Vice-President Hamid Ansari will visit Morocco and Senegal this month, ending the complete drought of trips by top Indian leaders to Africa under the Narendra Modi government that has stood out starkly against the administration’s claimed outreach to the continent. Ansari will visit both countries in mid-April in a bid to build on diplomatic gains from the largest India-Africa summit so far last October and reach out to parts of the continent New Delhi has long ignored.
Modi had last October called India’s partnership with Africa “natural”, their destinies “inter-linked” and had admitted a gap between New Delhi’s words and actions with the continent, a concession many African leaders felt was refreshingly honest. India’s trade with Africa stands at $70bn, less than a third of China’s trade with the continent, which in 2014-15 amounted to $222bn. More than 95% of India’s investments in Africa are in Mauritius, aimed more at rerouting money using that country’s taxation laws rather than in manufacturing or services industries.
But the figures have improved over the past decade amid a growing race between India and China for Africa’s vast resources and its markets. The continent boasts more than half of the world’s fastest growing economies and is viewed by many economists as a future economic engine for the globe.
In North Africa, Casablanca in Morocco has emerged a key hub of Indian investments. Tata Motors, Ranbaxy and PepsiCo India has tangible investments in the country. Tata Motors and Ranbaxy also have smaller investments in Senegal. One of the biggest chemical firms in the West African country – the Industries Chimique du Senegal (ICS) – is Indian-owned.
India has also increasingly tried to invest in oil and gas in Africa, in a bid to diversify its sources of hydrocarbons – currently dominated by West Asia. For a small period last year, Nigeria was India’s top crude supplier – overall the country is India’s second-largest source of oil.
At the India Africa Forum summit held last year which all African nations were represented, India and the African Union had agreed to hold the next meet in five years and not in three – as has been the practice with the three editions so far. The idea behind the decision was to give India and African nations more time to complete projects mapped out at the October summit.
Over the past five months since the last summit, the Modi government has consciously tried to suggest that it was keen to keep up the momentum in relations. In January, India had organized a hydrocarbons conference with African nations, attended by several senior ministers. In February, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), with different government arms, held an agribusiness summit with African nations.
But the Vice-President’s visit is critical to ending concerns within the African diplomatic community here over the absence of any high-level visit to the continent under the Modi government.