By Dr Neha Sinha,
The relationship between India and Africa is rooted in shared values and principles which are reflected in close cooperation in bilateral and multilateral forums. The African continent is significant for India and it would be prudent to give it its due importance as six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are located in Africa. Several initiatives are being taken to deepen bilateral partnership and to upgrade India-Africa engagement. While addressing the Uganda Parliament, Prime Minister Modi stated, “Africa is on top priority and India’s relation with Africa is guided on ten principles”. India’s Africa policy is mainly guided by its shared historical linkages and good will and in recent times the government has been emphasizing on rebooting its Africa’s policy. The several high level visits to Africa in the last five years is testimonial to the importance that Africa holds for India.
The recent visit of External Affair Minister S. Jaishankar’s three-day visit to Kenya is significant as it was the first in-person visit to an African country amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Kenya is an east African country that lies on the coastline of the Indian Ocean. Despite being separated by the Indian Ocean, both the countries have nurtured a warm and strong relationship through the ages. India and Kenya have historical linkages rooted in the well-documented trade in spices. In addition to being India’s maritime neighbour, it is also a significant stakeholder in determining the geopolitics of the Western Indian Ocean. Both the countries serve in the United Nation Security Council and are also members of the Commonwealth. India has a long established connection with the African Union of which Kenya is an active member. This visit was primarily to strengthen India’s relations with not only Kenya but major East African countries on the continent.
The most significant aspect of Kenya is the presence of a vibrant and huge Indian Diaspora. The presence of diaspora in Kenya can be traced back to the 17th century. Despite their long history of existence in the country and their contribution in the socio-economic and political life of Kenya, the Indian diaspora did experience hardship in the political and historical discourse of the nation. In the economic field the diaspora have enjoyed economic successes. In the year 1981, there was an agreement signed between both the nations which accorded each the ‘Most Favored Nation status’. The Kenyan government in 2017, recognised the Indian descent as the 44th tribe in the country. The motive behind this move was to strengthen their relationship. Today, the Indian diaspora in Africa is seen as a crucial part of the socio-economic framework, contributing immensely to the Kenyan economy. Both the countries have also continued to collaborate in many areas – many Kenyans come to India for higher education, while others travel to India for medical purposes. The Indian origin presently numbers around 80,000, including an estimated 20,000 Indian citizens in the country (MEA 2021). On arriving in Nairobi, Shri Jaishankar addressed and interacted virtually with the Indian diaspora. Several initiatives have been taken by the Indian government to connect the varied diaspora in not only Kenya but across Africa. Some of the initiatives include Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conventions, the scholarship programmes for diaspora students, programmes like Know India Programme, e-VidyaBharti (Tele-education) and e-ArogyaBharti (Tele-medicine)and many more. The diaspora has also been supportive and a key stakeholder in the OCI scheme. India has also made great efforts to maintain its medical diplomacy with African nations. In addition to diaspora, some other key areas where India has engaged with Africa include energy security, bilateral aid and diplomacy. Cooperation in Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC), skill development, capacity building, skill development, people to people connect, infrastructure development, education and vocational training is favourable as Africa desires to act in accordance to India’s model of development in the social sectors.
In light of the travel restrictions due to Covid-19, both Kenya and India have shown keen interest in increasing bilateral activities online/offline with a clear priority on aspects of mutual interest. EAM in a joint deliberation also focused on enhancing joint efforts to combat the disease and to strengthen economic collaboration during and after the Covid-19 period. Affordability and accessibility of vaccines and treatment was equally emphasised. While discussing the Indo-Pacific, the two sides not only discussed the security situation in the Indo-pacific region and the Horn of Africa, but also expressed their concern over the rise of terrorism in parts of Africa and Asia. They further agreed to expand cooperation for peace and security in the region. Kenya needs to adopt technology and learn how contemporary security threats can be dealt with. India can assist through encouraging transfer of technology, sharing of best practices and institutional initiatives on strategic areas. Kenya can also take advantage of its strong relations that it has with India to encourage training on technological advancements that can assist in combating the security problems in the region.
India also recognised the Big Four Agenda by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – manufacturing, affordable housing, universal health and food security. India further elaborated on the support to Kenya in building economical homes, providing food security, expanding universal health coverage and amplifying the manufacturing sector in the country.
Kenya is a key strategic partner for India, and the presence of a significant Indian diaspora, combined with the shared colonial legacy, and their mutual interest in establishing security and stability of the Western Indian Ocean binds them together. In the midst of the strategic rivalry among the United States, China, Russia and Japan to expand control in Africa; Jaishankar’s visit to Kenya marks the era of enhancing cooperation between the two nations. The visit ahead of the Fourth India- Africa Forum Summit later this year is expected to boost bilateral relations between the two countries.
(The author is a Doctorate from Center for African Studies, JNU, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)