India’s ‘Look East’ policy, which was initiated in the early 1990s, was limited to mainly improving the country’s economic relations with its immediate south-east Asian neighbors.
However, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government took office, the policy has been renamed to ‘Act East’ policy, and its focus and objectives broadened to include increasing economic relations, as well as building soft-power and strengthening strategic ties, with the entire Asia-Pacific region.
The ‘Act East’ policy, it now appears, is undergoing further expansion to include the Middle East and the east coast of Africa. This new focus was made clear during the Indian prime minister’s most-recent tour of four African nations and his earlier visits to the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
For some time there has been a growing appreciation among foreign policy architects in New Delhi that in order to succeed in shaping stability and peace in the region and to enlarge its global role, India needs to broaden the alignment of its economic and strategic interests to include countries in the Middle-East and Africa.
It is therefore no coincidence that the four countries — Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya — that the Indian premier chose to visit during his African tour, define the westernmost boundaries of the Indian Ocean region.
The prime minister had already been to Mauritius and Seychelles, and signed security and trade agreements with these two important Indian Ocean island-nations off the African mainland. Now, through his visit from 7 – 11 July of the other African countries bordering the Indian Ocean, Mr. Modi hopes to draw them into a network of nations that partner in sharing knowledge, experience and technology in various fields.
His discussions with the African leaders he met during his recent tour included investments and partnerships in a broad range of domains, from agriculture, mining and manufacture to culture, health care and institution building, as well as from IT, science and technology to defense, intelligence and logistics.
India’s relationship with the African continent stretches back many centuries and a large Indian diaspora have made Africa their home, including over 20,000 in Mozambique, 50,000 in Tanzania, 80,000 in Kenya and more than a million in South Africa.
The aim of this prime ministerial visit was to reiterate India’s position as not only a social, cultural and economic supporter of the continent, but also as a strategic and reliable political and defense partner. The prime minister’s overarching message during his African visit was that as nations on the continent worked towards their respective economic prosperity, safety and security, they would find in India a trusted and reliable partner.
The economic, social and political interests of India and Africa are inseparably intertwined and Indian investments with their mutually beneficial component are seen by African nations as being more in sync with their own aspirations. With European economy in stagnation, Chinese economy in slowdown and the United States enmeshed in election-year politics, India remains a viable alternative power with the capacity to absorb exports and generate steady revenue for the African nations, while also helping the continent industrialize and develop.
Many African nations also view India as a preferred democratic partner whose outreach is not totally state-driven like that of the Chinese and whose private sector is increasing its footprint on the continent. The 50-member business delegation that accompanied the prime minister further underlined the high value that Indian businesses attach to trading and investing in Africa.
Arriving in Mozambique at the start of his four-nation African tour, Mr. Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the country since Indira Gandhi in 1982. Mozambique is an important gateway for Indian investments in Africa and in his meeting with Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi, the Indian premier agreed to strengthen bilateral partnership in food security, healthcare, sports cooperation and defense ties among others.
The two sides also agreed to continue the energy dialogue which has grown steadily since the India Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in October 2015. India has been a major campaigner to facilitate the pro-energy legal framework that enables foreign firms to explore oil and gas in the country and develop it into a major energy exporter.
In his visit to South Africa and meetings with President Jacob Zuma, the two leaders agreed to deepen engagement in key areas of defense production, manufacturing, mining and minerals, while vowing to cooperate actively in combating terrorism.
The two countries enjoy bilateral relations that are anchored by a deep and shared history of friendship and solidarity and a new strategic partnership as members of the BRICS group. India was not only in the forefront of efforts to isolate the Apartheid Government in South Africa, but also after the country attained freedom, Indian investments have flowed into sectors such as mining, financial services, pharmaceutical sector and manufacturing.
Between 2003 and 2016, over 80 Indian projects from 60 companies with a total capital expenditure of $4 billion and helping create 10,660 jobs were recorded in South Africa. With the two countries holding huge trade and investment potential, the visit was seen as an opportunity to unleash bilateral trade projected to reach nearly $20 billion by 2018.
In Tanzania, the Indian PM met with President John Magufuli and the two countries agreed to work closely, bilaterally, regionally and globally to combat the twin threats of terrorism and climate change.
During the visit, India and Tanzania signed five major agreements, including in agriculture and agro-production, as well as one for providing a Line of Credit of $92 million in the water resources sector for the rehabilitation, improvement and management of the water supply system in Zanzibar.
The two countries also signed a joint action plan between the Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO) and India’s National Small Industries Corporation (NCIC), which would oversee cooperation in the field of micro, small and medium enterprises.
Another agreement signed was for the exchange of hydrographic survey maps that were result of a survey conducted by the Indian navy on behalf of the Indian government and Tanzanian authorities.
In the last-leg of his four-nation tour, the Indian PM visited Kenya where he held wide ranging discussions with President Uhuru Kenyatta, including on setting up of an oncology hospital in Kenya at a cost of around $100 million. India and Kenya also agreed on deepening security partnership in the fields of cyber-security, combating drugs and narcotics, and human trafficking.
During the Kenyan-leg of his tour Mr. Modi was urged by the charity group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), to not give in to pressure from Western nations and change laws governing patents on Indian medicine, which currently guarantee affordable drug prices for people in developing countries.
MSF and other health organizations informed the Indian Prime Minister that “Medicines from India have allowed the Kenyan government, MSF, and other treatment providers to dramatically scale up HIV treatment in Kenya, from around three percent of people with HIV on treatment in 2003, to over 60 percent by end of 2015.” They pointed out that recent gains made in the treatment of HIV patients in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa will be drained if India changes its patent laws on generic medicines.
India and Africa not only share ancient trade links, relative geographic proximity, identical views on international issues and shared historical experience as colonized people, they also share a fundamental complementarity of the future that awaits both sides. Unless both grow in wealth, stability and confidence, they will both be handicapped.
India and Africa needs each other’s export markets as they industrialize, both have a youthful demography and rising purchasing power. Together, they have the potential to take their current two-way trade of around US$70 billion to $700 billion or more in the coming years.