Modi calls India, Africa ‘two bright spots’

October 29, 2015 02:03 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 03:53 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the India- Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: R. V. Moorthy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the India- Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: R. V. Moorthy

Calling India and Africa “the two bright spots of hope and opportunities in the global economy”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the leaders of African nations in Delhi that India and Africa must “speak in one voice” for U.N. reforms.

Mr. Modi was addressing the representatives of all African nations gathered for the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit.

“This is a world of free nations and awakened aspirations. Our institutions cannot be representative of our world, if they do not give voice to Africa, with more than a quarter of UN members, or the world’s largest democracy with one-sixth of humanity,” Mr. Modi said.

Officials are hopeful that the Delhi Declaration from the IAFS to be adopted on Thursday will include some language of support from Africa on India’s bid for a permanent Security Council seat.

Mr. Modi is holding bilaterals with all 40 African leaders present in Delhi.

On Wednesday he met with South Africa President Jacob Zuma, who is also a BRICS and IBSA partner. On Thursday, the Prime Minister is meeting Egypt President Abdel Fateh al-Sisi, and is expected to meet with Sudan President Omar Bashir as well.

‘This century is ours to shape and build’

During his address, PM Modi outlined India’s vision and desire to assist Africa with infrastructure building from “Cairo to Cape Town, Marrakesh to Mombassa”. He announced credit at concessional rates of $10 billion over 5 years, in addition to about $7.4 billion that India has already pledged since 2008. “We will also offer a grant assistance of 600 million U.S. dollars. This will include an India-Africa Development Fund of 100 million U.S. dollars and an India-Africa Health Fund of 10 million U.S. dollars,” the PM said, adding that 50,000 scholarships will be given to African students, whom he called the “new links” between India and the African continent.

“Two-thirds of India and two-thirds of Africa is under the age of 35 years. And, if the future belongs to the youth, then this century is ours to shape and build.”

The PM spoke at the inaugural session of the IAFS, at the Indira Gandhi indoor stadium in Delhi that has been given a full makeover for the big summit.

(Full text of PM's statement >here .)

Colourfully painted battery operated cars drove the delegates around the arena, even as dancers lit up the stage with themes from India and Africa dominating the backdrop. Mr. Modi’s was followed by the Chairperson of the African Union Dr. Robert Mugabe’s address to the gathering. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe is among the most controversial African leaders, and also amongst its oldest at 91-years. Despite his age, President Mugabe gave a fiery speech for nearly 30 minutes, dwelling on the shared fight against colonial powers, alluding more than once to Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress’s role in freedom struggles in India and Africa.

Congress boycotts summit

Interestingly, according to reports the Congress leadership has decided to boycott the African summit, to protest its exclusion from all consultations and the lack of reference to Jawaharlal Nehru, the “architect of Africa-India ties”. While denying any official boycott, Congress Leader Anand Sharma told The Hindu that the India-Africa summit’s focus on bringing all leaders together was “condescending”, and said he was “disappointed” that the NDA government had chosen to ignore the contribution of Nehru, adding that even at the anniversary of the Afro-Asian Bandung conference, EAM Sushma Swaraj had made no reference to him.

Sources said there was added unhappiness within the Congress over the fact that the leaders in Parliament were invited to various events including the PM’s dinner in honour of the leaders on Wednesday, but Congress President Sonia Gandhi had been ignored. When contacted, sources close to Dr. Manmohan Singh said that the former PM had conveyed his regrets, and couldn’t attend the PM’s banquet and President Mukherjee’s banquet on Thursday due to “personal reasons, not political ones”.

The Congress controversy was not the only one at the India Africa Summit. Ahead of the summit, the International Criminal Court, and human rights groups Amnesty international and Human Rights Watch called on India to arrest Sudan’s President Omar Bashir when he is in Delhi for charges of genocide during the Darfur conflict. However, the MEA had said categorically that President Bashir is an honoured guest, and India is not a signatory to the Rome statute that created the ICC, and under no legal obligation to do so.

‘Policy shift would undermine access to affordable drugs’

Another controversy was over the possible shift in India’s stand over patent regime in pharma sector that could potentially make generic drugs — like the anti-retroviral drugs that India exports to Africa for 80% of its AIDS treatment — much more expensive.

Dr. Gilles Van Cutsem, Medical Coordinator for MSF in South Africa earlier this week said, “We were able to scale up HIV treatment in our programmes because Indian generic medicines made treatment more affordable.”

“Any shift in India’s policy would dramatically undermine access to affordable medicines that we need in India, across Africa and beyond.”

When asked, MEA officials denied that African leaders had raised the issue during bilaterals.

Speaking to the leaders on Thursday, Mr. Modi said, “India’s expertise in healthcare and affordable medicines can offer new hope in the fight against many diseases; and give a newborn a better chance to survive. We will also collaborate to develop Indian and African treasures of traditional knowledge and medicines.”

The reference to “affordable medicines” in particular, said officials from South Africa, was a relief.

In his speech, the PM also spoke of cooperation on climate change between India and Africa, both who had “contributed the least to global warming,” and suggested a common forum of “solar-rich” countries that he would convene at the COP21 UNFCC conference in Paris on November 30 this year.

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