By Amb Gurjit Singh
The visit in late April of Madagascar Foreign Minister Richard Randriamandrato to India revitalized the India-Madagascar relationship in diverse ways. This is the first foreign ministerial visit from Madagascar to India in years.The visit of the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind to Madagascar on 14-15 March 2018, opened a new period of cooperation.
Since then, the Madagascar Minister of National Defence visited India in February 2020, for the India-Africa Defence Ministers Conclave and Indian-Ocean Region Defence Ministers Conclave, in February 2021.The chief of the Malagasy Navy visited India in June 2018 and November 2021, being part of maritime symposia, and conclaves. The mayor of Antananarivo was a distinguished visitor in November 2021. Thus, with the visit of the foreign minister, the intensification of India-Madagascar relations is abundantly clear.
The Madagascar President participated in the third India Africa Forum summit 2015. The decisions of that summit were wide ranging to expand the India Africa partnership. This is brought out in detail in a new book The Harambee Factor:India-Africa Economic and Development Partnership by the Indian Council of World Affairs.
The book shows how diverse and deep the Indian partnership with Africa is and how India has been building relationships and partnerships by promoting capacity building in human resource development and getting better control of their own destinies in India-African partners.
One significant result of the IAFS was the establishment of the Centre for Geo-Informatics applications in Rural Development, (CGARD) in Madagascar. This was inaugurated in March 2018 by the Presidents of both countries. This is an extremely useful partnership model where India provided the software and the Madagascar government provided the local logistics and support leading to a successful implementation for a three years period till March 2021. Madagascar continues to operate this centre under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture. This is a true example of how India builds institutions for its African partners.
The CGARD trains the use of remote sensing technology for mapping natural resources in Madagascar. It covers agriculture, minerals, forest, marine resources and helps in early warning of disasters. It is the only such centre that India established in Africa so far. This model of cooperation is elaborated in the Harambee Factor, a new book on India-Africa cooperation, by former Ambassador Gurjit Singh. It seeks to show that the manner of India working with its African partners like Madagascar is different from others.
Madagascar is an important strategic country. It is the largest and most populous island (27 million) in the Indian Ocean located in the South western Indian Ocean. It has been a part of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, where it often exchanges views with India. Subsequently, Madagascar has supported India’s entry into Indian Ocean Commission as an observer in March 2020 and the Djibouti code of conduct in August 2020. Madagascar is the current chair of the Indian Ocean Commission. Madagascar’s Foreign Minister during his visit to Delhi called Indo-Pacific a legitimate vision and batted for peaceful military ties with India. He mentioned that they would look forward to Indian participation in the IOC summit inJune 2022.
There is a growing convergence between India and Madagascar, on how we view the world together. Four important issues come to mind:
First, the Ukraine crisis: This is not a crisis which is of Indian or Madagascar origin. It is thrust upon us and we are being asked to take sides in a war which is not ours. Madagascar and India, along with 56 other countries abstained in the UN General Assembly on the resolution which sought to condemn Russia. Both are disturbed by the inaction on the part of the UN and its agencies and the efforts to rusticate Russia from several international organisations. India and Madagascar together want peace to return, so that the other challenges which are upon us can be effectively handled.
The second major challenge is the COVID pandemic: In this, India and Madagascar have looked together to reduce the impact and India has offered vaccines to Madagascar. Indian pharmaceutical companies look at Madagascar as an important partner and would like to expand their footprint there to build Madagascar’s capacities.
A third consequence, which we are dealing with is the global economic scenario, which is recovering from the pandemic. The Ukraine War and its attendant sanctions have impacted oil, gas and food grain and sunflower oil prices.
Closer economic cooperation between India and Madagascar is seeing a marginal increase in bilateral trade and a greater interest by Indian companies in investing in Madagascar, whose business environment has considerably improved. Earlier, only small companies were looking at investing in Madagascar. Now larger companies in more diverse sectors are coming in; the presence of Airtel and Tatas is a positive sign.
The Embassy of India in Antananarivo needs to be complimented for establishing the India-Madagascar Chamber of Commerce in March 2022. This is a most useful initiative and will bring together policy makers, businessmen and aggregate opportunities to create a clearinghouse for ideas for projects and trade. It can also become an important area for problem solving by interacting with Indian and Madagascar government authorities.
The major challenge which both India and Madagascar deal with is the non-traditional threats in the western Indian Ocean. These include piracy, drug trafficking, illegal migration, terrorism, and the like. India has worked towards building capacities of Madagascar through increased frequency of visits of its naval ships.
Since 2018, over 15 ship visits have taken place, and they have often participated in joint manoeuvres with Madagascar counterparts. They have participated in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) as and when required. The consistent naval engagement between India and Madagascar provides stability in the western Indian Ocean.In order to build Madagascar capacities, the number of training positions offered under the iconic ITEC training programme to the army have been increased from two in 2020 to 20 in 2021. Madagascar has used 866 training slots offered through ITEC since 2007 and about 100 scholarships under ICCR since 2014. This can help youth and professionals to enhance their skills.
Madagascar has been supportive of Indian efforts to deal with nontraditional threats including climate change. It joined the International Solar Alliance and also the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI)in February 2018 and April 2022, respectively. Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina recently praised India’s leadership in promoting climate and disaster resilience through CDRI while Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the challenges faced by Island States due to climate change are a key focus of India’s efforts under CDRI initiative to create resilient infrastructure.
India and Madagascar cooperate in agriculture, where lines of credit for tractor, equipment for setting upseed processing and fertilizers plants have been provided since 2008. In 2019, a large credit of $ 80 million has been approved for the development of agriculture, which will now look to have this implemented. Exim Bank of India has approved a Buyer’s Credit to Madagascar worth $38 million to supply over 1000 tractors in 2022.
As part of the western Indian Ocean, Madagascar is close to three of India’s closest partners in the region, Mauritius, Seychelles and Mozambique. India has strong investments in Mozambique in coal and gas and its cooperation there is growing. Between Madagascar and Mozambique is the channel which is critical for energy security in the region. In this India proposes to work closely with Madagascar to continue to maintain stability in the region. India will encourage Madagascar to adopt its well natured diplomacy with no enemies and friendship towards all.
(The author is former Ambassador to the African Union and author of The Harambee Factor: India Africa Economic and Development Partnership. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.)