India and Uganda: A victory of bilateralism

EAM S Jaishankar’s April visit remained productive on several counts

Dr Gayettri Dixit | May 3, 2023

#Dr S Jaishankar   #Africa   #Mozambique   #Uganda   #Diplomacy   #Foreign Policy  
External affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar with his Ugandan counterpart, Gen. Odongo Jeje, on April 11, during his Uganda visit. (Photo: courtesy
External affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar with his Ugandan counterpart, Gen. Odongo Jeje, on April 11, during his Uganda visit. (Photo: courtesy

‘Africa matters’ is the refrain of the contemporary New Delhi denomination. As part of the larger striving in India’s outreach external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar recently visited Uganda and Mozambique during April 10-15. He held talks with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, foreign minister General Jeje Odongo, minister of defence and veterans affairs Vincent Ssempijja, and various other important Ugandan leaders.

The visit came at a time when China's de facto monopoly on development projects in Uganda is on its downfall. In January Uganda suspended a USD 2.2 billion contract with China's Harbor Engineering company to build a railway between Kenya and Uganda (instead the deal was given to the Turkish industry). Thus, China happy happens to be the staple bete noir which gives the Indian diplomats a handful to contend with.

In his first statement after arriving in Uganda, Jaishankar stated that he hoped that this tour would spark a meaningful conversation that will help advance global South-South cooperation. The relationship between India and Uganda has a long history that dates back to India’s independence struggle, which motivated Ugandan activists to fight against colonisation. In 1965, India and Uganda established formal diplomatic ties, with each country retaining a high commission in the capital of the other. Their bilateral relations have become deeper and stronger over time.

PM Narendra Modi too landed in Uganda in 2018, ahead of the BRICS conference. The “ten guiding principles of India-Africa ties,” which he unveiled from the Ugandan Parliament in Kampala, were the highlight of his diplomatic tour de force. These ideals envisioned not only a bilateral relationship with Africa but also a worldwide collaboration. He emphasised India’s commitment to Africa as one of its key objectives. India would participate in African development projects that address the continent’s concerns by creating opportunities at the local level. India wishes to share its commercial knowledge and assist African nations in the timely delivery of various development programs. From expanding collaboration to climate change, agriculture, education, and battling terrorism, India has stood with Africa and will continue to do so. Uganda plays a significant role in these African-oriented Indian initiatives, so it’s a key sate with stakes for the Indian nation and its larger Indic overarch.

Currently, India and Uganda collaborate in a variety of fields, including trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, military, health, agriculture and digital delivery. Jaishankar’s visit reinforced and provided the groundwork for deepening traditional and long-standing ties with Uganda. Recently, BJP’s supporters in Uganda took up the Tulsi Ghat rehabilitation project in Varanasi. Living in the Nile valley, their dedication to a Ganga Ghat illustrates the convergence of the two pristine civilisations. The preservation of Varanasi's heritage highlights India’s cultural renaissance. This will have far-reaching global consequences. Kashi (Varanasi) has long represented India's spirit, history, art, and culture and is not mere rhetorical and publicist delight in sound and video bytes. The foreign minister expressed optimism that such rebuilding activities will bring the attention of many more Indian diasporic communities to India. He repeated that we should be proud of our historical civilisation and seek to preserve them.

The National Forensic University of India opened its first overseas campus in Uganda, which was inaugurated by Jaishankar. He stated that it was a vision of Modi. Further, he expressed his confidence that the courses offered by this university – forensic sciences, behavioural sciences, cyber security, digital forensics and related sciences – will be in great demand among students. The university has the ability to benefit all stakeholders in Uganda and Africa significantly. The Ugandan government is also supporting India in terms of defence cooperation. Uganda needs a system that can track phone calls made outside of Uganda in order to follow terrorists.

The minister also said that while the line of credit that India committed to had some bureaucratic hurdles, moving forward with the programme required some conceptual clarity, which the Indian government and authorities are looking forward to. In comparison, India has committed to and completed groundwork projects in electricity transmission, dairy and animal husbandry. Jaishankar also inaugurated innovative solar-powered piped drinking water supply systems in Uganda, which were funded by India’s Exim Bank. Modi praised the project for not only strengthening India's friendship with Uganda but also for advancing sustainable development. The project is planned to offer safe and long-term water supplies to 500,000 Ugandans spread across 20 rural regions. India is also eager to help Uganda with empowerment, capacity building, and human resource capacity enhancement. In terms of agriculture, Uganda, like India, places equal emphasis on millets.

President Museveni said during his discussion with Jiashankar that India, along with trade and business, must work together to generate value additions. The president stated that Uganda is willing to collaborate with India in the fields of minerals and agro-business in terms of value addition. Uganda is looking for an integrated steel industry for its vehicle industry, which India may assist with. Uganda is rich in mineral resources such as gold and copper. There are other areas of cooperation that still require attention. But the Ugandan government has assured Indian products of a larger and ready market. India and Uganda should work together to connect Uganda not only with Indian markets but also with the rest of the world. India will organise continuing business events in India where Uganda would be able to hold and connect businesses. India will also send a corporate delegation to the Ugandan business forum to connect with and share its experience.

Over the last two decades, India's exports to Uganda have climbed from $57.4 million in 1995 to $695 million in 2021. Packaged medicaments ($151M), bikes ($95.4M) and industrial food preparation equipment ($23.8M) were the top three products in 2021. Uganda exported $53.6 million to India that year. Coffee, cocoa beans and dried legumes were the principal exports from Uganda to India. Ugandan exports to India have surged over the past 26 years.

Jaishankar, in his reflections on his first visit to Uganda, said Uganda and India view the world from “converging perspectives”. Both Museveni and Jaishankar agreed that India and Uganda need to broaden their economic partnership especially in terms of strategic and precious mineral resources. Museveni highlighted the abundance of minerals in Uganda, including iron ore in the west, copper and cobalt in Kilembe, nickel and natural graphite in the north, the 3Ts (tin, tungsten, and tantalum) in the west, and rare earth elements in the east. India and Uganda together can build up industries and markets to harness these resources.

For Ugandan students, India has been the most desired educational destination. Official and diplomatic passport holders are exempt from visa restrictions. Some high-ranking Ugandan government officials have attended Indian colleges and universities. India has effectively used its soft power diplomacy through numerous projects such as the Pan Africa e-network project and the e-vidyabharati project. Ugandan students can apply for scholarships and fellowships through ICCR or ICWA. The Study in India programme has also drawn a large number of Ugandan students to India for higher study.

Jaishankar also met delegates and ministers of the Parliamentary Forum of Indian affairs. Established in August 2022, it was the first focused forum established by the Ugandan parliament. It was established to serve as a platform for continuous dialogue and enhanced cooperation among parliamentarians of both India and Uganda. Jaishankar was especially pleased to see the commitment of Ugandan leaders to maintaining strong ties with India. India had provided financial support for the East African community which was then shared with Uganda was announced India announced a donation of vehicles to defence forces and civil use.

India had supplied to Uganda Covid-19 vaccines, apart from prompt medical assistance. India also provided a cancer therapy machine to Uganda.Under its economic and technological cooperation programme, India has been frequently training and exchanging with defence capabilities in order to strengthen defence partnerships. Every year, senior Ugandan officials travel to India to complete defence training lasting from a month to a year. India is dedicated to boosting bilateral defence cooperation. Significant cooperation has been developed between the National Defence College (NDC) and the newly formed NDC in Uganda.

To strengthen the connection, the Indian minister asked Uganda to back India's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Also, India congratulated Uganda on its presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The NAM would continue to strive to improve South-South cooperation under Uganda’s chairmanship, India was assured. India, too, emphasised the importance and efforts being done following its G20 presidency. Jaishankar highlighted in his speech that India is taking unprecedented steps during its presidency. India made a concerted and extensive effort in January to contact all of the countries of the global south and inquire about their various aspirations and goals. With the G20, India is working on topics such as global warming and development, green growth, SDGs, digital delivery, debt and health. Uganda, as a key partner of India, will undoubtedly profit from it.

On the last day of his visit, Jaishankar paid tribute to Gandhiji at the Nile river's headwaters in Jinjia, Uganda. Gandhiji's ashes were immersed in the Nile (among many other rivers), as per his wishes. Respect and adoration for Gandhiji also reflect India's deep and abiding link with Uganda. Jaishankar welcomed Ugandan leaders and civil society to visit India, not just for a cordial visit, but also to exchange ideas and principles.

Thus, the visit was productive in a variety of ways. Both sides reiterated old commitments and made new commitments. Uganda can undoubtedly look forward to additional growth and development assistance from India as has been the avowed objective and attendant tenor of New Delhi.

Dr. Gayyatri Mahajan is faculty, Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, JNU.



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