Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to South Africa for the annual BRICS Summit in late July. Along the way, he made state visits to Rwanda and Uganda. This was the first such a visit by an Indian leader to Rwanda.
In visiting Rwanda and Uganda, Modi completed an Indian diplomatic outreach to the countries of East Africa. India has focussed prime ministerial and presidential visits to the region as part of a larger attempt to develop stronger ties with littoral Indian Ocean nations. East Africa, as is well known, has a large Indian diaspora as a consequence of the colonial era and Indian businessmen were known to have traded with Rwanda, otherwise a Belgian colony.
Rwanda under its president, Paul Kagame, has positioned itself as “the Switzerland of Africa,” serving as a financial and services hub for the continent. Indian business is reported to have begun using Rwanda as an offshore financial centre as well. In a well-publicized act, Modi contributed 200 cows to Rwandan farming communities supporting Kigali’s “one cow, one family” welfare programme. More tangibly, India agreed to assist in local irrigation projects. Media noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping, also on his way to the BRICS summit, made a stopover in Rwanda at the same time as Modi.
In Uganda, the aid focus was on electricity. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged Modi to allow Ugandan Airlines to fly to Mumbai. There are about 12,000 Indians in Uganda but they contribute over half its income tax. Billionaire Sudhir Ruparelia is the wealthiest man in Uganda.
The BRICS summit issued a strong statement in favour of the multilateral trading system and warned against unilateral trade sanctions. The statement was clearly aimed at the United States which has imposed tariff sanctions against four of the members and has more comprehensive sanctions against Russia. Many BRICS members, including India, have their own complaints regarding Chinese trade barriers.
South Africa’s hosting of the summit was marred by logistical problems. More telling, noted a University of Toronto study, Pretoria had the worst record among the BRICS countries of fulfilling its commitments from previous summits. Local activists also protested against new power projects funded by the New Development Bank, the so-called “BRICS Bank.”
July 31, 2018