Script: Dr NIVEDITA RAY, Director Research, ICWA
The Foreign Minister of Eritrea Mr. Osman Saleh Mohammed, along with Presidential Adviser Mr. Yemane Gebreab, were on a 4-day working visit to India. This visit was significant in boosting bilateral relations and enhancing India’s outreach to the Horn of Africa region, which in recent years has become a centre of global attention and geo-political hotspot.
The two Eritrean officials have visited India several times in the past, and the last visit was on the occasion of the 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in October 2015. The periodic interactions have contributed to enhancing cooperation and strengthening bilateral relations between both countries.
During this visit, the two Foreign Ministers had a very productive meeting to take the relationship forward. Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar was apprised of the development priorities of the Eritrean government and the areas where Eritrea wanted India’s assistance and cooperation. Sectors that were given emphasis for collaboration are agriculture, fisheries, education, health care, mining, manufacturing, renewable energy, and infrastructure development.
Over the years, India has been assisting Eritrea in the promotion of agriculture, education and health. Eritrea has been using Indian human resources, as part of its capacity building in education, agriculture and other related areas. Moreover, India has extended Lines of Credit worth US$ 20 million for education and agriculture projects.
The relationship in the education sector has been excellent with many Indian teachers teaching at various colleges, vocational training centres and high schools in Eritrea and Eritreans coming to India for higher studies.
There are also Indian agricultural scientists and other technical experts in different domains working in Eritrea for many years. The Eritrean Foreign Minister Saleh Mohammed’s visit to the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil) is significant in this context, as it opened up possibilities to take forward the cooperation in the field of health and agriculture.
Further, his interactions with representatives of Indian ICT, telecommunications, mining and energy companies, reflects the desire of both countries to advance their relationship towards a strong development partnership.
The two sides also agreed to boost economic cooperation in key sectors of trade and investment. The Eritrean delegation’s meeting with representatives of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was aimed to discuss possible ways to strengthen economic cooperation.
Another area that was given emphasis is security cooperation. Mr Saleh Mohammed had a meeting with India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to discuss regional developments and security cooperation. The meeting underlined the importance Eritrea assumes for India, due to its geo-strategic location. Owing to its proximity to the Middle East oil fields, Somalia coast is threatened by piracy and vital commercial lanes that transit the Bab al-Mandab and the Gulf of Aden.
Eritrea is strategically significant to India. Its ports of Assab and Massawa has immense strategic value for India, as it can be considered crucial ports of call to provide reconnaissance stations to keep a tab on piracy and provide security to its trading ships passing through the Red Sea.
Besides, the Horn of Africa region is critical to India’s security, because of its proximity with India. It is important to take note that in recent years the Horn of Africa region has been witnessing growing interest of major global and regional players.
Rivalries between these Middle Eastern powers are being played out in the region with states like Eritrea drawing practical benefits from this power play. Strengthening relations with Eritrea is essential for India’s security interest in the region.
Both in the bilateral and regional context, the visit of the Eritrean Foreign Minister was purposeful in deepening and diversifying cooperation in various sectors. The visit reinforced Eritrea’s belief that India’s agricultural and industrial sectors have immense potential to address the development priorities of Eritrea.
The delegation level interactions explored unlimited investment opportunities for India in Eritrea in the field of mining, energy, power and infrastructure. In the regional context, it was felt that both countries, bound by the waters of the Indian Ocean, have a lot of potential to build security cooperation to enhance mutual trade and commerce.