07/26/2018, 19.30
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Modi in Africa to boost economic and defence cooperation (with an eye on China)

The Indian prime minister is set to attend the BRICS summit. He inked deals worth US$ 200 million with Rwanda and US$ 205 million with Uganda. For India, Africa offers huge strategic and economic opportunities.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Uganda and Rwanda ahead of the summit of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which starts today in South Africa.

In Uganda, the Indian leader said “Africa will be at the top of our priorities”. During his short stay, Modi signed a number of important trade agreements.

For analysts, by coming so soon after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the continent, Modi is signalling India’s intention of challenging China’s geopolitical and trading pre-eminence in Africa.

Before Uganda, Modi visited Rwanda. His next stop will be Johannesburg (South Africa) for the BRICS summit. Peace and international security, global governance and trade wars will be the main topics.

On Monday in Kigali, he signed a defence agreement with Rwanda. He also pledged US$ 100 million in lines of credit to develop industrial parks and US$ 100 for agricultural irrigation schemes. Finally, he donated 200 cows to eradicate poverty in villages.

In Uganda yesterday, the Indian leader announced that India’s intention of opening at least 18 embassies in African countries. He also announced loans worth US$ 205 million dollars to expand Uganda’s electricity grid and boost commercial farming.

For India, Africa offers huge strategic and financial opportunities. At present, India’s economy is growing at 7.4 per cent in 2018.

"The visit of the Prime Minister to these three countries is a reflection of the intensity of our engagement with Africa and the priority we attach to our relations with African countries," said T. S. Tirumurti, secretary in charge of economic relations at India's Ministry of External Affairs. "As regards China, I don't think we see ourselves in a competition in Africa at all,” he added.

Experts note that India’s interest in African is relatively recent. Bilateral trade between Africa and India stood at US billion for March 2016-17, with India mainly exporting raw materials as well as selling items such as automobiles.

By contrast, trade links between China and Africa stood at around US$ 220 billion in 2014 and are growing thanks to China’s new silk road, the Belt and Road Initiative.

"Africa is important for various reasons, in terms of market resources, the (Indian) diaspora and maritime. Defence cooperation has not been intense, but we are trying to focus on that area,” said Nivedita Ray, research fellow at the New Delhi-based Indian Council of World Affairs.

"The eastern part of Africa (for instance) is important for India's Indo-Pacific vision. It is part of an extremely important maritime neighbourhood and is critical to India's security," she added.

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