India’s strong ties with African countries received a further boost following the culmination of President Pranab Mukherjee’s successful six-day visit to Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia on Saturday. The President also emerged as a leading torchbearer for Brand India, who through his statesmanship, vast experience and tall stature gave a strong message that India would always stand by Africa.
Mukherjee is the first Indian Head of State to Visit Accra and Abidjan and the second to make a trip to Windhoek. A number of agreements entailing cooperation in varied areas such as Information Technology, military training, fisheries, railways, initiation of bureaucrats and foreign service personnel and an increased role of private sector were signed, consolidating strong economic bonds. Mukherjee raised the issue of uranium supply to India with Namibian President Dr Hage Geingob and requested him to take the agreement signed between the two countries in 2009 forward so that supply could commence without any further delay. In Ghana, he had a fruitful meeting with President John Dramani Mahama, where wide ranging issues were flagged including expansion on cooperation of civil nuclear energy, renewable energy and sustainable agriculture.
The President made out a strong case for both India, with one sixth of the world’s population, as well as the African continent to have representation in the United Nations Security Council, while putting the strategy of development assistance on fast track to increase South-South cooperation. Mukherjee also received a very warm welcome in the three capitals and emerged as the country’s foremost ambassador for the message of goodwill, economic partnership and friendship. Mukherjee said that “The visits were an opportunity for me to reiterate that India will always stand by Africa. I urged the governments to take maximum advantage of announcements made by India for Africa during the (India Africa Forum Summit) IAFS-III especially the 10 billion-dollar additional concessional lines of credit, enhanced ITEC and ICCR scholarships, as well as 600 million grant assistance.”
Conscious of his abilities to reach out to heads of governments, the Centre has chosen him to cement ties with various countries of the world keeping in mind his immense experience and knowledge of foreign affairs, international politics, national matters and economic issues. The Africa initiative started with the visit of Vice President Hamid Ansari to Morocco and Tunisia a few weeks ago and after Mukherjee’s trip would be followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour of four East African and South African countries. It is evident that the government is keen to step up its engagements at the highest level as a follow up to the presence of 41 out of 54 Heads of African states at the 3rd India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in New Delhi in October last year.
What was noteworthy during Mukherjee’s visit was that the leaders of the three countries he visited displayed enormous warmth and affection towards him symbolic of their deep regard for the ties with the Indian government and its people. Using his vast experience and stature, the Indian President won many hearts and had the distinction of being awarded the Grand Croix Commandeur, the highest national honour in Cote d’Ivoire. He was also presented a key to the city of Abidjan and conferred honorary citizenship, besides being made an advisor to the traditional tribal chiefs with a given name of “Assito”, which means “the Example”. Acknowledging the honour, he said that the tradition of making him a citizen reminded him of India’s age old philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which in Sanskrit means that mankind is one large family. “I therefore accept the citizenship as a valued symbol of friendship of the people of Cote d’Ivoire.”
Mukherjee was greeted with deep appreciation by President Alassane Ouattara and his entire Cabinet as he landed in Abidjan, with tribal chiefs also in attendance. Amongst various other accords of mutual cooperation, a headquarters agreement for opening the office of the EXIM bank of India was signed. India has till date extended lines of credit amounting to US$136.2 million in diverse fields such as agriculture processing, transport, rural electrification, transmission and fisheries, etc. He was able to get a concurrence for doubling the current bilateral trade by 2020 to US$2 billion.
In Ghana, the President paid floral tributes at the mausoleum of Ghana’s founding father, the late Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who, along with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and others, founded the Non Aligned Movement. He unveiled a bust of Mahatma Gandhi at the University of Ghana and planted a sapling at the Flagstaff House built with Indian assistance. Addressing a joint business forum, he emphasised on “Brand India” as a trusted name that attracts technologies and absorbs local talent. He visited the Kofi Annan Centre and announced a further assistance of US$1 million.
At Windhoek, Mukherjee renewed his ties with the founding father of the nation, Sam Nujoma and held detailed discussions with President Hage Geingob and his colleagues. He also met former President Hifikepyule Pohamba and stated that the strong friendship was built on mutual trust and understanding between the two countries.
The President addressed a joint session of Namibian Parliament, laid wreath at the Heroes Acre, a memorial to men and women who fought for the country’s independence, and addressed the Namibian University of Science and Technology. He found time to visit a wildlife sanctuary during the course of his busy schedule.
Talking to the media, the President said that overall he was satisfied with the visits that had helped to invigorate India’s already tried and tested bilateral relations: “They provide fresh momentum to our overall relations with Africa. Through these visits we have conveyed a strong message that India takes its engagements with Africa seriously and is committed to further consolidate our cooperation. We will remain an active partner in Africa’s nation building efforts even as we strengthen our political, economic and trade relations with all the 54 countries of the continent.”