Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described Africa as New Delhi’s 21st century partner, saying that India and the African nations will accelerate their march towards economic development together.

Prime Minister Modi, currently on a four-nation Africa visit, made the comment during his meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on Friday. The visiting PM told President Zuma that India would walk the talk in its outreach to the ‘Dark Continent’ by strengthening trade and business ties with South Africa and other African countries. “I am convinced that industry-to-industry ties not only can bring rich economic gains to our societies, they can give a new shape to our partnership and drive it to new levels,” he said while speaking at a joint press statement with the South African president. “And, in the process, also help both our nations to play a more robust regional and global role,” added Modi.

The premier expressed satisfaction over the current state of bilateral trade ties, saying: “Two-way trade has grown by over 300% in the last 10 years. Indian companies hold strong business interests in South Africa.” He further said that although one-fourth of India’s investments in the continent were in South Africa, New Delhi wanted to explore potential to expand bilateral business and investment ties further, especially in the areas of mineral and mining, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, high technology manufacturing and information and communication technology.

Prime Minister Modi and President Zuma met the press after discussing various aspects of India-South Africa ties. During their meeting, the visiting Indian leader assured the South African president that New Delhi would work more closely with Pretoria on international issues and emerging global challenges. He also thanked President Zuma for South Africa’s support to India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid, stressing: “We know that we can count on the active support of our friends, like South Africa.”

Modi arrived in South Africa on Thursday night from Mozambique, where he discussed ways to bolster ties between the two countries with President Filipe Nyusi on Wednesday. Modi hailed the southern African nation as a gateway for Indian investment into the continent and offered to strengthen co-operation with Maputo in areas, ranging from agriculture, skill development and healthcare to defence. After witnessing the signing ceremony of a long-term agreement for the purchase of pulses from Mozambique with President Nyusi, the PM said: “In Mozambique’s march towards economic prosperity, India will walk every step of the way. We will be a trusted friend in your development.” He also stressed on bolstering bilateral security and defence ties, saying that as terrorism has become the “gravest threat” to the world, India would help energy- and resource-rich Africa root out terrorism from the continent.

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Indians will be surprised to know that the PM has begun his Africa trip with Mozambique, as the former Portuguese colony has emerged as a leader in the global LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) industry. Indian state-run oil and gas firms invested nearly USD 6 billion into the Rovuma gas-field in 2015 and planned to invest another USD 6 billion by 2019. If the Indian companies execute their plan properly, Mozambique can easily become the biggest source of LNG for the South Asian country by replacing Qatar, which is the source of over 90% of India’s present natural gas imports. For India, Mozambique’s strategic location on the Indian Ocean is also important. With a coastline of nearly 2500km and dominance of two key maritime chokepoints to the Indian Ocean, the African country can help India build strong security relations with key littoral nations (and counter China’s growing influence in the region). PM Modi, who is well aware of these facts, promised President Nyusi that India would help enhance ability of Mozambican forces, saying: “We will work together to support the Mozambican defence forces. By building capacities and institutions, training of personnel, supply of equipment and in responding to their other emerging needs.”

Prime Minister Modi, who is scheduled to visit Tanzania and Kenya in the third and final leg (respectively) of his ongoing visit, has made clear that Africa should no longer be viewed as a basket case. He has hinted that India will take the advantage of a sizeable diaspora in Africa to strengthen ties with the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. H

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]