In Uganda, PM Narendra Modi pitches India as a benign alternative to China

He however made no reference, direct or indirect, to China and left it to subtext.

In Uganda, PM Narendra Modi pitches India as a benign alternative to China
PM Modi addressing the Parliament of Uganda, as Uganda President Yoweri Museveni (in the background) listens. (Picture: MEA)

KAMPALA, UGANDA: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on became the first India PM to address the Parliament of Uganda. But his audience was not just the Ugandan government - he addressed Africa as a whole. And in this address, he offered a vision of cooperation that placed India as the only viable alternative to growing Chinese engagement on the continent.

He did not name China even once, and did not even refer to it indirectly. But the subtext was clear in the sense that whatever he promised India would or wouldn't do was at easily understandable contrast to the kinds of behaviour that China has been faulted for as it seeks to expand its footprint across Africa.

For instance, PM Modi said India's growing role in Africa would be predicated on the priorities of Africans, not Indians. The terms, he said, would be those that African nations would find comfortable. He even assured that Indian projects in Africa would use African labour and not an imported workforce. He also underlined the need for freedom of navigation in the seas, specifically mentioning the eastern Indian Ocean region. Not direct, but the stress was clear - India is not China.

Here are the 10 principles PM Modi said would guide India's engagement in Africa:

"One, Africa will be at the top of our priorities. We will continue to intensify and deepen our engagement with Africa. As we have shown, it will be sustained and regular.

Two, our development partnership will be guided by your priorities. It will be on terms that will be comfortable for you, that will liberate your potential and not constrain your future. We will rely on African talent and skills. We will build as much local capacity and create as many local opportunities as possible. 

Three, we will keep our markets open and make it easier and more attractive to trade with India. We will support our industry to invest in Africa.

Four, we will harness India's experience with digital revolution to support Africa's development; improve delivery of public services; extend education and health; spread digital literacy; expand financial inclusion; and mainstream the marginalised.

This will not just be our partnership to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but also to equip the youth of Africa for their place in the digital age.

Five, Africa has 60 per cent of the world's arable land, but produces just 10 per cent of the global output. We will work with you to improve Africa's agriculture.

Six, our partnership will address the challenges of climate change. We will work with Africa to ensure a just international climate order; to preserve our biodiversity; and, adopt clean and efficient energy sources.

Seven, we will strengthen our cooperation and mutual capabilities in combating terrorism and extremism; keeping our cyberspace safe and secure; and, supporting the UN in advancing and keeping peace;.

Eight, we will work with African nations to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. The world needs cooperation and not competition in the eastern shores of Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean. That is why India's vision of Indian Ocean Security is cooperative and inclusive, rooted in security and growth for all in the region.

Nine, and, this is especially important to me: as global engagement in Africa increases, we must all work together to ensure that Africa does not once again turn into a theatre of rival ambitions, but becomes a nursery for the aspirations of Africa's youth.

Ten, Just as India and Africa fought colonial rule together, we will work together for a just, representative and democratic global order that has a voice and a role for one-third of humanity that lives in Africa and India. India's own quest for reforms in the global institutions is incomplete without an equal place for Africa. That will be a key purpose of our foreign policy."

Modi's speech to the Ugandan Parliament came just before he left for South Africa's Johannesburg to take part in the BRICS Summit. He is expected to hold a bilateral meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS meet.