/ 30 August 2023

Modi says Africa is top priority for India

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

In a question and answer session with the Mail & Guardian, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expands on the fast-growing country’s relationship with Africa, and the push for the AU to become a member of the G20.

India has a long history of partnership and solidarity with Africa. How do you see this relationship evolving further?

You are absolutely correct. India and the great nations of Africa are connected through the golden threads of history, bound by a spirit of camaraderie and shared resilience against the shadows of colonialism. There is a deep sense of mutual admiration.

Mahatma Gandhi first fought against colonial oppression and apartheid in Africa and then led India’s freedom struggle. His ideals inspired Nelson Mandela in his struggles as well.

India’s freedom struggle inspired the independence struggles in the global south, especially in Africa.

In earlier times, our bonds were strengthened thanks to this shared struggle against colonial rule. Today, as we stand shoulder to shoulder. It is the shared aspiration for prosperity, and inclusive and sustainable development that lights the path forward, intertwining our futures ever more closely.

In modern times, India has demonstrated its strong commitment to the countries in Africa and has shared its capacities; development experience based on the needs and priorities of the countries of the continent.

I believe that Africa has the capacity and the ability to contribute to the global good. If we listen to their voices and ensure representation, the countries of Africa can make an immense contribution to global growth and development.

When I became the prime minister of India, one of the earliest summits that I hosted was the India-Africa Summit in New Delhi in 2015. It was remarkable that leaders of the 54 countries of Africa had joined. I will always cherish this historic summit.

Not many people know that in 2017, I hosted the meeting of the African Development Bank in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat in India. It was the first time that the bank held such a meeting outside Africa. Our institutions learnt a lot from these exchanges.

After India took over the presidency of the G20, one of the first events we hosted was the Voice of the Global South Summit. Here, 125 partner countries, a large number of them from the African continent, participated and shared their priorities. It was only after that we set the agenda for our presidency.

I have personally taken the initiative to give the African Union full membership of the G20. I remain confident that we will realise this during the forthcoming G20 summit. 

We have a strong partnership in various areas of human endeavour that include trade, investment, defence, energy and health, among others. Trade with Africa stands at around $100 billion. Our investments are touching $80 billion. 

We have a robust development partnership. Human resource capacity building and skill development programmes have benefited more than 37 000 people in the past decade or so. We have committed over $12 billion in developing capacities in the fields of agriculture, health, education, power generation and infrastructure development, among others. Our development partnership model is unique as it is based on the needs and priority of our partner countries.

The true test of our enduring partnership is that we have stood with each other in the times of need. During the challenging Covid times, we worked together to supply vaccines and essential medicine for the people of Africa.

We have partnered in establishing pan-Africa networks for tele-education and tele-medicine.

This year, in April, we set up the offshore campus of the National Forensic Science University in Uganda. Last month, we set up the offshore campus of the premier Indian Institute of Technology at Zanzibar in Tanzania. These will serve educational needs, especially in the areas of science, technology engineering and innovation of the entire region.

Africa has great potential. Most of the countries are experiencing high rates of growth. India, with her ancient roots and youthful spirit, is ascending on the global stage. Together, we can weave a tapestry of shared aspirations and dreams, destined to illuminate the annals of history with tales of mutual prosperity.

At the Brics Outreach Summit, I had the opportunity to reflect on the future potential of cooperation and collaboration between India and Africa. The sky is the limit.

India is a growing economy and is projected to be the third-largest economy before the end of this decade.  How can Africa benefit from this? Beyond the conventional areas of political relations, trade and commerce, what are the new areas of collaboration that India can offer to Africa?

In the past 10 years, we have moved from being the 10th biggest to being the fifth largest global economy. But, we are not just that. The world over, India is seen as a global bright spot — a nation that can enhance global prosperity.

And, I assure you we are not content with these great jumps — our people are powering India towards becoming the third largest economy in a few years.

India is now considered as the country with the largest population in the world. But not many realise that we are not only the largest in terms of population, we are also young in terms of demography. So, we are a unique combination of being the fastest growing emerging economy with a very young population. This will remain our great strength in the coming times.

We have already seen that our youth has made India a home of digital innovations and solutions. The Indian youth is synonymous with success in information technology, bio-sciences, robotics and informatics.

Last week, our space journey took us to the moon. Our Chandrayaan successfully landed at the South pole of the moon, where no one has ever gone before. What many did not see, was that our young scientists constituted a very strong part of this mission.

Today, India is the third-largest start-up ecosystem in the world. We have over 100 unicorns and nearly 100 000 registered startups. These numbers will grow in the future. 

India has the ability to create unique and scalable solutions to problems. The digital public infrastructure, the India Stack, is promoting e-governance, financial inclusion, transparency and efficiency. We have been able to ensure public service delivery to the last mile. We have plugged leakages of billions of dollars.

India is moving ahead on its ambitious programme for 500 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030. We are working towards increasing solar, wind, biofuels, nuclear, hydrogen and other sources in our energy mix. 

Africa is an aspirational continent. We welcome its vision to modernise and industrialise through the ambitious Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

India is ready for the partnership and will share its capacities with the countries of Africa so that they can realise the potential to be a global economic and technological powerhouse.

Given the shared nature of challenges and the development journey, I strongly believe that the innovations and solutions that are developed in India can be easily replicated in the countries in Africa. These include those in digital, health, renewable, agriculture and other sectors.

India is ready to work on challenges that affect the planet. The initiatives for strengthening food security are a priority for all of us. 

Africa has significant land for production of various products. Both sides can build partnerships between the public and private sectors to invest in agriculture production and the agro-industry. It will not only promote food security, but also generate large scale employment. It will bring prosperity to the people and enable the African economies to move up the value chain through the creation of agro-processing facilities.

The 3.5 million Indian diaspora in Africa constitute a strong bond of friendship between India and the region. I am sure that the youth of India would be excited to work with the youth of Africa to forge a partnership that will be a force for the global good.

I would like to reiterate that India shall remain an enduring partner for Africa in its development journey of realising its aspirations.

India assisted Africa during Covid and supported it during the natural calamities it has been facing. What is your perspective on that?

This is what true friends are for. And, it is a part of our Indian value system and that we never leave our friends alone at the time of their needs.

We are proud of our longstanding friendship with the people of Africa and consider it our duty to stand with the people of Africa in meeting their needs for vaccines and medicine during one of the most challenging times of a lifetime.

When regional geopolitical tensions and disruption in supply chains was creating food shortages, we stepped in to supply food grains to several African countries.

We are privileged to have been the first responder in extending humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in times of crisis, including in Mozambique, Madagascar and Malawi.

True friendships are tested during the time of need. And, I am confident that we shall win the test of friendship every single time.

Defence has been a new area of collaboration between India and Africa. How do you see India-Africa defence relations progressing?

India is connected to the East coast of the African continent through the Indian Ocean. Therefore, our defence, security and maritime interests are intertwined.

In 2015, during my visit to Mauritius, I spoke about Sagar — Security and Growth for All in the Region. This vision defines our approach towards defence and maritime security while working with our partners in Africa.

There is mutual desire to further enhance defence cooperation that is driven by common security challenges, threat perceptions, and a collective commitment to work towards the security and stability of the region.

Today, defence cooperation has emerged as an important pillar in India-Africa relations. Two India-Africa defence conclaves have been held in 2020 and 2022. This year, in March, we conducted the first joint Army Chiefs Conclave.

We are cooperating with several countries in the region in providing training and capacity building. We hold joint exercises too.

The Indian Navy has emerged as a security provider in the Western Indian Ocean Region, offering timely delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during emergencies.  

India has contributed to enhancing the defence capabilities of African countries, including by providing reliable and affordable military hardware like patrol craft and light helicopters.

It is not just about supplying equipment. India is committed to empowering African states to indigenously meet their military requirements by sharing expertise and knowledge in defence manufacturing, research, and development. India has assisted countries like Nigeria and Tanzania in setting up defence academies and providing them with instructors and training material.

India is among those few countries that contribute troops in large numbers to the UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. Nearly 5 000 Indian personnel, including women, are serving in these peacekeeping operations. Our troops have also made supreme sacrifices for furthering peace, security and stability in this part of the world.

India is increasingly becoming a space power. What lessons can Africa draw out of it?

I think you are asking this question after the success of India’s Chandrayaan Mission. It has made people all around the world very happy.

I had said in my remarks after the success of the mission that this success is also dedicated to all developing countries around the world. I believe that it will act as a source of inspiration that if India can realise its dreams, the rest of the developing world can also achieve their dreams.

I know many countries in Africa have their aspirations for developing a space programme as part of the AU’s Agenda 2063.

I assure them that India stands ready to share its experience and help in various ways.

As the Chair of G20, where does Africa figure in India’s priority?

Africa is of top priority. In the development journey of the world in this century and beyond, the voice of Africa will be crucial.

Since India assumed the presidency of the G20, we have worked with the motto “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. It has been our priority to bring the concerns, priorities and aspirations of the global south, including the countries of Africa, to the forefront of the G20 agenda.

We believe that we need to hear the voices who are affected the most by the decisions that are taken in the G20.

We started our presidency with the Voice of Global South Summit in January where 47 African countries participated and shared their thoughts. It helped us to frame the agenda of our presidency. We have made a lot of progress in the past nine months and have been able to impress upon our partners within G20 the importance of taking into consideration the priorities of the developing world.

We have strongly advocated for permanent membership for the AU in G20. This stems from our belief that Africa should be given its due. And, I am confident that we will achieve this during our presidency.

Proper representation to Africa in global institutions would help us achieve inclusive sustainable global growth and development.