Indian Prime Minister begins four-nation Africa tour

India's trading ties with Africa date back to antiquity and both found common cause in the struggle against colonial rule. Photograph:( Getty )

Reuters New Delhi, India Jul 07, 2016, 04.22 AM (IST)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi left on a four-nation visit to Africa today.

Modi's first stop-over will be Mozambique where he will have talks with President Filipe Nyusi to increase cooperation. He will also interact with students and members of Indian community.

Modi will leave for South Africa the same day where he will have a series of events in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, places associated with stay of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa.

Modi described "South Africa as an important strategic partner, with whom our ties are historical and deep-rooted" before his departure.

He will have separate meetings with President Zuma and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa aimed at boosting bilateral economic ties.

On Sunday, Modi will be in Tanzania for a brief visit to give an impetus to ties with Tanzania. He will have extensive talks with President John Magufuli. The same evening he will fly to Kenya.

His engagements in Kenya will include meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta to increase bilateral cooperation in trade and commerce. Modi returns home on July 11.

Last year, India hosted its biggest-ever Africa summit in a bid to challenge China's dominance on a continent that is blessed with vast natural resources and has the world's fastest-growing population.

New Delhi wants to project its soft power and historical ties to Africa, in contrast to China's focus on resource extraction and capital investment that has sparked a backlash in some countries against Beijing's mercantilist expansion.

India's trading ties with Africa date back to antiquity and both found common cause in the struggle against colonial rule. Yet India's influence faded over the course of the Cold War as it withdrew into non-aligned isolation.

Now Modi, self-styled chief salesman of a "Make in India" export drive, wants to capitalise on an economic slowdown in China to highlight India as an alternative partner for trade and investment.

Although India's headline economic growth has overtaken China's, its economy is one-fifth the size and it lacks the financial heft to challenge Beijing in a head-to-head contest for the African market.

The two-way annual trade has more than doubled to $72 billion. That lags trade between China and Africa, which has exploded to $200 billion as the world's number two economy sucks in oil, coal and metals to feed its industrial machine.