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EAM's Remarks at the 15th CII - Exim Bank Digital Conclave on India-Africa Project Partnership

September 22, 2020

Your Excellency, Vice-Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Anwar Husnoo,
Your Excellency, Minister Raychelle Awour Omamo,
Your Excellency, Minister Otunba Niyi Adebayo,
Mr. Uday Kotak, President CII
My Colleague, Mr. Rahul Chhabra, Secretary, MEA
Mr. Chandrajit Banarjee, Mr. David Rasquinha, Mr. Kuppuswami,

Dear friends, Colleagues,

1. It gives me great pleasure to speak to you at the Africa-India Conclave. Over the past 15 years, this event has actually become a signature feature of the Africa-India engagement and has facilitated mutually-beneficial interaction for a large community of policy and business leaders. This year, because of the novel corona virus pandemic, we are forced to meet virtually. In a paradoxical sense perhaps this is not inappropriate, for the Africa-India story is essentially one that renews an age-old friendship with modern instruments and technologies.

2. In my experience, digital diplomacy in the past few months has proven to be actually very effective and focused. It has a longer shelf life surely than this pandemic. And I myself have had several virtual meetings with colleagues and fellow Ministers across the world and I should say it is not inaccurate that the some of my colleagues in Africa have actually been very comfortable and adaptable to this format. So I would hope very much India and Africa have much to show to the world in terms of technology leapfrogging as well.

3. India’s engagement with Africa is among the earliest and most important vectors of its foreign policy. Our freedom movement and Africa’s own striving for liberation from colonialism and discrimination were parallel movements that learnt from each other. Mahatma Gandhi’s early political activism in South Africa chiselled his leadership of India’s quest for independence. When that moment arrived finally in 1947, free India became an inspiration and then a source of support for African nations seeking to shape their own destinies. Together, we fought the good fight and together we have built our societies. This solidarity is the foundation of the Global Southern Awakening. It is weighed in values, not tabulated in transactions.

4. Friends, this legacy is instructive in today’s context. The pandemic is the most debilitating global event of the past 80 years. We are at a point in history that is comparable to the aftermath of the second World War. Its consequences will be similarly far-reaching, and will define the world order as much as decolonisation did in the 1950s and 60s. The challenge to the global economy, to the reliability of supply chains, and to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals should not be discounted. We are certainly looking at greater unpredictability as we do and greater multipolarity.

5. Now both, Africa and India have a critical stake in all of this. For India, Africa’s rise as one of the global system’s poles is not just desirable, it is absolutely necessary. In fact, it is fundamental to our foreign policy thinking. Broader global rebalancing is incomplete without the genuine emergence of Africa. Only then will the world’s strategic diversity come into full play.

6. India welcomes the evolution and rise of Africa as a key factor in the contemporary world. We are committed to supporting African countries in this endeavour, as per your individual priorities and our shared ethic. This is in keeping with the Ten Guiding Principles of India’s engagement with Africa, as enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the Parliament of Uganda in July 2018.

7. Our government has put those Guiding Principles into action. Since 2015, 34 high-level visits – at the level of our President, Vice-President or Prime Minister – have taken place to Africa. This is unprecedented for such a span. In the past six years, 100 African leaders have visited India for bilateral or multilateral meetings. The Third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015 was truly a landmark –for the first time all 54 African nations participated, and were hosted in Delhi. India now has residential missions in 38 African nations and more are in the pipeline. A quarter of these have opened in the past two years. So, I emphasize again, in numbers, words and deeds, Africa is India’s priority.

8. Now our commitment to Africa is represented by four pillars:

1. Our developmental partnership
2. Trade and investment
3. Strong people-to-people ties, particularly in areas like education and capacity building for young Africans, and
4. Most recently, defence and maritime security

9. Expressions of these pillars can be found in our close association in various multilateral and plurilateral forums, from the United Nations to the Indian Ocean Rim Association, to IBSA, which is a coming together of major Southern democracies. African countries have overwhelmingly joined the International Solar Alliance, an India-incubated initiative to harness renewable energy and combat climate change. I am similarly hopeful that they will participate in the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, another notable initiative that we have tabled recently.

10. The Ministry of External Affairs has four Development Partnership Administration Divisions which deal with that subject and our partnership with Africa. Together they manage a growing portfolio of technical assistance to partner countries. It is worth noting that the these Divisions emerged in the past decade entirely out of our experience with development projects in Africa and in our neighbourhood. India has executed 194 developmental projects in 37 African countries, and is currently working to complete 77 additional ones in 29 countries, with a total outlay of US$ 11.6 billion, and some examples of these of course have been mentioned by other speakers.

11. Now, these projects cover a very wide gamut – from infrastructure to ICT, from power generation and distribution of water and irrigation, from railways to roads, and from agriculture to sugar plants, and India continues to bring to Africa the best experiences at home – experiences that have worked for our own people and have contributed to their well-being. These experiences foster equity and entrepreneurship and they empower rather than extract from local communities. They marry instruments of transparency and technology with the imperatives of social and ecological sustainability. This is the template we offer our African friends.

12. India’s digital journey has been a force multiplier in the delivery of education, healthcare and welfare benefits of people at home. This was particularly apparent during the recent lockdown and pandemic restrictions. Such experiences too, we believe, may be of use to Africa. Through e-Vidya Bharati and e-Arogya Bharati, premier Indian institutions and hospitals have been linked currently to 16 African countries to offer tele-education and tele-medicine services. It is our hope that more and more African nations will become part of this process. The India-Africa digital partnership can accelerate the pace of change and achievement of SDGs in all of our countries, especially for hitherto underserved regions and communities.

13. India is Africa’s third-largest export destination. With a cumulative investment of US$ 54 billion, it is also one of the biggest investors in the continent. Indian capital has created jobs and opportunities in various African countries in energy, mining, banking, textiles and other sectors. A more seamless continental market only promises more for Indian business. So I was very happy to note that our African friends have indeed made valuable progress in achieving some of the cherished goals in the years since our last summit, and the continent wide Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement that has come into force in 2019, and has entered its operational phase following the AU Summit held in July 2019 in Niger is obviously very notable. This was one of the flagship projects of the Africa’s Agenda 2063 and we welcome its entry into force. Speaking of the AU Summit in Niger, I am proud to recall that some of its sessions were held in the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre, a state-of-the-art centre that was built with Grant Assistance from the Government of India. I hardly need to inform my audience today that India has always supported African Entrepreneurship and market access, as India was the first developing country to provide duty free, quota free market access to LDCs which we announced in 2008, and which has been available over the years to 33 African LDCs. Our oil and gas utilities have invested about US$ 7 billion in a gas field in Mozambique and half a billion dollars, actually perhaps more in South Sudan, not counting other investments in west and North Africa. Together these make Africa a crucial energy partner for India. I would urge all stakeholders to work to augment this partnership and address wherever constraints there may arise.

14. India is also present on Africa’s business landscape in automobiles, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods. All of these segments will grow as the Africa story grows. This is a story that is being scripted by young men and women, by African engineers, technologists and business managers. And here the 50,000 training slots that are open to African students under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme are helping build capacities across a range of disciplines.

15. At any given time, several thousand African students are in classrooms in different cities and states of India. They are studying towards their degrees or undertaking short-term courses in areas ranging from engineering and water resource management to medicine and law. An impressive number of them, their alma maters are proud to note, have risen to high positions in Africa. We like to believe that young Africans arrive in India as students and guests, but return home as lifelong friends and ambassadors of goodwill and the best that our country has to offer.

16. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa as we all recognise, has the youngest population profile of any continent. Quite literally our planet’s future is in Africa, and how it tackles issues of access and opportunity for its young people will determine global trendlines. India is an interested party, and will do its utmost to equip Africa’s emerging generations. Again, this is not a recent strand. Education has always had a special meaning in our equation. The diligence and dedication of Indian school teachers in several African countries – Ethiopia, Botswana and Nigeria numbered among them – is remembered by their pupils even today. It is a cornerstone of our people-to-people relationship.

17. About 200 years ago, the first Indian migrants to Africa were transported across the waters that both separate and unite us. From those beginnings, often in difficult circumstances, enforced by imperialism, we have come a long way. Indian-origin communities can be found across Africa. African countries have offered them a hospitable home to which we are truly grateful, and the diaspora in turn has added to the continent’s human capital. In all these years, the Indian Ocean that links our landmass has acquired even greater salience. It gives us scope for ever-greater prosperity; and it turn, we need to cooperate to preserve and protect it.

18. It is no surprise therefore that defence and security cooperation is a key 21st century pillar for India and Africa. India has helped set up Staff and Command Colleges in several African countries and has trained many officers and soldiers in Indian military institutions. Our military traditions, command structures, training protocols and strategic doctrines are extremely compatible. India’s record in peace-keeping operations in Africa too has been appreciated. Maritime security – including the use of maritime capacities in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions – is now the new frontier.

19. Friends, In this sphere, as in others, India offers Africa an honest partnership, and room to maximise its space under the sun and multiply its options. Africa is of course not without options, and by no stretch does India claim to be the only one. However, what we can promise is to be Africa’s most steadfast partner. Do remember that despite the pandemic and through the lockdown, we kept our critical supply lines open to Africa. Indian medicines reached and were made available to patients in many African countries. These adverse times will not last; but Africa-India friendship and cooperation, trust me, will.

Thank you

New Delhi
September 22, 2020

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