'We will use visit to re-engage with Africa,' says Vice-President

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Onboard Air India One, Jan.5 (ANI): Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari on Tuesday said he would use his weeklong visit to Zambia, Malawi and Bostwana to emphasize India's intent to "re-engage" with countries in Africa in tune with modern-era requirements and considerations.

Interacting with media accompanying him on his visit, Ansari said Africa was a region with which New Delhi has had " very friendly and emotional contacts" dating back to the struggle for independence, to the struggle for human rights and to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

He said the countries and people that were being visited were not strangers.

"They are people we know, and they know us," he said, adding during and after the 2008 India-Africa Summit, it was felt that there was a need to shift gears with the African continent to a "higher level," said Ansari.

"The purpose was to re-engage with the countries in Africa in the circumstances of the world of today. Now, there is already a certain amount of trade which is taking place. There has been a continuous pattern of technical assistance. There has also been some investments. It was felt that in each of these areas, it is necessary to move into a higher gear," Ansari said.

Ansari added: "Our training and financial assistance capabilities are much better now than there were some years back. Today, we are in a position to render greater assistance, but that assistance will be determined by countries that we are visiting themselves. Where do they want assistance? What kind of assistance do they want etc?

"It will not be something that we will unilaterally thrust on them," he said.

"The purpose of this visit is to re-engage at the personal level of these relationships. Three of the countries, which we consider important, but they are not the only important ones. But this is part of an approach, more of the African countries will be visited at the senior level from the government," the vice-president said.

He said that Zambia had been made the first port of call, as India has had a long period of engagement with it in different ways, including in the field of military training.

There was a military assistance mission in Lusaka and the Zambian Government has one or two big projects on which Indian assistance can and will be made available.

"Now, one thing that I do want to say, just to put things in a certain context, we are going from a country of a billion people, now these are smaller countries . in population, but not in size," the Vice-President said.

As far as Malawi was concerned, Ansari said that there was a good deal of hi-tech assistance and he hoped to finalise bilateral agreements, particularly in the sectors of agriculture, education and small scale industry. The other area India was looking at was tapping mineral resources, he added.

The visit to Botswana was also significant in terms of it being the second largest diamond producing country in the world.

"That is of direct interest to us, because of we have a very large and very prosperous diamond cutting industry in Gujarat for which we have had to buy our uncut diamonds from a central point in London, and for many many years this has been Indian policy we have try to get these diamonds directly from the source," Ansari said.

Recalling his diplomatic assignment in Australia about 25 years ago, Ansari said it had been his and the Indian Government's endeavour to push Canberra to accept proposals for direct diamond trade engagement. At that time, he said Australia had shied away from the proposal, but now countries were more amenable to accepting such an engagement.

"It is happening now as more and more countries are discovering that direct dealing between the seller and buyer is better than the direct dealing with the monopoly organization in London," he said.

"So, we hope to develop our cooperation in each of these areas. I will have more to say after my talks with the leaderships of these countries," he added.

During the question and answer session that followed his statement, the vice-president agreed with the view that India's engagement with Africa has been far from satisfactory.

"The intensity of our engagement did tend to go down, but the fact that we remembered that and took steps to correct, is what is important," Ansari said.

When asked whether India was concerned about the China's high-level of engagement in Africa, the vice-president Ansari said: "I don't think we should look at Africa in terms of Chinese engagement... We look at it in terms of our own likes. We will attend to it at our pace and capabilities. I think the countries of Africa and the people of Africa have a much longer memory of association with India and Indians. You will find each of these countries, they are small but have well-placed Indian communities, so, India is not just a dot on the map. India means Indians..."

Ansari also said that that the Indian style is not to be aggressive, and as an example cited the case of the elephant, which walks at its own pace and can never be underestimated.

As far as bilateral engagement was concerned, he said it should be seen from two perspectives - one that there should no interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, and secondly with human rights norms are evolving constantly - both abroad and domestically, every effort must be made to safeguard such rights, while ensuring that neither are in conflict with the other.

He also said that talks relating to UN reforms and UNSC members were at an advanced stage and had reached a certain level of maturity. They were now at a point where members are ready to create a document.

He described the United Nation as a very big body and in that, the African segment is the largest, and therefore, from India's point of view, very important.

"I think we have a broad convergence of views with most countries in Africa," Ansari concluded. By Ashok Dixit (ANI)

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