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What can we expect from Modi’s Dar es Salaam sojourn?

2016-11-29 12:56:21

By Paul Kibuuka

In this piece, Paul Kibuuka, a High Court of Tanzania advocate, reflects on the Tanzania-India Relations

DAR ES SALAAM. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Tanzania this weekend is a powerful symbol of the “new energy” he and President Magufuli are bringing to Tanzania–India relations only eight months after Magufuli’s landslide victory in November last year.

The visit is a prodigious opportunity to demonstrate the incredible gains made in Tanzania’s relations with India since Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won the general election with a thumping majority some two years ago, in May 2014; and to renew and deepen bilateral economic cooperation, seen by many analysts as crucial for progress.

Enhancing relations with India is a matter that enjoys solid bipartisan support. Members of parliament in both countries view India as an important part of the Tanzania Asia “pivot” strategy.

Despite his obviously tight schedule, Modi is expected to make effort to engage various interest groups while in the commercial city of Dar es Salaam.

The Indian government will try to exhibit a good grasp of Magufuli’s economic goals and aspirations, and enthusiasm for engaging on his priority issues for Tanzania. Proposals for key bilateral programs on infrastructure and industrialization may, therefore, be launched. 

Modi will likely express a new readiness to engage Tanzanian business leaders directly at a roundtable. This would be a vital step to deliberate on what measures his government would take in order to create mutual understanding, trust and benefit; and win-win results for investments.

Prime Minister Modi may also be the guest of honour at a meeting of the Indian Business Forum Tanzania, and offer practical commitments for Indian-Tanzanians; in addition, to making an attempt to engage the Tanzanian public through a joint press conference with President Magufuli.

When considering Tanzania’s relationship with Modi, attention is sometimes paid to the Tanzanian girl who was attacked by a crowd in the southern city of Bengaluru, some 2,000km from the capital New Delhi. Since the attack, African diplomatic corps in New Delhi issued a protest note and petitioned India’s minister of External Affairs, Ms Sushma Swaraj.

But, the governmental interaction is just one facet of Tanzania’s relationship with Prime Minister Modi. Tanzania business executives, professionals and entrepreneurs frequently travelled to India, and participated in the India–Africa Forum Summit.

As well, a section of the Indian-Tanzanian diaspora was able to engage with him and strongly supported the BJP’s general election campaign. Thus, the complete Tanzania relationship with Modi was not as inhibited as occasionally depicted.

Although Modi’s government has castigated the attack in the past, there is a view that Mr. Modi could do more to assure his host, President Magufuli, that Tanzanian nationals would be safe in India.

Prime Minister Modi, being a practical leader who unmistakably wants to accelerate India’s development, understands and appreciates that Tanzania can be a key partner in helping him attain his goals for India. Thus, he has sojourned to the port city of Dar es Salaam to underscore his genuine interest in recharging warm relations.

The establishment of modern Tanzania–India relations dates back to the 19th century when Gujarati traders arrived here, and gradually began to control trade in Zanzibar, according to historical accounts. Post-independence, many Indians remained in Tanzania and, today, they occupy a central place in the country’s economy.

Indeed, data from the High Commission in Dar es Salaam points to Tanzania having approximately 50,000 people of Indian origin, who are mostly engaged in trade and industry in key urban areas of Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Dodoma, Morogoro, Zanzibar, Mwanza and Mbeya.

Taken together with Tanzania’s growing population, which is projected to reach the 100 million mark over the next two decades, India sees Tanzania as a promising market for Indian goods, services and investments. India’s leaders, like those of China, are searching for new trade and investment opportunities in Tanzania and other African countries.  

India is the 3rd largest trading partner of Tanzania, after the UK and China. Bilateral trade between Tanzania and India was US$3573.63 million during 2014-2015, of which exports to India constituted US$1089.03 million and imports from India were US$2484.60 million, says a recent report by India’s Department of Commerce.

What’s easily discernable from looking at these statistics is that, trade is profoundly in India’s favour. Consequently, the real test of bilateral relations lies in the development and promotion of Tanzania’s local manufacturing sector–and this is close to the need to opening up investments and rising export orders in a bid to bridge the trade deficit. 

As the Modi government bolsters the Indian economy, Tanzania needs to envision stronger economic relations with India in the areas covering trade, investment and agriculture; counter-terrorism, maritime safety and security; education and culture; natural resources and tourism; and health and medicine.

At the heart of enriched Tanzania-India ties has been progress on trade and investment. The two countries share the objective of increasing annual trade volumes.

Recently the Modi government has carried out wide reforms, for example, amendments in land acquisition and labour laws, cuts in inefficient subsidies; and the removal of FDI caps in numerous sectors e.g. insurance and e-commerce. Reforms designed to boost manufacturing and embolden investment of capital have also been introduced.

Tanzania, however, needs to intensify its efforts on promoting FDI in commercial agricultural, processing and manufacturing sectors. This will help add value to the country’s abundant raw materials and step up export earnings.

On the counter-terrorism, maritime safety and security front, Magufuli and Modi are expected to widen and extend their existing cooperation. This is especially so in view of piracy that has disrupted the Indian Ocean, on which Tanzania and India depend. Cooperation between the naval forces of the two countries needs to gain new impetus.

Although there’s objectively good cooperation between the two countries in information sharing, Tanzania and India need to give thought to cybersecurity to help foretell terrorist activity. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist tragedy, Tanzania and India need to unite and work together to develop new joint counter-terrorism activities.

Another possible outcome of the visit is Tanzania’s backing for India’s permanent membership in the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council. India is among the biggest contributors of military troops and police to U.N. peacekeeping missions and is usually involved in talks before the Security Council creates or reviews the mandates under which the missions operate.

Be that as it may, according to some Western analysts, India will not realize its aim of becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council soon; however, India will expect Tanzania to work with other African countries to back New Delhi’s full candidature to the Security Council.

Education, sports and culture is likely to be a major point of discussion. As pointed out earlier in this piece, the regrettable attack on the Tanzanian girl in Bengaluru, India, has drawn attention to the issue. The safety and security of Tanzanian nationals in India is expected to be declared unequivocally by Mr. Modi.

On sports, exchanges between Tanzania and India are rare, even in the field of cricket for which India is world renowned; yet this game has some really serious enthusiasts in Tanzania, including yours truly. We may, thus, see some forward movement in this area.

Natural resources and tourism will certainly be on the agenda as well. While the sharp fall of natural gas prices has afforded the Modi government some immediate respite on the energy angle, India’s lasting energy needs and requirements and import dependence remain unaltered.

Modi will commit India’s expertise to help develop Tanzania’s potentially-lucrative natural gas sector in order to secure future Tanzania gas exports. The two leaders may also reveal intensified efforts in joint research and development of solar and other clean energies. 

Modi’s visit will highlight the major strides the two countries have made in the health and medical sector. Tanzanians spend almost US$80 million each year on medical treatment in India and other foreign countries.

In recent times, India’s Apollo Hospitals group signed a memorandum of understanding with the Tanzanian ministry of Health and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) for a US$150 million specialty hospital project in Dar es Salaam. During this visit, it is expected that details of the project will be firmed up and a training component for boosting long-term healthcare capacity given a green light.

Tanzania can have a lot of optimism with India injecting “new energy” in the relationship and over the strategic areas benefiting from the visit. A “joint working group” is expected to be set up to consider processes that will allow collaboration.

Previous joint statements have at times seemed to lean toward the Indian agenda, resulting in little follow-up from Tanzania. However, with this visit, the Tanzania–India partnership is destined to a renewed beginning as both President Magufuli and Prime Minister Modi re-energize their respective country’s engagement with each other.

Finally, Modi’s visit will be a critical opportunity to reshape the silhouette of the partnership.

Paul Kibuuka is the Managing Partner of Isidora & Company Advocates. Email: paul.kibuuka@isidoralaw.co.tz Twitter: @isidoralaw

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