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Modi makes the India-Africa link work

  By Vijay Darda | 12-07-2016

Just take a look at this bit of information. India and Africa account for 2.5 billion people and yet neither has a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Of course there is a history behind this distortion. When the UNSC was formed in 1945, neither India nor most of the countries in Africa were independent nations. But then it is almost 70 years and the global reality has changed. So, the need of the hour is to reform this archaic body which still represents the geopolitical realities of 1945. It has to be brought in line with the present reality where the voice of these 2.5 billion is represented. This would offer a balancing perspective and make these organizations more representative, more democratic and more inclusive.

Of course, this is all about exercising power at the global stage. But let us not overlook the legitimate aspiration of peoples long held under colonial domination to make their voice heard. This in fact been our incessant struggle and we have been partners in this desire for self-assertion. Prime minister Narendra Modi simply amplified this partnership when he travelled to four countries – Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. As he said in his direct talks with the South African president Jacob Zuma: “It is a centuries old relationship and we have started with similar dreams and there are very few sets of relationship which share so much in history, and that opens limitless opportunities for us to build on and take this relationship forward.”

Indeed, prime minister Modi’s visit to these four countries is a part of the commitments made at India-Africa Forum Summit last year. At that time, he had asserted that Africa would be the centre of India’s attention and engagement would be intense and regular. By making the historic train journey which was once taken by Mahatma Gandhi, as he boarded a train from Pentrich Railway Station to Pietermaritzburg, Modi once again reaffirmed the old historical connections. The train ride commemorated the incident in which a young Gandhi in 1893 was ejected from a South African train when he refused an order to move from a first-class carriage because of his race. The encounter shaped Gandhi’s decision to resist racial segregation and other injustices with non-violent protest, first while living in South Africa and then in India. This incident is a part of every school student’s lessons in India. Appropriately, Modi described it as a pilgrimage. “South Africa’s journey has become like a ‘tirth yatra’ for me. I have visited all the three places which are significant in India’s history & Mahatma Gandhi’s life,” he observed.

However, nostalgia and history apart, there is a real modern day link between India and Africa that prime minister Modi is making work effectively. It is in the field of economic cooperation that the two peoples are coming together to contribute effectively to each other’s prosperity. South Africa is a country with a commercial nuclear reactor and it has supported India’s case for entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The underpinning for India’s case in this respect is provided by the same logic that propels the joint demand for the enlargement of the UNSC and representation for both India and Africa. No one country or a combination of forces can deny the democratic aspirations of the people that their voice should be heard. Inclusion, not exclusion has to be the norm in global bodies.

As it stands, there are more than a 100 Indian companies operating in South Africa, and these contribute significantly to economic growth and job creation” but president Zuma has identified eight future sectors for possible cooperation – agro-processing, pharmaceuticals, mining, water and waste management, retail, financing and infrastructure development. On his part, prime minister Modi has referred to four areas for expansion in business ties. These are minerals and mining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, high-technology manufacturing and information and communication technology.

International commentators often point out that compared to China, India’s business commitments to Africa are much leaner. But the key difference between Delhi and Beijing’s approach to Africa is that it does not look at this region from an ‘exploitative or extractive’ point of view to derive the maximum mileage. On the contrary, Modi hopes to build on the ‘human connection’ that invigorates the relationship. So, the cooperation even extends to a number of initiatives that help in improving people-to-people awareness and contacts within BRICS (the group comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). This encompasses youth festivals, the Young Diplomats Forum, the Under-17 Football etc. The New Development Bank (NDB) floated jointly by members of the BRICS combine has already come up, and business across countries grows, there is a proposal to issue a 10-year BRICS visa that would make business travel more convenient. With thousands of people moving to and fro in these regions, a direct air link would be soon established between Mumbai and Johannesburg.

The proximity between the two sides is such that although Modi was the first prime minister to make a bilateral visit to South Africa in ten years, this was his sixth meeting with top leadership after he took over and they are scheduled to meet again for the BRICS summit in Goa in October. Trade between the two sides has grown by 350 per cent in the last ten years. The importance the two sides attach to this aspect of their relationship was evident when the two leaders addressed a joint meeting of the CEOs forum. The presence of a 60-70 strong delegation that had 20 members of the CEOs Forum as well, shows that this is a serious business. That the prime minister also pays attention to dal-roti issues when he is travelling abroad was reflected in the fact that one of the three agreements signed on the first day of his trip in Mozambique referred to long term purchases of pulses. But the larger issue is that the prime minister is propelling the country central stage on global concerns.

Before I conclude…

We recently had the joyous occasion of Eid that marks the end of the fasting period of the holy month of Ramzan. For the believers it is a sacred and cherished feeling to celebrate the festival. But one cannot help commenting that all over in the Islamic countries there have been incidents of violence and hateful killings that have mostly affected their co-religionists. What kind of a jihad is this? What sort of people go suicide bombing around the Prophet’s mosque in Medina? It is a truly depressing situation that needs a collective challenge. It is a human question and all else must take a back seat.


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