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Foreign Secretary’s speech at the valedictory session of the conference "Understanding Africa: Continuity and Change" at the India International Centre on 12 February 2020

February 12, 2020

President IIC Shri N. N. Vohra,
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan,
Ambassador K. Raghunath,
Ambassador HHS Vishwanathan,
Director IIC Shri K.N. Shrivastava,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am honoured and happy to be here, especially since the theme of the conference, "Understanding Africa: Continuity and Change”, is so apt. The two words – continuity and change – sum up the historical and current engagement of India with Africa. I wish to thank IIC for inviting me to speak at this valedictory session.

2. At a personal level, I have always felt that an Indian diplomat must have hands-on experience of Africa. In my case, I made it a point to seek a posting in Africa – one of my most enriching experiences was my stay in South Africa. Therafter, my direct association with Malawi, Mozambique gave me a valuable insight into our extraordinarily diverse and mutually beneficial relationship with these countries.

3. The continent of Africa, the many nations of Africa, the multiple and diverse cultures and ethnicities of Africa, have been familiar to India since the dawn of history. Some of our most ancient trade routes mark the passage of goods and ideas from the Indian subcontinent to the heart of Africa. While the political and more recently economic and developmental exchanges have often been commented on, the cultural aspects to our relationship are striking and grand. In fact, if I may be bold enough to say so, there is a little bit of Africa in every Indian and a little bit of India in every part of Africa.

4. There is a Xhosa proverb that is shared by many African cultures and languages: "Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” – or "A person is a person through persons”. This has resonance for every Indian. It suggests that whether in the many nations and regions of Africa, or in the many states and regions of India, there is abiding faith in the power of communities and the strength of togetherness. This suggests a common embrace of cooperation and harmony – with fellow human beings and with nature as well. This is the African way, and this is the Indian way.

5. In the 20th century, the Indian and African experience was one of struggle for liberation, for freedom from colonialism and racial prejudice and for the rights of every man and woman. The same fires and the same tests shaped us. India was a steadfast and longstanding supporter of democratic development in Africa and solidarity against colonialism and apartheid. The struggle for Africa’s liberty was our own struggle.

6. India placed apartheid on the agenda of the United Nations in the very first session of the General Assembly. Even as a poor, newly-independent nation, we didn’t think twice before imposing a trade embargo on apartheid-era South Africa. This happened, do remember, when trade with South Africa was close to 10 per cent of India’s international trade.

7. During the Namibian liberation movement, we hosted the first SWAPO embassy in India in 1986, triggering international support for Namibia’s independence. India established diplomatic relations with Nigeria, Ghana and Madagascar even prior to their independence. India was at the forefront of convening the momentous Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in 1955.

8. Our most emotional link with Africa is of course that of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked and strived in South Africa for so many years. As he once remarked, "I may have been born in India but I was made in South Africa.” For this "making” of the Mahatma, India owes Africa an eternal debt. More recently, the magnificent life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he was known, have united us in a spirit of inspiration and purpose.

9. As the waves of freedom and democracy swept across Africa, India was always around to secure hard-won gains and help maintain peace. India came forward to participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Congo, Somalia, Liberia, Burundi and Sudan. India also provided support for African Union initiatives to bring peace to Somalia and Mali, among others. We have a long tradition of training African military officers in Indian institutions as well as by deputing training teams to other countries. India has helped set up defence academies in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

10. India’s policy of being a first responder in crisis situations across the Indo-Pacific to encompass Africa. Operation Sahayata to assist cyclone-hit Mozambique in 2019 and Operation Vanilla to provide relief to flood victims in Madagascar are but two of several recent examples of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (or HADR) missions India has undertaken in recent months in Africa.


11. Thus far I have focused on the "continuity” of the India-Africa relationship – our shared history, our common political and developmental struggles, our togetherness in celebration and in sorrow and in the face of humanitarian crises. This remains constant and perennial. India was there for Africa, with Africa and in Africa before others came and we will remain there when others may choose to leave. Yet, amid this continuity, there is also change. There is a new energy and new electricity to the India-Africa equation in recent years.

12. The Indian and African economies represent two of the world’s most dynamic economic growth stories. Many of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa and the combined GDP of the continent is US $ 2.4 trillion. By 2030 Africa will represent almost a quarter of the world’s workforce and consumers. With 54 countries, a billion people, a youthful demographic and an abundance of resources, Africa will count for a lot, and will carry our planet’s hopes and responsibilities.

13. Reaping the benefits of democracy and political stability, countries in Africa have taken major strides towards economic integration through initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). When in force, AfCFTA will raise intra-Africa trade levels by 52 per cent and create one of the largest and most ambitious economic spaces in the world. India wants to be a part of that exciting space and India wants to help Africa realise its potential, as per African priorities.

14. India’s relationship with Africa has been advanced using consultative and responsive mechanisms under the rubric of India-Africa Forum Summit. The Summit of 2015 was a remarkable event that saw participation from all 54 countries of the African continent. It infused a new dynamism in our relationship and I am sure the next Summit will go even further.

15. Under the specific guidance of Prime Minister Modi, in the past five years, our political engagement has intensified as never before. There have been 34 outgoing visits to African countries at the level of President, Vice President and Prime Minister. There is not a single country in the continent that has not been visited by at least a Union Minister. India has had the privilege of hosting nearly 100 African leaders in the past 5 years for various bilateral and multilateral events, including 41 leaders for the India-Africa Forum Summit. To enhance diplomatic engagement, India is opening 18 new embassies in Africa, to take the total number of Indian missions to 47 out of a total of 54 countries in Africa. Nine of the 18 new missions have already opened.

16. The picture on trade and investment is encouraging. India-Africa trade in the previous year was valued at US$ 69 billion, a 12 per cent annual increase. The Duty Free Tariff Preference (DFTP) Scheme announced by India has benefited African nations by extending duty free access to 98.2 per cent of India’s total tariff lines. Thirty-eight African countries benefit from the DFTP Scheme. India has become the fifth largest investor in Africa with cumulative investments of US$ 54 billion. Indian investment has created thousands of jobs for local citizens.

17. In terms of our development cooperation, over two-thirds of India’s LOCs in the past decade have been offered to African countries. Currently 189 projects in 42 African countries, valued at US$ 11.4 billion, are being implemented under Indian LoCs. These projects range from drinking water schemes to irrigation, solar electrification, power plants, transmission lines, cement plants, technology parks, and railway infrastructure.

18. Our cooperation incorporates power projects and dams in Sudan and Rwanda; water treatment in Tanzania; sugar factories in Ethiopia; and technology parks in Mozambique and Swaziland. We have built the presidential palace in Ghana, the National Assembly building in the Gambia, and very recently the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre in Niger, completed in just 14 months.

19. As you must know, the International Solar Alliance is an international organisation incubated by and headquartered in India. It aims to contribute to the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement through rapid and massive deployment of clean energy. The ISA aims to bring together countries to provide a collective response to obstacles to massive deployment of solar energy – in terms of technology, finance and capacity. The goal is to raise the trillion dollars needed to develop 1 TW (one terawatt) of solar energy capacity by 2030.

20. African countries will have a significant role in the success of ISA. The ISA Secretariat is setting up largescale solar projects of 500 MW each in several African countries. It is also working to build solar water pumping systems in at least nine African countries and establish Solar Training Application and Research centres (STAR-c) in six.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

21. More than digital pathways and brick and mortar projects, India’s association with Africa is about the human touch – about facilitating the capacities of the people of Africa, particularly youth. For over half a century India's flagship initiative – the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation or ITEC - has offered training and skill development to countries from Africa.

22. At the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, India announced a doubling of the number of scholarships to 50,000 over a period of five years, including by adding new schemes exclusively for African students and scholars. There are thousands of African students in India at any given point and we are immensely proud of the fact that 13 current or former Presidents, Vice Presidents and Prime Ministers in Africa have studied at institutions in India. Each African student arrives as a scholar, stays as a friend and returns as an ambassador of India.

23. The goodwill that our country draws from such linkages is unimaginable. This apart, there are thousands of Africans who have been taught by Indian teachers in their own countries. In Washington, DC, where I served till a few weeks ago, it is not uncommon to meet migrants from Ethiopia who turn nostalgic while remembering their Indian school teachers. There are so many such examples from other countries as well. Our partnership with Africa is beyond strategic concerns and economic benefits. It is based on the emotional bonds we share and the solidarity we feel.

24. To paraphrase what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said so eloquently in his speech to the Ugandan Parliament in 2019, India’s priority is not just Africa; India’s priority is Africans – every man, woman and child in Africa. I must not forget to mention that Africa is home to over three million People of Indian Origin who are settled all across the continent and contribute meaningfully to their adopted homelands.


25. As I conclude, I congratulate IIC for hosting this event and for encouraging these deliberations. All this has added intellectual lustre to the India-Africa story. From the age of colonialism to the age of globalisation, through thick and thin, India and Africa have done much together. But there are still challenges that need to be addressed, there are still frontiers that need to crossed. As Madiba, the great Nelson Mandela, famously said, "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” India and Africa have scaled heights hand in hand, and will scale greater heights, also hand in hand, in the years to come. Our shared values and our friendship represent a constant as well as ignite a continuity. May this always be so.

Thank you!

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