Modi′s visit to Africa: Key takeaways
Modi′s visit to Africa: Key takeaways

Modi′s visit to Africa: Key takeaways

The Indian Prime Minister sought to set the tone right and put India-Africa relations on a fast track with his recent African safari. Narendra Modi′s five day four nation visit to Africa in July was his 51st visit to a foreign country since taking over and 11th this year. While his trips to US, Europe or China generate more newsprint and airwaves, his African safari is anything but less significant. The continent has for long being seen as a potential bright spot in the world economy that will manifest itself after emerging markets like Russia, India, Brazil and China have exhausted themselves. When that happens, the country that has the most solid and traditional foundation and footprint in Africa will be the one to gain most. Despite being a traditional ally, India has lagged behind others in this aspect due to a variety of reasons. The Pulses trade Modi′s first port of call in Africa was Mozambique where India′s interests were borne out of a pressing need. Two years of monsoon failure has resulted in a shortfall in cultivation of pulses in India, which is already its largest grower and consumer. Despite best efforts, India does not produce enough for its own need and on an average imports about 3 million tonnes of pulses every year. A shortfall in 2015-16 though saw that spiral to 5.8 million tonnes. Even then, pulses prices are hovering at over Rs 100 per kg. Modi is the first Prime Minister in 34 years to visit Mozambique and the result was a contract to import 100,000 tonnes of pulse from the east African nation with an upper cap of 200,000 tonnes by 2020-21. There is talk of India exploring options of contract farming of pulses in Africa as a solution to the long term shortage of pulses in the country. Healthcare and pharmacy Indian pharmaceutical companies have for long exported drugs and pharmaceuticals in large quantities to Africa - drugs worth $3.1 billion were shipped in 2015-16 - but Modi has broadened the ambit by offering help in building the continent′s healthcare and water sanitation infrastructure. India will provide $92 million line of credit for improvement of Zanzibar′s water supply system while working on water projects for 17 cities in Tanzania. An additional $500 million concessional credit is also on the table in addition to an existing $100 million. At the same time, a multi-million-dollar deal to set up East Africa′s largest cancer hospital in Kenya was also signed and India will also help set up pharmaceutical company in Kenya to produce cheaper generic drugs. Africa;s healthcare system is more often either grossly inefficient and expensive or stretched beyond limits. A sizeable number opt to fly down to India for medical treatment. In 2015, more than 10,000 from Kenya traveled to India for treatment and ended up spending $98 million.

Maritime diplomacy and defence manufacturing The need to ring fence the Indian ocean, a fundamental asset shared by all East African countries and India, found prominence during various meetings during Modi′s visit. India and Kenya signed seven different pacts, including a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation while it agreed to deepen cooperation in the maritime domain in Tanzania.

In the past India has provided defence aid to Kenya and Tanzania but it is only now that it has shown interest in securing the sea that is the source of economic activity for every East African nation. Yet, even the most powerful of these countries are vulnerable to the threat posed by pirates and other sea borne criminals. World Bank estimates suggest Kenya loses $300 million every year due to maritime insecurity. Modi spoke to African leaders in detail about shoring up maritime ties as part of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) linking India's own “Sagar-Mala” outreach for Indian Ocean islands with the South Africa-authored “Operation Phakisa”. Along with the promise of deepening defence manufacturing collaboration, first steps have been taken in securing the Indian ocean against external threat that can destabilise economic ties. "Our companies can also pool their capacities to jointly develop or manufacture defence equipments and platforms. And, not just to meet our defence needs, but also to respond to regional and global demand," Modi said. India vs China in Africa Howsoever big a loan or value of infrastructure that India has offered in Africa may seem, it dwarfs in comparison to the involvement of China in the continent. Last December alone, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a staggering $60 billion loan and aid package to Africa to develop infrastructure, improve agriculture and reduce poverty.

Chinese investment too has grown from $7 billion in 2008 to $26 billion in 2013, according to Wharton Africa Business Forum. India′s FDI to the continent pales in comparison and even then, most of it goes to Mauritius from where the capital is routed back to the subcontinent. Yet, there is an underlying mistrust among African nations regarding China, which is seen to be pumping money only because of its interests in the continent′s abundant raw materials like metals and oil. India wants to cash in on this perception coupled with the slowdown in China′s economy that would invariably mean reduced spending in Africa. "We missed the bus earlier but want to be there in case of any opening," says a bureaucrat in the ministry of external affairs. "Africa is a long term bet but the time to sow the seeds is now. We are anyway playing catch up with China. This isnt the last time Mr Modi has visited Africa." International security and NSG membership Of all the countries that Modi visited in Africa, India′s ties with South Africa is the most nuanced and complex. As the largest economy in the continent, South Africa brings a more resilient attitude on the negotiating table helped in no small measure by its proximity in trade ties to China.

Our companies can also pool their capacities to jointly develop or manufacture defence equipment and platforms. And, not just to meet our defence needs, but also to respond to regional and global demand.-Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister
The one perennial emotional topic between the two countries is Mahatma Gandhi and Modi, eager to evoke that connect, was quick to retrace his train journey to establish the similarity in the history of oppression that both countries suffered from. "We stood together in our common fight against racial subjugation and colonialism," he said in South Africa. "It was in South Africa that Gandhi found his true calling. He belongs as much to India as to South Africa.”
The reiteration was necessary as India seeks the elusive permanent membership in Nuclear Suppliers Group. While South Africa has been a staunch supporter of India′s bid for a permanent seat in United Nations Security Council, its stand on India′s entry to NSG has been ambiguous. In May 2015, South Africa had promised to back India′s candidature but it dithered and is one of the 6 countries that opposes India′s entry into NSG. That China was the main spoilsport as also South Africa′s largest trading partner, is not a coincidence. It will take more than a visit and a historical emotional connect to get South Africa′s vote but the attempts at isolating China in global diplomacy, began with that train journey from Pentrich station in Durban to Peitermaritzburg.

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