In an attempt to focus more on the African nations and developing closer diplomatic and economic relations with them, the Indian External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, visited Niger and Tunisia earlier this week. New Delhi attaches great importance to these African nations since they had helped India in the United Nations as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. That it was his first outreach to Africa since taking over the mantle of foreign ministry proves just that.
During his visit to Niamey, Niger, Dr. Jaishankar called on the Niger President, Mr Mahamadou Issoufou. Both the leaders jointly inaugurated the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre. It is the first centre to be established in Africa by India to honour the memory of Mahatma Gandhi whose 150th birth anniversary is being observed currently. The establishment of the centre is a landmark for India-Niger friendship, as also a symbol of India’s firm commitment towards Africa. The centre has been designed as a spacious, modern and eco-friendly facility, including a 2000 capacity plenary hall to witness high level and wide ranging participation from African Union (AU) member states and other high level conventions.
During his stay in Niamey, the External Affairs Minister also called on the Niger Prime Minister, Mr. Brigi Rafini. He held discussions on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues with his counterpart, Mr. Kalla Ankkourao. The two sides also signed agreements to strengthen the framework of the bilateral relationship besides discussing shared challenges of development and security, including the need to combat terrorism.
Bilateral ties between the two countries have expanded significantly in the recent years. India has provided Lines of Credit to Niger for projects in transport, electrification, solar energy and potable drinking water. Several hundreds of officials from Niger have utilised India’s capacity building training programmes under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. India has also extended assistance to Niger in support of organising the AU summit held in Niamey in July last.
Niger has been supporting India’s candidature for various posts in the international fora. It has supported Indian candidatures for post of director, compliance and facilitation, World Customs Organisation, for position of external auditor of World Health Organisation for the term 2020-2023 and council of ICAO for the term 2019-2022. India’s trade with Niger, which stood in 2016-17 at US $ 81.27 million, touched US $ 140.45 million in 2017-18. Indian exports to Niger in 2019-20 (April-October) were US $ 51.76 million and Niger’s exports to India have been US $ 0.34 million.
During Dr. Jaishankar’s visit to Tunisia, the two countries signed a pact to set up an information and communications technology innovation centre there. The External Affairs Minister called on the Tunisian President, Mr. Kais Saied, and also met his Tunisian counterpart, Mr. Sabri Bachtobji, and held extensive talks that focused on expanding bilateral economic ties and agreed to work closely in multilateral forums. Tunisia has been a reliable source for phosphates. India accounts for around 50 per cent of Tunisia’s global phosphoric acid exports India offered 100 ITEC slots and 10 Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarships for higher studies to Tunisian students.
The visit is important in the backdrop of decisions and recommendations of the Tunisia-India Joint Committee held in New Delhi in 2017 and adoption of a visionary “Road Map” on that occasion which are expected to give a new dimension to India-Tunisia partnership in many key sectors and areas of common interest. Besides, this was only the 2nd official visit of an Indian External Affairs Minister since 1958 to the North African country.
Both Niger and Tunisia are particularly important to India as they are non-permanent members of the UN Security Council and in repeatedly New Delhi has found support from these friendly African nation. Hence, India’s diplomatic outreach is also in the nature of expressing appreciation and gratitude for their support.
Script: Vinit Wahi, Journalist