Cementing diplomatic ties, diaspora-outreach, and garnering support for India from the international community have been on top of PM Narendra Modi’s agenda ever since he took over as the head of the Indian government in 2014. In what is seen as his effort to strengthen ties with Africa, the PM has now embarked on a 5-day, 4-nation visit to the African continent. Starting his tour with Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania, the PM will next travel to Kenya. All four of the countries that the PM is visiting, are connected with our nation by the Indian Ocean. This opens up a number of opportunities to build and strengthen maritime ties apart from opening up trade routes between these nations and India.
What’s On Modi’s Agenda
With this African tour, India seeks to deepen cooperation with the continent in areas including food security, hydrocarbons, investment, maritime trade, and agriculture. The PM signed three important pacts with Mozambique agreeing to buy pulses from the nation and to strengthen trade ties. India shall also be a trusted and reliable partner in Africa’s battle against public health issues. India shall donate essential medicines (include AIDS medication), said the PM. Defence, skills development, healthcare, agriculture, and energy development are key areas where African nations and India have a great potential for cooperation. Africa’s bounty of petroleum and natural gas is likely to play a central role in enhancing trade ties as well.
Another key area for partnership is the battle against terrorism. The African continent boasts of a long coastline and faces regular threats from pirates. The PM promised the support of Indian Navy in battling this menace. The PM also sought the support of African nations in combating climate change and in finding renewable sources of energy. In Tanzania, he is likely to meet ‘Solar Mamas’, a group of women from rural Africa trained by the Government of India to act as solar engineers to run programmes that design, install, and maintain solar lighting systems.
Historic Train Journey
One of the greatest highlights of PM Modi’s visit to South Africa was his visit to some significant places, connecting the country with Mahatma Gandhi and India. PM Modi retraced Gandhi’s historic train journey. On 7 June, 1893, young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi boarded the first-class carriage on the train from Pretoria to Durban. Despite possessing a valid ticket, a white man objected to his presence in the carriage and asked him to move to a third-class compartment. When Gandhi objected, he was forcefully removed and left to brave the cold night at Pietermaritzburg station. This experience was a turning point in Gandhi’s life as it strengthened his resolve to fight racial discrimination. This resolve also precipitated into his role as a prominent leader of India’s freedom struggle. It was his success in South Africa that inspired Gandhi to bring home his ideals of Satyagraha and use it in the Indian freedom struggle.
On 9 July, 2016, PM Modi boarded a train carriage at Pentrich station in Durban and travelled to Pietermaritzburg as a tribute to the Father of the Nation (India). Noting that South Africa was Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Karmabhoomi’, the PM said that the country was a catalyst that transformed ‘Mohandas into Mahatma.’
In his Pretoria address, the PM said, “This visit is an opportunity to pay homage to two of the greatest human souls to have ever walked this Earth – Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. We stood together in our common fight against racial subjugation and colonialism. It was in South Africa that Gandhi found his true calling. He belongs as much to India as to South Africa.”
As with any of his other foreign visits, connecting with the Indian diaspora takes a central role in Modi’s maiden visit to mainland Africa. “Africa was the land which started shaping the identity of the Indian diaspora,” the PM said addressing Indians in Mozambique. But it was in South Africa that the PM enthralled the non resident Indians and drove the crowds to a frenzy. Dressed in a brightly patterned Madiba shirt, the kind often worn by Mandela, the PM rose to a 11,000 strong Johannesburg crowd that was chanting his name. He started his address by saying, “You are part of the flourishing global Indian family, a bond on which we are building the promise of our prosperous future.”
South Africa’s Indian community is 1.3 million strong and the enthusiasm of the crowd reflects its love for India. Indians from a number of neighboring countries such as Botswana and Lesotho travelled to Johannesburg to attend NaMo’s address. India is an oasis of opportunity in a dampening global scenario and this rise is based on HOPE — Harmony, Optimism, Potential and Energy, said the PM. He appealed to the Indians in Africa to reach out and support their homeland in this phenomenal growth.
The NaMo government has been working on improving ties with African nations. Not only is this an attempt to strengthen bilateral ties with a mineral rich continent, but also an attempt to forge trade and business relations rivalling that of China. China’s trade with the African subcontinent is estimated to be worth about USD 200 billion last financial year. This is more than the total of GDP of 30 African nations combined. India’s trade with South Africa, on the other hand, is estimated at USD 5.3 billion in FY 2016. India’s total trade with Africa is estimated at USD 70 billion.
Not only do India and Africa share cultural and historic ties, African nations have also been supporting India’s demand for major reforms in the constitution of the UN Security Council. This makes South Africa and other African countries allies when it comes to India’s candidature for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
Currently, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China hold permanent seats at the council and despite being home to over a third of the world’s population, neither India nor African nations are represented. China has been consistently blocking India’s attempts to gain a permanent seat and strong ties with African nations will help the cause.
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