New Delhi: In its biggest ever engagement with Africa, India on Thursday sought to recharge its ties with all 54 African countries, announcing increased interaction in areas like energy and agriculture while offering an additional concessional credit of $10 billion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described as “historic” the summit, attended by 41 heads of state and government including of South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Liberia and comprising two kings, 25 presidents and six prime ministers besides six vice presidents, foreign and trade ministers and senior officials.
The third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) – the largest international gathering of leaders in Delhi after the Non-Aligned Movement summit in 1983 – was held at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, allowing all the leaders to sit as equals at a horseshoe shaped table.
According to Indian officials, Africa had never been present in such strength in any of their interactions with other world power or groupings – an indicator of their expectations from India and the country’s growing international stature.
Prime Minister Modi, who was dressed in his usual Kurta with a pale blue sleeveless jacket and Churidar, in his closing remarks, said: “This has been a truly historic day. We had the opportunity to listen to the whole of Africa.”
He said closer defense and security cooperation, especially in capability development, will be a key pillar of their partnership, which was so “natural” as their “destinies are so closely interlinked” and “aspirations and challenges are so similar”.
Announcing that the next IAFS will be held after five years, Modi stressed Africa will remain at the center of India’s attention and engagement with it will remain “intense and regular.”
The summit adopted a Delhi Declaration seeking a decisive push for United Nations Security Council reform and calling on all countries to ensure that their territories were not used for cross-border terrorist activities, while also adopted was a Framework Agreement on Strategic Cooperation.
Commemorative coins and stamps were also released, and President Pranab Mukherjee later hosted a banquet for the visiting leaders.
On the sidelines, Modi also had bilateral meetings with 10 African leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Modi, who met 19 leaders on Wednesday is slated to have more bilateral on Friday.
In his opening address as the summit host, Modi sought to strengthen the India-Africa partnership by announcing 50,000 scholarships in the next five years.
“It is a meeting of dreams of one-third of humanity under one roof,” Modi said as he outlined a roadmap for increased Indian interaction with African countries in a wide gamut, including connectivity, infrastructure, power and agriculture — his speech evoking loud cheers from the leaders – in a bid to enhance Indian influence in a continent where China had stolen a march with over $200 billion investments in the last 15 years.
He also called for a comprehensive agreement on climate change at a global conference later this year. No one, Modi said, had contributed less to global warming than India and Africa, adding that “the excess of a few cannot become the burden of many”.
The summit, in which the visiting leaders were treated to a cultural extravaganza at the start including African dances, also saw the dresses and images of Africa come alive with many of the leaders sporting traditional costumes and headgear, including Liberian President and Nobel Peace Prize Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and African Union Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and many speaking in their native languages.
IAFS is a major initiative of the Modi government to reach out to the continent which has rich resources, is witnessing faster growth and has a similar demographic profile. African countries see the large scope of cooperation with India in diverse areas such as agriculture and education.
South African President Jacob Zuma described the relation between India and the African countries as an embodiment of South-South cooperation and dwelt on the roles “played by your visionary former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi”.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe strongly pitched for reforms of the UN Security Council and said Africa should get at least two permanent seats.
Apart from the concessional credit in addition to the $7.4 billion India has already committed, Modi said India would also offer a grant assistance of $600 million, which would include an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and an India-Africa Health Fund of $10 million.
He said India and Africa would deepen their partnership on clean energy, sustainable habitats, public transport, health care, telecommunications and climate resilient agriculture.