By Amb. Anil Trigunayat
It is abundantly clear that India has shifted gears of its engagement with Africa in a more concerted manner if one were to go by her recent activities across the spectrum of cooperation in accordance with the wishes of the respective countries . India announced a grant of US$15 mn to Niger to enable it to host the next African union Summit (AU) currently underway in Niamey . Some critics argued that the funds could have been more productively utilized in infra development etc. But all that is already being done. Supporting AU Summit and interactions after her own India- Africa Forum Summits ( last being in 2015) is a natural corollary and attests to the fact that India engages with its natural partner Africa both in bilateral, regional and multilateral context. AU and its constituent 55 countries are the collective voice of the continent and India wishes to engage with them given her umbilical and historical non-reciprocal relationship.
It is also time that structural and content driven focused approach for collaboration becomes the norm in accordance with PM Modi’s 10 principles for engagement with Africa announced during his address to the Ugandan Parliament in 2016. First Africa Day was celebrated at the Vibrant Gujarat summit where 50 African countries apart from large number of African students participated. Likewise hosting Cyril Ramphosa the South African President as Chief Guest for the Republic Day this year attested to the importance India attached to Africa.
As the world is heading apace towards the AI driven Industrial Revolution 4.0 neither India wants to miss it nor would want the Africans to lose out. Hence setting up Centres of Excellence and ICT and cutting edge technological cooperation for connectivity and R& D through capacity building has been a constant endeavour. No wonder only last week India inaugurated the Mahatma Gandhi IT & Biotech Park in Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa which as a special zone could incubate unicorns in the sunrise technologies . The MEA announcement stated “The MGIT-BP is being built with India’s assistance through EXIM Bank Lines of Credit of US$ 20 million. The MGIT-BP project consists of two parts firstly, architectural concept & design for the buildings of FTZ and construction of main building to host IT enterprises. Secondly, supply and commissioning of equipment which included, Computer Assembly Plant, VSAT with Satellite Earth Station, Networking Lab, Human DNA Lab, Data Storage Area Network, an Audio-Visual Lab & a Power Generator.
The first part of the project was implemented by Shapoorji Pallonji while the second part of the project was implemented by United Telecom Limited (UTL). There has been a significant intensification of our engagement with Cote d’Ivoire over the years and has extended six Lines of Credit aggregating to USD 207.70 million, aimed at building Infrastructure, improving the Ivorian skills and create opportunities”. India also gifted 250 e-Rickshaws to Senegal under the clean energy initiative. Large number of African countries are becoming a part of the “ Indian Solar alliance “ under which India has committed US$ 2bn to assist Africa acquire solar salience apart from “the Solar mamas” doing the yeoman community service post their training in India . This is just one example. Recently signed MoU with Tunisia in the area of space cooperation will further extend the application of frontier technologies and communication.
In fact India had earlier embarked on a Pan African e-Network project for providing satellite connectivity to the continent for telemedicine , tele-education and e-governance . Its second phase was launched earlier in the year when it was decided to upgrade the outreach with e-Vidya Bharati and Arogya Bharati projects by connecting ace institutions for tele-education and telemedicine apart from large number of scholarships. In fact during the IAFS 2015 India has pledged US$10 bn in lines of credit with $600 mn in project grants for Africa with 50000 training slots for Africans for capacity building which in fact is the USP and widely appreciated. Nearly 189 projects in 42 African countries are in various stages of completion with over $ 26 bn lines of credit. Several loopholes have been plugged and monitoring mechanisms are being introduced for speedier delivery systems. This is remarkable and in good faith since India is not a capital exporting country nor can it afford to indulge in cheque book diplomacy. Moreover India follows an Africa owned and Africa led developmental strategy anchoring its engagement giving primacy to equity, equality , mutual respect and growth dividends for the larger good as against the neo-colonialist approaches by some other major players who either have a colonial connect or indulge in cheque book diplomacy. Hence a reservoir of tremendous goodwill for India gives it a unique edge and advantage. Successful centuries old Indian enterprise and 3mn diaspora further sharpen the Indian edge.
These days several countries prefer to join hands with India in bilateral, trilateral or multilateral formats by pooling in expertise and resources for the benefit of all stake holders. Asia –Africa Growth Corridor with Japan and Asean; Indo-US collaboration in training African peacekeepers; Dialogues with France and UK on Africa or for that matter collaboration with UAE and Saudi Arabia for ensuring food security apart from collaborating in the fight against terrorism and extremism provide a holistic new approach where the unique advantages of each partner could be deployed for the African good. No doubt this is a delicate business but several success stories are already there.
It is normal that Africans wish to write and design their own future rather than be dictated by the interests of others who might wish to exploit the continent’s rich resource base. Hence while welcoming the China –Africa Summits (FOCAC) , US-Africa Business Forum; Japan –Africa meets (TICAD); India-Africa Forum Summits : and the EU-AU and the newest Russia –Africa Summit , the foreign minister of Rwanda at the “Kigali Global Dialogue ‘ last week reiterated that Africans would want to choose their pathways for the good of their own people. After its chequered past of heinous genocide of the 1990s, Rwanda has made amazing progress despite the dearth of natural resources. Country rightly boasts of being the cleanest; probably the highest in gender parity with 64% female parliamentarians and almost half of the Cabinet comprises of smart and highly educated women ministers. With its zero tolerance for corruption and digital delivery of public services, it has a set a unique example in health care where the drones are used to deliver medicines and vaccines to the remotest part of this country of thousand hills. No wonder the Global Competitiveness Report (2015) ranked Rwanda as the Best Place to be a Woman in Africa and Sixth Globally. The World Bank on its own ranked Rwanda’s capital Kigali among the six top cities in the world that demonstrate global competitiveness.
It is in this context that one has to see the recently organised “ Kigali Global Dialogue “ by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF India) with the assistance of UK’s DFID from July 3-5 which will be the annual dialogue broadly on the pattern of the Raisina Dialogue but mainly focussing on Africa for the Africans. This was evidenced in its very basic theme” People/ Growth/ Development” that placed emphasis on People first in the diversity of sub themes ranging from very basic needs to institutions to Climate change to IT governance and Artificial Intelligence-driven future. Samir Saran, Conference Chair and President ORF puts the emphasis correctly “ It is clear that solutions to Africa’s future reside within. These solutions cannot be dictated by a small set of trans- Atlantic stake holders who often talk at and not with the actors to whom the answers are designed. Indeed the old adage of African solutions for African problems has never been truer”. ORF has taken several recent initiatives that include India-Africa Partnership for Sustainability in Kenya; Global Programme for Women’s Leadership and: Cy-Fy Africa held in Tangier Morocco apart from setting up its Centre for New Economic Diplomacy focussing on Africa. Hence India directly or indirectly is part of this string of connectivity and they hope that Kigali Dialogue will emerge as the incubator of African solutions.
In July 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in keeping with his African priority in India’s foreign policy, visited Rwanda being the first Indian Prime Minister to do so. Eight MoUs and Agreements covering various sectors such as - defence, dairy, trade, agriculture including LoC agreements of US$ 100 million for development of Industrial Parks and expansion of Kigali SEZ and LoC agreements of US $ 100 million for financing components of its Agriculture Project Schemes were signed. India also extended an LoC for a power project . Connecting through culture and agriculture PM gifted 200 cows under “ Grinika –may you have a cow “ to the people of Rweru village in Rwanda as it was not only to provide financial and nutritional security to the villagers but is also a symbol of respect and gratitude. The journey of further cooperation has intensified even though China and US have the primacy of influence in this “Land of a thousand hills” that wants to be the beacon of hope for the Africans.
(The author is former ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta. Views expressed are personal.)