Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his five-day tour of Africa on Monday (July 11) during which he covered Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. This was Modi's second visit to the continent in his term which started on May 26, 2014. He had visited Mauritius and Seychelles---two island-nations in the Indian Ocean in March last year.
Compared to the his trips to the US and Europe, Modi's footfall in Africa has been less frequent but that doesn't imply that New Delhi has attached less significance to the world's second-largest continent.
The year 2015 saw the Modi government organising the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi wherein all 54 countries of Africa were invited besides the president of the African Union. Forty-one of those invited countries were represented by their heads of state or government while others were represented by their vice-presidents or senior-level ministers. [What Modi said in Kenya address]
On that occasion, India and Africa saw India pledging a number of economic and social concessions in terms of grant assistance including those for development and health, scholarships and support for the Pan African e-Network project. [PM beats drum with Tanzanian president]
While President visited West Africa and Vice Prez North Africa, PM Modi visited East and South Africa
If that was the beginning of a loaded gesture towards Africa, it was followed up by two high-profile visits---one by President Pranab Mukherjee to West African countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Namibia and another by Vice President Hamid Ansari to North African countries like Morocco and Tunisia. Modi, on the other hand, visited countries to the East and South that are located on the Indian Ocean.
There in lies a subtle message to China and that is: India's head of the government chips in when it concerns the country's immediate interests. China's interests in the Indian Ocean region are evergrowing and India needed to address its natural geopolitical and strategic primacy urgently.
That the PM of the country took up the responsibility was a move that would convesy to Beijing that New Delhi is dealing with the matter seriously.
During his visit to the four African nations, Modi stressed bilateral interests but there was also an implicit aim to address other challenges looming---be it Beijing's design to set up a military base in Djibouti located in the Horn of Africa or terrorism or radicalisation.
The Islamic State, which has been carrying out brutal attacks in various corners of the world, is expanding its base and India and the African countries need to put in place a strong and multi-pronged mechanism to tackle the threat.
Political dimension of Modi's 4-nation visit
Modi's visit also had a political dimension. Particularly with regard to South Africa, India has a regular connection. Modi and South African President Jacob Zuma have met a number of times in the last few years-be it at the BRICS Summits in Brazil and Russia or the G20 Summit in Australia. The two countries are members of a number of fora that aim to promote a fresh world order.
The relation came under the focus all the more after it was reported that South Africa had objected to India's gaining an entry in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Modi's latest visit also had convincing the South Africans as one of its aim and President Zuma even nodded his head after Modi said that the South Africans have backed India's NSG bid. There, too, lied an indirect messaging to China which has led the objection against India's admission in the NSG.
Significance of the visits to Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania
Modi's visits to the three other countries were more about extending goodwill and social connection. Tanzanian President John Magufuli is known for his initiatives on issues like cleanliness, dealing with corruption, climate change and enhancing human security---something Modi is also known to have backed---and hence it is very likely that the two leaders would find a common platform to speak.
In Kenya, Modi reached out to the strong Indian diaspora, calling it a "Mini Hindustan" while he ensured supply of dal from Mozambique to deal with the inflation at home. Mozambique is also significant for India for its vast energy resources and strategic location on the Indian Ocean. The PM's meeting the 'Solar Mamas' who are trained in Rajasthan was also an occasion to strengthen the informal ties with Africa.