Eastern Africa has a special place in India’s Africa policy due to cultural and economic links, besides its strategic location along the Indian Ocean where India wants to emerge as the net security provider, according to people familiar with the region. To help develop a sustainable development in collaboration with African states in the Indian Ocean circumference is also a priority for India.
India understands the significance well. Keeping the strategic importance of Africa in view of China’s growing dominating tendencies, President Ram Nath Kovind will make his first foreign trip as head of state to the African continent in the first week of October.
The Narendra Modi government has been targeting an aggressive expansion in Africa for the last three-and-half years. The third Indo-African Summit took place in New Delhi in 2015, and saw the participation of more than 40 heads of governments from Africa.
The Presidential visit to Ethiopia and Djibouti is seen as a reiteration of the importance Narendra Modi government gives to the continent where the Chinese have made considerable inroads.
This visit happens soon after India and its best friend in Asia ~ Japan declared their strategic intent to link Asia with Africa in their annual summit in Gandhinagar as part of their larger India-Pacific and Indian Ocean strategy.
Ethiopia has had links with India dating back to 2,000 years and these continue till date. The country was once the hub of Indian businessmen and teachers in East Africa and after lukewarm ties between 1974 and 1991, relations again picked up from 1991 at the end of the Dreg rule. Ethiopia has received over $1 billion in concessions. Ethiopia has 5,000-6,000 people of Indian origin.
According to a report by Economic Times, there are more than 540 Indian companies in Ethiopia with licensed investment of more than $4 billion, according to the ministry’s note. Bilateral trade in 2016 stood at $1.37 billion, of which India’s exports to Ethiopia were worth $1.30 billion and imports amounted to $68.4 million.
Djibouti may not grab headlines in India, but historical links, cultural affinities and people-to-people contacts between India and strategically located Djibouti existed long before Independence in 1977. Djibouti is China’s first overseas naval base, however, Beijing terms it as a logistics facility. While Indian investments in Djibouti are low currently Djibouti is keen to develop economic and development partnership with India.
Press Secretary to the President of India, Ashok Malik said Djibouti is an important Indian Ocean partner country with whom India’s bilateral trade stands at USD 284 million in 2016-17. Before Kovind, no one above the rank of a junior minister has ever visited Djibouti from India.
“The president is looking forward to the visit. He recognises that the Africa and Indian ocean region are central to Indian foreign policy. That is why this region was chosen as his first foreign visit,” Malik told reporters. This will be the first visit by an Indian president to Ethiopia after 45 years. The last visit was by President V V Giri in 1972.