President of India Embarks His First Foreign Trip to Africa

The African Connection

At a time when India is trying to build its presence in Africa, President Ram Nath Kovind’s first foreign trip to Africa acquires special attention. The President of India was on a four day state visit to the two African nations - Djibouti and Ethiopia. The visit gives an opportunity to the Indian President to focus on issues of common interest and concerns at the bilateral, regional and global level. It also dwells on India’s devotion to have a sustained partnership for mutual growth and development.

India enjoys a different set of advantages with the African continent, as they share strong historical link and the presence of diaspora constitute important pillars on which strong and powerful engagements can be constructed with many of the countries of Africa. India also has an ability to deploy capacity building activities that will in the long-run contribute to state building in African countries. The first visit by the President to Africa shows the importance of Africa for the current government. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi had also said earlier that Africa is a priority for Indian foreign and economic policies The Narendra Modi government has been targeting an aggressive expansion in Africa for the last two years. The third Indo-African summit that took place in New Delhi in 2015, saw the participation of more than 40 heads of governments from Africa. Thus, the President’s visit in other words is to keep up India’s engagement with African and to expand its footprints across the resource rich continent.

Visit to Djibouti

The president's visit to Djibouti comes in the backdrop of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops conducting their first live-fire military drills overseas on their base in strategically-vital Djibouti last month, in a major combat display. He chose Djibouti as first leg of his visit to Africa because Djibouti has a strategic location on the Horn of Africa, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The Historical links, cultural empathy and people-to-people contacts between India and Djibouti has existed long before the Independence of India and Djibouti in 1947 and 1977 respectively. It was the port of Adulis which was the hub of maritime traders and where the Indian seafarers had gathered for trade in spices and silk for gold and ivory. The Honorary Consul of India has been functioning on Djibouti since 1969 till date. Djibouti opened its Embassy in New Delhi in the year 2004 (Embassy of India, Addis Ababa 2017). India’s contribution in the field of education and training has been immense especially for the Somali speaking population, many of whom have been taught by Indian teachers. Also, due to the long standing historical links, Djibouti is keen to improve its bilateral relations with India especially in the area of capacity building. In the year 2015, the country extended remarkable help during ‘Operation Rahat’ in the evacuation of Indians and other nationals from war-torn Yemen. Djibouti was the pivot of operations during Indian efforts to evacuate its nationals fleeing the civil war in Yemen (Syed Akbaruddin, 2015). Despite India not having great huge presence in Djibouti, the country provided all facilities required to evacuate and move thousands of people by air and sea.

Even otherwise, strategically Djibouti is very important to India. Hence, this visit by president Kovind is a very good gesture on India’s part to ensure a high level visit to the country. The visit is first ever visit at the level of Head of State or Government from India to the Republic of Djibouti since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Areas of Cooperation

The President in Djibouti led delegation level talks with his counterpart where an agreement to establish regular political consultations between India and Djibouti, at the level of the Foreign Office, was signed in the presence of the two Presidents. Both the leaders acknowledged the significant role of Djibouti and its strategic importance as well as India's role for the maintenance of peace and stability in the Horn of Africa region. They underlined the need to engage both India and Djibouti on regional and international issues of mutual concern. Both the leaders shared their views that terrorism is a greater threat to mankind and global peace and stability and expressed their desire to work together with the international community in eradicating the threat of terrorism from the society in order to attain peace in the world. They agreed on the need to take strong and stringent measures against terrorists, terror organizations and their networks.

President Kovind made specific reference to areas of common concern and interest such as renewable energy and particularly Djibouti’s support for membership of the International Solar Alliance, maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region and technical and capacity building assistance by India to enhance employment opportunities for Djibouti’s young people (Press Release Rashtrapati Bhawan, 2017). He further thanked President Guelleh for Djibouti’s support during Operation Rahat, undertaken by India in 2015 to evacuate its citizens from conflict-hit Yemen. The leaders called for an urgent need for the reform of the UN Security Council, including its expansion, to make it more representative, accountable, effective and responsive to the geo-political realities of the 21st century.

Both the countries agreed to work closely to intensify their cooperation in the United Nations and other multilateral fora in order to address current global challenges such as climate change and to foster international and regional peace & security and sustainable development. The two leaders underscored the need to hold regular consultations on bilateral issues in order to further diversify the agreed agenda of cooperation and welcomed the signing of the MoU on Foreign Office Consultations between India and Djibouti to the effect during the visit. Underlining the potential for deepening relations in the economic arena, the Djiboutian Government called for greater role for India in the economic development in Djibouti, with a focus on small and medium scale industries. Djibouti also appreciated grants extended by India towards this purpose. Appreciating the scholarships and training programmes offered by India under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation, India Africa Forum Summit, Indian Council for Cultural Relation, etc. the Djiboutian government called for further expanding these programmes.

The two leaders welcomed the launch of International Solar Alliance (ISA) as a common platform for cooperation among solar resource rich countries, and expressed their commitment to work closely to deepen bilateral and regional cooperation in this arena. Lastly, the Djiboutian government expressed appreciation for the contribution of Indian community towards Djibouti’s economic development and promotion of bilateral relations. They underlined the need for promoting greater cultural exchanges. President of India Ram Nath Kovind thanked President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh for the warm hospitality extended to him and his delegation during their stay in Djibouti and extended an invitation to him to visit India.

Visit to Ethiopia

President Kovind left for Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, on the second leg of his visit to Africa. Indian links with Ethiopia date back centuries and he is the first Indian President to visit Ethiopia in 45 year. In modern times, the country has been a hub for Indian businessmen and teachers. Bilateral trade currently amounts to $1 billion, as India is at present among the top three foreign investors in Ethiopia with $4.8 billion in investments and with 540 Indian companies having a presence there. Ethiopia continues to be the largest recipient of India’s concessional Lines of Credit in Africa. Most of the Indian investments are in agriculture, engineering and textiles. India has also extended $1 billion in concessional loans to Ethiopia (Elizabeth Roche, 2017). Ethiopia is one of the longstanding partners of India on the African continent and is one of the fastest growing economies on the African continent. In Addis Ababa, the President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, made a special gesture in being present at Airport to receive the President of India. Later on, the President was accorded a Guard of Honour and witnessed an Ethiopian cultural music performance.

Both the nations signed agreements on trade, communication and media to boost bilateral relations. The President thanked Ethiopia for its support and participation in the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which aims to provide a platform for cooperation among solar resource rich countries and promote the use of solar energy. He also mentioned that both the nations will work together in the United Nations and other multilateral bodies. India also extend support to Ethiopia in the power sector, healthcare, and education. Later, the President attended the India- Ethiopia Business where he mentioned that India will provide a credit line to the tune of $95 million to Ethiopia for an electric transmission line. He also announced $2 million for purchase of food grain (Addis Getachew, 2017). He recalled that at the Third India Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in 2015, India had announced the offer of concessional credit of USD 10bn over the next five years to Africa. Lastly, he mentioned about the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) as another initiative brimming with potential and then concluded the day by addressing the Indian community reception in Addis Ababa. President’s visit was substantive in terms of the spectrum of issues discussed and agreements reached relating to various political, economic, development and strategic benefits. What marks the visit more significant is that such visits fills the missing link in India’s engagement with Africa. This process needs to be sustained, regularised and cover the whole continent to show how much importance India attaches to the partnership with Africa for mutual development and growth.

Conclusion

President recognises that Africa and Indian Ocean region are central to Indian foreign policy. That is why this region was chosen as his first foreign visit during which a number of agreements were signed. During the interactions between the leaders of both sides, the issues discussed reinforced some of the key aspects of India- Africa development partnership, which is centered on capacity building, trade and investments, infrastructure development, social development, agriculture and environment. Enhancing trade and investment linkages remain one of the key focuses of his visit. The visit to Djibouti and Ethiopia, accounted for a new impetus to the vibrant India –Africa relationship. It was recognized by both the sides that the leaders need to meet at regular intervals for timely execution of various projects and have a sustained focus on timely completion of the projects started and implementation of the agreements reached.

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