New Delhi intends to enhance its presence in the continent through bilateral, regional and continental mechanisms
Shankar Kumar | January 3, 2020 | New Delhi
In the new year, India will not only infuse more life into its traditional political and economic ties with Africa, but also consolidate its defence relations with the continent – all this in consonance with its plan to give a strategic heft to its Indo-Pacific strategy. While Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria has just returned after concluding his four-day visit to Egypt, Indian Navy is preparing to host ‘Milan 2020’ in which around a dozen African countries of the total 41 nations will participate in the largest ever international war game in Vishakhapatnam in March.
This is the first time when such a large number of African countries will participate in India-conducted naval exercise, indicating growing mutual understanding between the two sides. India’s defence partnership with Ethiopia, Botswana, Uganda, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles is strengthening day by day.
Recently India’s military and strategic move in the African Indian Ocean Rim littorals was given a significant push when New Delhi appointed a defence attaché for its diplomatic mission in Madagascar. This development took place close on the heels of the island country’s defence minister General Leon Jean Richard Rakotonirina’s visit to Indian naval ships on October 4 in the port city of Antsianana where the two sides in the presence of Indian ambassador Abhay Kumar, agreed to intensify defence cooperation between them.
A member of Indian Ocean of Rim Association, Madagascar entered into a defence pact with India during the first ever presidential visit undertaken by Ram Nath Govind on March 14-15 to the island country. Since then the two countries are trying to give momentum to their defence ties. Visit of Indian Navy’s Tir, Sujata ships and Indian Coast Guard’s Sarathi ship to Madagascar in the first week of October marked beginning of new phase in the defence cooperation of the two countries.
Significantly, Madagascar is the fourth country after Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros in the western Indian Ocean region that has joined India in enhancing maritime security in the region where China is rapidly expanding its’ economic and military presence. Soon after becoming defence minister Rajnath Singh made first overseas visit to Mozambique from July 28 to 30. During his visit, India handed over two interceptor boats and 44 sports utility vehicles (SUV) to Mozambique, besides signing MoUs in the field of economic zone surveillance, sharing of white shipping information and hydrography.
In the African continent, India has already helped numerous countries in having military training colleges. It has assisted in setting up defence college in Ethiopia, Naval war college in Nigeria and air force in Ghana, besides deploying military training teams in Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho and Seychelles.
Also, a substantial number of military officers from dozen other African countries undergo training in India at various levels. To strengthen and sustain long-term military to military contacts, India and Africa held their first ever military exercise, Africa-India Field Training Exercise (AFINDEX-19) during March 18-27, 2019 in Pune.
In this week-long inaugural military exercise 17 African countries had taken part, thereby marking continued growth of India’s outreach programme in Africa where India has so far established six of 18 new diplomatic missions approved for opening. Four missions will be set up this year and the rest by 2021, indicating India’s readiness to expand its diplomatic footprint in Africa. India has already started laying the ground for the IVth Africa summit in 2020.
On September 11-12, officials of India’s ministry of external affairs, led by secretary(ER) T S Trimurti and a delegation from the African Union, the African Diplomatic Corps, held a brain storming session in New Delhi. Apart from taking stock of ongoing cooperation in economy, trade and industry, agriculture, energy, blue and ocean economy, and infrastructure, the two sides deliberated on the preparations for the IVth IAFS to be held in 2020.
By leveraging its exceptional developmental packages involving technology transfer, capacity building and infrastructure development, India wants Africa to be a partner of growth and security.
While strictly following a demand-driven and conditionality-free model of cooperation with Africa, India has since October 2015 extended nearly $7 billion Lines of Credit of the total $10 billion committed during the IAFS-III summit. India has also provided $700 million worth of grant assistance, $100 million more than what was committed during the IAFS-III.
Line of Credit, also known as soft loan and provided by Export-Import Bank of India, forms major part of assistance to Africa under South-South cooperation. However, instead of routing funds through the African Union, the African Development Bank or any other intermediaries, India disburses fund bilaterally. Since 2015, there has been considerable improvement in the time taken in completing a project in Africa.
In the period between 2015-16 and 2019-20, as per EXIM Bank, a total 33 projects, including those related to railway and port development, were completed in Africa. MEA officials say this pace of development will increase in coming months as India intends to enhance its presence in Africa through bilateral, regional and continental mechanism and that too without imposing conditions and restrictions. But then what is making international watchers excited is that 2020 is likely to be the year of strong India-Africa engagement on all platforms and verticals.
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