Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to Africa on Thursday to consolidate ties with a resource-rich continent seen as crucial to New Delhi’s energy and food security. He will also pitch India as a development partner for Africa as it seeks to counter Chinese clout in the region.
The Indian leader’s five-day visit to Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya follows a major summit in New Delhi last year with around 50 African heads of state.
“All these four countries, if you look at the map, are our maritime neighbors, all of them are gateways to the mainland, number of landlocked countries, which are also important partners,” said Amar Sinha who handles African affairs at the Indian Foreign Ministry.
Hydrocarbons and agriculture deals
Hydrocarbons and agriculture will be the key areas for deepening cooperation.
In Mozambique for example, New Delhi hopes to finalize a preliminary agreement for purchase of food items such as pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas) which will involve supporting a network of farmers in the country. A staple of the Indian diet, India does not grow enough pulses for its burgeoning population.
Indian energy companies have already invested about $5 billion to help tap the rich natural gas reserves of the country.
Although gaining access to resources such as oil and gas, and finding new markets for Indian products remains the bedrock of the relationship with Africa, Modi’s program reflects India’s desire to set itself apart from China, whose investments are worth billions of dollars New Delhi cannot hope to match.
India will pick its spots
“If you see in terms of competition, are we there for a scramble for minerals and resources, no, I don’t think we are there for the race,” said Sinha.
In Tanzania for example, Modi will meet a group of “solar mamas” – rural women from poor communities trained by a college in India as solar technicians to help light up their villages.
Solar energy is emerging as a strong area of cooperation with the sun-drenched continent. “It is part of the commitment of the developing world, we are trying to work with these countries to do whatever we can to mitigate the climate change effects,” said Sinha.
At the India-Africa summit in October, India pledged $10 billion in soft loans over the next ten years and $600 million in grant aid.
Ruchita Beri at New Delhi’s Institute of Defense Services and Analyses said India wants to build goodwill with Africa through a relationship that focusses on both give and take.
“It is also going to help the African countries in building up their own human resources”, she says pointing out that India plans to build a string of India Africa institutes. “It will help the African youth in getting technically educated, in becoming self-sufficient leading to the management of resources and not just exporting the resources,” said Beri.
A shared history
Modi also hopes to tap into India’s shared history of colonization with Africa. In South Africa, he will undertake a short train journey to Pietermaritzburg, where the leader of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi, was evicted from the first class carriage of a train, setting off his struggle against racial discrimination.
That issue, ironically, recently triggered diplomatic tensions with African countries after a fatal assault on a Congo national in New Delhi. The assault turned the spotlight on a spate of attacks on African students and nationals living in India and calls by African heads of mission in New Delhi to address “racism and Afro-phobia” in the country.
Modi’s outreach to Africa is part of his ambitious bid to raise India’s profile globally.