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African-Indian Ocean Diving: Inside Modi government’s Africa policy

As the world marks Africa Day today, it may be appropriate to assess how much the India-Africa partnership has grown on Narendra Modi's watch. The prime minister's address to the Ugandan Parliament in July 2018 laid out the guiding principles of India's contemporary approach. India would respond to Africa's priorities, demands and needs, rather than impose its agenda.

It was not just new thinking that Modi brought to the relationship. He also devoted much greater attention, resources and capabilities. High-level visits grew since 2014, with 34 outgoing ones by India's president, vice-president and PM. India also saw over 100 incoming visits from African countries. In many cases, interactions at this level are taking place after decades, if at all.

Project Africa

As India expanded its diplomatic footprint and activities globally, Africa was given pride of place. 18 new embassies have opened since 2018, covering 47 of the continent's 54 nations. The India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in 2015 saw all African states present - 41 at the level of heads of state or government.

Development partnership and capacity building is at the relationship's core today. India has completed 189 projects in Africa, with 76 others at the execution stage, and 68 at the pre-execution stage. Financed by lines of credit with an outlay of $12 billion, they extend to over 40 countries. Many were the first of their kind in Africa, and some truly iconic. Notable examples include the presidential palace in Ghana, the national assembly building in Gambia, the Rivatex textile factory in Kenya, the Metro Express project in Mauritius, and the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre in Niger. Africa has been a major beneficiary of India's improved project delivery following the Pragati evaluation process.

Capacity building and skill development have accompanied asset creation. India committed 50,000 scholarships for African youth during IAFS-3 and has delivered on 32,000 already. To bridge the digital divide, Pan Africa e-Network, launched in 2009, was purposefully completed in 2017. A new era has begun with the introduction of e-Vidya Bharati for tele-education and e-Arogya Bharati for telemedicine. 19 countries have already become partners. During the past five years, 7 IT Centres in South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Lesotho, Ghana, Namibia and Tanzania, and the Centre for Geoinformatics Application in Rural Development in Madagascar and Niger were established to promote Africa's digital transformation. As was a science technology park in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) in southern Africa, and an upgraded technology centre in Zimbabwe.

The trade story remains encouraging. India is Africa's fourth-largest partner with a volume of about $70 billion. India's Duty-Free Tariff Preference (DFTP) scheme extends duty-free access to 98.2% of India's total tariff lines. African producers can take particular advantage of India's growing energy and food demands. India already has a tradition of sourcing lentils from eastern and southern Africa that is expanding. India is also Africa's fifth-largest investor, with a cumulative commitment of $70.7 billion.

Modi has been conscious that the Indian diaspora can play a crucial bridging role. They have an understanding of both societies and a creditable record of navigating challenges. The diaspora is 3 million strong, spread across 46 countries. The largest concentration is in South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.

Security and Growth

Given the proximity of India and Africa, cooperation in defence and maritime security is natural. In the past, India was associated with establishment of defence institutions in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Its military training teams have worked in Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The Modi government has built solidly on this foundation. Maritime security cooperation, once centred on Mauritius and the Seychelles, now extends to coastal African nations.

India is guided by the SAGAR doctrine - Security and Growth for All in the Region - and has often been a first responder in high availability disaster recovery (HADR) situations. Operation Sahayata to assist cyclone-hit Mozambique in 2019 and Operation Vanilla during the 2020 flood in Madagascar are illustrative.

It was natural for India and Africa, therefore, to stand together during the Covid-19 pandemic. India provided 150 tonnes of medical assistance to 32 African countries. Many of them utilised 'Made in India' vaccines. India continues supplying medicines, medical equipment, ambulances and cancer treatment machines to African hospitals. India has joined forces to urge equitable and affordable access to vaccines, including through a TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver.

In a volatile and uncertain world, India and Africa can come together in the building of reliable and resilient supply chains. Both are important hubs in decentralised globalisation. Modi's vision of cooperation with Africa centres on health, digital and green growth. India's African partners are critical to the success of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), both key initiatives of the Modi government.

India believes Africa's growth, progress and attainment of its true potential are intrinsic to global rebalancing. Only with Africa's emergence will the world become truly multipolar. For India, this will be both a statement of its South-South solidarity and a key aspect of its larger strategy.

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