India, Rwanda look to boost ties from Modi's visit

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted 200 cows to villagers who do not yet own one, as part of the Rwandan Government's Girinka "may you have a cow" Programme, in Rwanda, on July 24, 2018.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted 200 cows to villagers who do not yet own one, as part of the Rwandan Government's Girinka "may you have a cow" Programme, in Rwanda, on July 24, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI -Seeking to deepen the engagement with African nations, India signed an agreement to step up defence collaboration with Rwanda and extended US$200 million in credit for infrastructure development during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Modi, who is on a five-day tour of Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa, also donated 200 cows to villagers, in support of Rwandan President Paul Kagame's pledge to eradicate poverty.

He arrived in Kigali on Monday, just after Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also on a tour of Africa, had departed. Both men are attending the meeting of the BRICS nations, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, on July 25.

Analysts said Mr Modi's visit was an important part of India's outreach to Africa.

India has offered a US$100 million line of credit for development of industrial parks and another US$100 million for agriculture irrigation schemes. It will also engage in capacity building programmes for Rwanda's military through the defence agreement.

"We hope to take ties between the two countries in the coming day to a higher plane," said Mr Modi at a joint press briefing with Mr Kagame, at which he also announced India would be setting up a high commission in Rwanda.

According to reports, China and Rwanda signed multiple agreements related to the One Belt One Road Initiative.

While it has wooed Africa, a growing market for Indian goods and investments, for some time, India has not been able to match China's rapid growth on the continent.

Also, in contrast with China's hard nosed investment and infrastructure push, India's outreach to Africa often takes the form of funding for developmental and capacity building programmes. For the South Asian giant, whose economy is poised to grow at over seven per cent, Africa presents a strategic and economic opportunity.

"The visit of the Prime Minister to these three countries is a reflection of the intensity of our engagement with Africa and the priority we attach to our relations with African countries," said Mr T S Tirumurti, secretary in charge of economic relations at the Ministry of External Affairs, during a recent briefing on the Prime Minister's visit.

"As regards China, I don't think we see ourselves in a competition in Africa at all."

He said India's relations with African countries go back many years in history and now they stand on a very "solid foundation of development cooperation and security and other cooperation which is enlarging".

Bilateral trade between Africa and India stood at US$52 billion in March 2016-17 with India mainly exporting raw material while also selling items like automobiles. Meanwhile trade between China and Africa stood at around US$220 billion in 2014.

China has also been boosting its defence cooperation with Africa, in what is seen widely as the attempt to secure its strategic interests and also push its One Belt One Road initiative. Last year, China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti, on the edge of the Indian Ocean, and this year, it opened a military training centre in Tanzania.

Analysts said security and defence cooperation was also emerging as an important area for India.

India's Indo Pacific strategy, which seeks to increase its influence, extends from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean, with eastern Africa forming an important component embodying, among other things, freedom of navigation.

"Africa is important for various reasons, in terms of market resources, the (Indian) diaspora and maritime. Defence cooperation has not been intense, but we are trying to focus on that area. The eastern part of Africa (for instance) is important for India's Indo Pacific vision. It is part of an extremely important maritime neighbourhood and is critical to India's security," said Dr Nivedita Ray, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA)

"Africa remains of highest priority in India's foreign policy."