Keeping in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's African priority in the country's foreign policy, President Ram Nath Kovind will soon be leaving on a three-nation tour of the continent end of this month.
Highly placed sources confirmed to Financial Express Online that the President is expected to visit countries including Gambia, Benin and Guinea.
Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Prof Ajay Dubey, chairperson of African Studies and National Security Studies at JNU, said “The President’s visit to three West African countries is part of Modi government initiatives to address long term grievance of African leaders that top-level Indian leaders rarely visit Africa and visit a very few selected bigger economies.”
“The visit is to establish a high-level political exchange, strengthen economic ties and signal New Delhi’s intentions to engage these countries for energy, economic and diplomatic reasons,” said Dubey, who is also Director of Energy Studies Programme at JNU.
According to him, non-English countries in the African continent like Lusophone, Francophone and Spanish speaking countries, as well as the West African countries along the Pacific Ocean have often pointed out that there is a lack of attention from India in terms of economic and diplomatic priorities.
However, from the Indian interest perspective, these three smaller, non-English speaking and West African countries are important for various reasons. “The most important is their geographical location along the Gulf of Guinea which is supposed to have huge energy resources, comparable to the Persian Gulf. They are still not fully cornered and monopolised by traditional powers,” added Dubey.
India had started Team 9 initiatives during Vajpayee govt to rope these countries through economic initiatives. Team 9 is special cooperation with West African Countries, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and India.
Being one of the biggest energy consumers, New Delhi’s engagement with West African countries are primarily driven by its energy needs. Country’s energy security is an issue of high priority for the government and efforts have been on for diversifying its energy imports to reduce the dependence on the Persian Gulf region due to the US sanctions on Iran.
According to experts, besides tapping Nigeria for crude imports, India has also invested in oil and gas blocks in various countries in the region like Sudan in North Africa.
And, only in recent years, it has started looking towards West African Oil due to several factors including the Gulf of Guinea, where the oil is of high quality as it is low in sulphur. Also, the bulk of the new discoveries are found offshore away from potential conflict onshore and the African oil markets are still open to foreign investments.
This will the first-ever high profile visit by Indian Head of State to the Gambia and other West African countries. Both countries enjoy commercial and bilateral relations and both are members of the Commonwealth.
Bilateral trade between the two countries stands at $190million annually, and there is a huge presence of Indian companies in that country.
Under the capacity building programme which is an important element of the relation, diplomats and other top officials of that country come to India for training. India has constructed the National Assembly building in Banjul, Gambia, under a Line of Credit of around $ 10 million from Exim Bank.
“New Delhi’s policy is more based on an Africa owned and Africa led developmental strategy, hence there is tremendous goodwill for India which gives it a unique edge and advantage” points out former ambassador Anil Trigunayat.
In a clear sign of a major build-up in India’s relations with the resource-rich continent, as has been reported by Financial Express Online earlier, 2014-18 witnessed 25 high-level bilateral visits from India to Africa.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs, till date the Indian companies have invested over $ 54 billion in the African Continent and the bilateral trade with various countries total to over $ 62 billion, which is over 21 per cent more than in the previous year.