By H. H. S. Viswanathan
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to three African countries last week should be seen in the larger context of the remarkable outreach to that continent in the last three years. India’s relations with Africa go a long way back to pre-colonial times. Over the last seven decades, as independent nations, India and the African countries have engaged effectively in political, economic and commercial fields.
These engagements became more substantial in the new millennium because of two reasons: the transformation of India as a leading emerging economy and the political and economic resurgence of Africa. There has been an exponential growth in trade, investments and Development Partnership. The India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) has turned out to be an effective platform for taking the engagement to a higher trajectory. The third edition of the IAFS, held in New Delhi in 2015 was significantly productive due to the participation of all the 54 African nations.
One major lacuna in the bilateral engagements has been a visible lack of exchange of high level visits. There have been countries where there have no visits ever or for decades. This lacuna has been squarely addressed by this government. In the last three years, there have been more than 20 visits at the levels of the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister. According to Secretary (ER) in the Ministry of External Affairs Shri Tirumurti, with this tour, India will complete visits at the levels of Ministers or above to all the 54 countries under New Delhi’s Africa Outreach Initiative.
The importance of these visits cannot be overstated. Today’s international diplomacy largely follows a top-down model where the agenda is set at the highest level. A greater understanding of each other’s priorities has helped in fine-tuning our Development Partnership Programs. They also provide an opportunity to monitor ongoing projects and to initiate new ones.
Modi’s first port of call was Rwanda. It is historic because this is the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister. The small East African country has come a long way after the tragic genocide in the mid-1990s. Today, Rwanda is looked upon as a gateway to the East African market. Its business friendly policies have attracted impressive foreign investments.
Rwandan President, Paul Kagame (who, at present, is also the African Union Chairman) is playing a key role in the sub-regional and regional integration of Africa. His role in the recent finalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was very significant. Modi and Kagame have had earlier interactions. Kagame visited India twice in two years: in January 2017 for the Vibrant Gujarat event and in March 2018 for the founding Conference of the International Solar Alliance.
Rwanda has received US$ 400 million as Lines of Credit (LOCs) in the last few years. Many Rwandans have also benefitted from India’s training and scholarship programs. The importance of the bilateral relations is borne out by the fact that in January 2017, the two countries elevated their ties to the level of a Strategic Partnership. During the visit, Modi announced two more LOCs: US$ 100 million for industrial parks and a similar amount for agriculture and irrigation.
Considering the importance of animal husbandry in that country, Modi gifted 200 cows to a farm in Rwanda. This was a contribution to Kagame’s Girinka Program (one cow per poor family).
Modi’s visit to Uganda was one by an Indian Prime Minister after 21 years. Over the years, defence cooperation, particularly training and capacity building has attained great significance. There is an Indian military training team in Jinja since 2010. This cooperation is to be enhanced further. Two new LOCs were also announced: one for US$141 million in the power distribution sector and one of US$ 64 million for agriculture and dairy production.
Uganda is also home to over 30,000 Indians with whom PM interacted. The highlight of the visit was the address to the Ugandan Parliament, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister.
The BRICS Summit
The visit to South Africa was in the context of the 10th BRICS Summit. PM had an official bilateral visit to that country earlier in 2016 when he also went to Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. From the very first Summit in Yekaterinburg (Russia) in 2010, India has taken a major role in shaping the group which has evolved into something much bigger and more influential than what was envisaged by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs who coined the term BRIC, which later included South Africa.
The group proved to be a useful platform for addressing the critical issues of these five emerging economies. Though very diverse, the five have also many commonalities and areas of convergence. It is on these that the five have concentrated. They realised that what cannot be achieved on the global scene individually could be done collectively.
BRICS has two baskets of issues: one is intra-BRICS Cooperation and the other is Global Governance. There has been considerable work done on the former. All five face similar problems in areas like health, education, inclusive growth, gender equality, urbanization, peace and security, cyber and internet. In the last decade, there has been significant exchange of ideas in all these fields both in Track 1 (government) and Track 2 (academic and non-government). These interactions have resulted in learning from each other’s experiences and adoption of best practices.
On global governance issues, all five are on the same page. They all agree, as do most of the developing world, that the post-World War 2 global order is not fair and equitable and in the drastically changed scenario today, those institutions have to be comprehensively reformed if they have to remain relevant.
These include the United Nations (UNO), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A major achievement for BRICS was the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) in Shanghai (China) and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) two years ago. The Bank’s priority is to fund infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other developing countries. Renewable energy forms an area of great importance keeping in view the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Already in two years, 21 projects have been initiated with a funding of close to US$ 5 billion. An African Chapter of the Bank is operational in Johannesburg (South Africa) and a Latin American Chapter will open next year in Sao Paolo (Brazil).
The timing of the 10th BRICS Summit is when the international political and economic landscape is undergoing major upheavals. This is both a challenge and opportunity for BRICS. The relatively stable atmosphere of the past was ideal for BRICS to try out new initiatives. Today’s scenario provides new avenues.
Universally accepted fundamentals like Globalisation, Free and Open Trade, an inclusive global order, respect for International Law and multilateralism are under threat of being undermined. The centrality of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO) is also being questioned. It is a good opportunity for BRICS to take the leadership in these areas. The group could easily get the support of like-minded countries even among the developed world. BRICS should grab this opportunity.
This Summit concentrated more on the first basket of issues namely intra-BRICS Cooperation. The Theme chosen by Host South Africa was “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The discussions as well as the final Johannesburg Declaration bring out the twin challenges: how to achieve inclusive growth and how to leverage the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution 4.0. Centrality has been given to a people centric approach.
Modi, in his address said that the fourth Industrial Revolution was more about skills than about finances. Hence, the most critical aspect is the reorientation of education and skilling in the five countries.
As outreach, the hosts had invited the leaders of Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, Zambia, Namibia, Senegal, Gabon, Ethiopia and Angola. In the BRICS-plus category, a new idea from the previous Xiamen Summit, emerging economies from the Global South like Argentina, Turkey Indonesia, Jamaica and Egypt were present.
PM Modi successfully leveraged the occasion of the BRICS Summit to expand India’s Africa Outreach Project. To deepen it further, Government of India should make sure that there are sufficient high level visits in the reverse direction. According to sources in the MEA, we can expect at least 10 to 12 visits of Heads of State/Heads of Government from Africa during 2018.
This article originally appeared in The Quint.