President Ram Nath Kovind this week embarks on his first foreign tour after taking office in July to Ethiopia and Djibouti in a bid to keep up India’s engagement with and expand its footprint across resource-rich Africa. This comes against the backdrop of India’s strategic and economic rival China rapidly expanding its influence across Africa and in the Indian Ocean region.
“Africa is chosen as the first destination of president’s overseas visit—an index of the importance attached to the African continent by the current government,” Neena Malhotra, joint secretary in charge of East and South Africa in the Indian foreign ministry told reporters on Friday.
In recent years, India has moved to re-fashion its ties with Africa, after seeing its influence wane across the continent in the late 1980s to the early 2000s after achieving a high water mark in the 1950s to the early 1980s. In 2008, India organized the first India-Africa Forum Summit with the aim of recasting its ties with the continent. New Delhi has followed up its initiative with two more such summits—in 2011 in Addis Ababa and in New Delhi in 2015. In the last three years, there have been 16 visits to Africa by the Indian President, vice-president and the Prime Minister—a calculated move to keep up engagement with Africa given that the next India-Africa Summit is scheduled in 2020.
Kovind’s first stop will be Djibouti—located in the Horn of Africa and bordered by Eritrea in the north and Ethiopia in the west and the south. “This would also be the first ever visit at the level of Head of State or Government from India to the Republic of Djibouti since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” an Indian statement said.
On the second leg on his visit, Kovind is expected to reach Ethiopia on 4 October on a three-day trip—the first by an Indian President in almost five decades. It comes at the invitation of the Ethiopian president of Mulatu Teshome, the Indian foreign ministry statement cited above said. “India is amongst the top trade, investment and development partner of Ethiopia. Ethiopia continues to be the largest recipient of India’s concessional Lines of Credit in Africa,” the statement said.