As Prime Minister Narendra Modi set new terms of diplomacy during his recent five-nation tour, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee started touring Africa on Sunday mainly to boost trade ties.
President Mukherjee, who arrived in Ghana on Sunday, will also visit Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia as a part of his six-day (June 12-17) three-nation trip to the Dark Continent. This is the maiden visit of any Indian president to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, whereas to Namibia, such a visit comes after 21 years. Although the Indian government has said that it is a routine head of state visit, diplomats are of the opinion that Mukherjee’s trip doesn’t look that routine.
Prime Minister Modi recently got the backing of Switzerland and Mexico for India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Now, it becomes important for the South Asian nation to strengthen ties with Namibia, the fourth-largest producer of uranium. In 2009, Windhoek had agreed to sell the nuclear fuel to New Delhi. However, that hasn’t happened, as the elite nukes club of 48 countries opposed Namibia’s decision. With the Group planning to discuss India’s bid for NSG membership on June 20-24 in Seoul, the Modi government has sent President Mukherjee to Namibia to discuss India’s future plans.
Before leaving for Africa on Sunday, Mukherjee told the media that India needs a lot more uranium for its nuclear power plants, as the country wanted to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels. According to the president, India’s goal is to have 40% of its energy from clean and renewable sources. In the past, Namibia refused to export uranium to India for the non-proliferation reason, despite signing an agreement with the South Asian powerhouse. Even, the Namibian Parliament has not ratified the agreement with India. President Mukherjee hinted on Sunday that he was on a mission to persuade Windhoek to ratify the 2009 agreement.
Speaking at a press conference over the weekend, Indian Energy Secretary Amar Sinha said: “Namibia is the fourth largest producer of uranium. But, they have an African Union agreement that impedes its implementation. Namibia has not been able to break that unity or the binding commitment (of the as Pelindaba Treaty – the African version of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty).” He also said that President Mukherjee would try his best to assure Namibia that India would continue to sign agreements with other countries for the supply of uranium. “Eventually if we meet our requirement from non-Namibian sources, it would be loss to Namibian industry,” Sinha told the press. He expressed hope that Namibia would soon start exporting uranium to India, especially now that Mexico and Switzerland have backed India’s NSG membership bid.
Meanwhile, President Mukherjee arrived in Ghana in the first leg of his six-day Africa visit on Sunday. On his arrival in Accra for a two-day visit, he was received at the airport by Ghana’s Vice President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur. Later, President Mukherjee lauded Ghana’s efforts in reducing poverty levels to almost half and countering terrorism. Expressing solidarity with the African nation, he said that terrorism, a scourge that knows no borders, should be eradicated by collective efforts. In his address at the banquet hosted by his Ghanaian counterpart John Dramani Mahama, Mukherjee stressed that India, a victim of terrorism for three decades, shares Ghana’s concern that it has become a global menace. “It is a scourge and knows no borders; it has no ideology except the ideology of wanton destruction. It must be eradicated through the collective efforts of the civilised world. India is in solidarity with you as you confront this challenge,” added the president.
The visiting president further highlighted the historic relations between the two countries, saying that Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah was a friend of Mahatma Gandhi and first Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He recalled that Nehru and Nkrumah were founding fathers of Non-Aligned Movement.
At the banquet, Mukherjee also urged Ghana to back India’s UNSC membership bid. “Today, the world order demands global governance structures that are consistent with the new challenges that confront the global community. It is a serious anomaly that India, home to every sixth citizen of the world and Africa, a vibrant hub of the global economy, still remain out of UN Security Council,” he told the people who attended the event.