.

Mr. Ganapathi said that cooperation in the area of energy, renewable energy and minerals; drugs and pharmaceuticals; education and the health sector; among others were important elements in the discussions of the Prime Minister with his hosts in Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. In Tanzania, Prime Minister Modi interacted with the ‘Solar Mamas’, a group of rural women who have been trained under India’s development support for harnessing solar energy. Overall, India has trained 3,000 ‘Solar Mamas’ so far. He also mentioned that the subject of differing interpretations of South Africa’s support for India’s membership of the NSG was set to rest with an unequivocal reflection of this support in the Joint Communiqué.

Moving away from the subject of high level visits to the general aspects of India-Africa relations, Mr. Ganapathi explained that India-Africa cooperation was conducted at three levels, multilaterally through the African Union; regionally through the eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs); and bilaterally. It is within these parameters, the convening of the third India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in New Delhi in October 2015 should be looked at. The first IAFS was held in New Delhi in 2008 and the second one took place in Addis Ababa in 2011. Unlike the first two Summits which had restricted participation from the African side as invitations were based on the Banjul formula, the third Summit saw the presence of all fifty four African countries, besides the African Union. Forty one Heads of States/Governments attended, a record in itself. The timing of the Summit was also opportune as it was taking place against the background of the adoption of Agenda 2063 by the African Union. The Summit also decided that the fourth IAFS would take place in 2020 in Africa.

Two documents were adopted at the Summit — the political document and the framework document of cooperation. These documents delineate areas of cooperation in trade and technology, industry, agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure, education and skills development, and health, besides blue/ocean economy.

As an outcome of the first two IAFS, India had committed $7.4 billion in concessional credit and $1.2 billion as grants. Of this, $6.8 billion had been approved and $3.5 billion utilised. The remaining amount would be utilised at the earliest. Over 100 capacity building institutions are being created besides developing infrastructure, public transport, clean energy, irrigation, agriculture and manufacturing capacity across Africa. Nearly 25,000 scholarships had been provided to young Africans.

At the third IAFS, the Prime Minister offered an additional $10 billion in concessional credit over the next five years. An offer was made of a grant assistance of $600 million which will include an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and an India-Africa Health Fund of $10 million. India will also provide 50,000 scholarships in India over the next five years.

Mr. Ganapathi noted that there has been a significant shortfall in approvals and implementation of offers made under IAFS. One major problem has been the rather lengthy and circuitous method of deliveries made in consultation with the African Union. The Prime Minister did point to this by stating in his address at the IAFS, “We are conscious of the shadow that falls between an idea and action, between intention and implementation. So, implementation will be as important as starting projects. We will strengthen our monitoring system. This will include a Joint Monitoring Mechanism with African Union.”

One of the most significant contributions by India to Africa is the establishment of a Pan African E-Network Project, conceived by late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, aimed at providing tele-education, tele-medicine and a VVIP Node between Africa and India. IAFS-III decided to support the expansion of the Pan Africa E-Network and institutions of skilling, training and learning across Africa.

Mr. Ganapathi said that India-Africa trade recorded $63 billion in 2015-16, a fall from the $72 billion in 2014-15. Nigeria is the largest trading partner in Africa due to significant petroleum trade, followed by South Africa and Ghana. Other than Nigeria, Angola and Equatorial Guinea are major suppliers of petroleum products to India. Mr. Ganapathi further said that thirty four countries in Africa enjoy Duty Free Tariff Preference.

Sectoral India-Africa dialogues include an India-Africa Business Forum, India-Africa Hydrocarbons Conference among others.

Mr. Ganapathi mentioned that retro-viral drugs constitute an important constituent of India-Africa cooperation. There has been some concern in Africa that the US might exert pressure on India on Intellectual Property Rights on drugs which could affect the benefits of highly inexpensive drugs from India. In addition to this issue, China’s sending of spurious drugs into West Africa, with made in India labels, has been a matter of utmost concern and has been taken up appropriately.

Mr. Ganapathi also touched upon the recent incidents involving African nationals in various cities of India. He said that it seemed that the attacks were more in the nature an of law and order issue and is being addressed pro-actively by the Ministry of External Affairs. At the same time, he strongly felt that people’s impressions on Africa should change.

Concluding the talk, Mr. Ganapathi said that India’s interaction with Africa was based on the principle of bottom-up and not top-down. This resonated well with Africa, enabling a positive understanding of India in Africa and auguring well for India-Africa relations.

This report is prepared by Arjun Sundar, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai.