As he set out on his week-long, three-nation tour of Africa, Vice-President Hamid Ansari said India was trying to re-engage with the African continent, while insisting that it was not competing with the advancing Chinese footprint in this region.
During his customary on-board interaction with the media on Tuesday, he time and again described his visit to Zambia, Malawi and Botswana as part of the government’s bid to “re-engage with an area that India has had old and emotional ties with.”
Asked how New Delhi proposed to match Beijing’s bid to expand its influence over the continent (China’s trade with Africa is to the tune of $116 billion against India’s $39 billion), Mr. Ansari maintained that the Indian approach would remain non-prescriptive and the terms of engagement would not be dictated by others. “I don’t think we should look at Africa in terms of the Chinese engagement or for that matter of any other country. We will attend to it at our own pace and in light of our own capabilities. The people of Africa have much longer memories of India.”
Elaborating, Mr. Ansari said: “The Indian style is not to be aggressive. The best example I can tell you is that the elephant walks at its own pace. But the elephant is not to be underestimated.”
In his opening remarks, he said though India was now in a position to render greater assistance, but the nature of assistance would be determined by the African nations. “It will not be something that we will unilaterally thrust upon them.”
Without delving into why relations with Africa had plateaued over the past decade-and-a-half, the Vice-President admitted that the intensity of the Indian engagement with the continent “did tend to go down in recent years. But, he was quick to add: “The fact that we remembered that and took steps to correct it is what is important.”
External Affairs Ministry officials accompanying Mr. Ansari said India’s relations with Africa never went into a chill zone.
“The world changed in the 1990s and India and much of Africa began reorienting their foreign policies. As new relationships were forged, attention got diverted and this is borne out by the fact that Mr. Ansari is the first high-level dignitary to visit Zambia in 20 years after three Indian Presidents and three Indian Prime Ministers visited it between 1970 and 1989. This is set to change.” More visits to the continent by Indian dignitaries were on the anvil.