The visit of the Senegalese Foreign Minister to India has helped consolidate the relations between the two countries and highlight issues relating to the African continent.
INDIA and Senegal have had close relations ever since the West African state gained independence from France in 1960. Hence the three-day visit of the Foreign Minister of Senegal, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, to India in the second week of September, could not have been less welcome. While in New Delhi, the Minister held wide-ranging discussions with top Indian officials on important bilateral issues and matters relating to the African continent.
Senegal is a key player in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and has generally been a tranquil state in a volatile region. Four years ago, the country went through a peaceful transition of power when the Socialist Party, which had ruled the country since it gained independence, accepted the outcome of the presidential election held in 2000. Since then, the country's President has been Abdoulaye Wade of the Senegalese Democratic Party, a veteran politician, who had run for the presidency on several occasions in the past and had been incarcerated for his political activities.
Since assuming the presidency, Wade has been very active on the diplomatic front, especially on issues relating to the African continent. Wade, along with leaders of countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, has been in the forefront of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a bold initiative that aims to bring about economic recovery through African-led reforms and good governance. Wade has been a prominent figure in the African Union (A.U.), which was formed two years ago as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). He has been forthright in his views on the Darfur crisis in western Sudan (where a conflict broke out between rebel groups and pro-government militia last year), demanding that Sudan act quickly to defuse the problem. Senegal is for sending African peace-keepers to the region at the earliest.
Senegal will soon be assuming the chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC has become an important international forum since its founding in the late 1960s. India had tried to be a member at the outset itself but was kept out owing to a variety of factors. Many diplomats are of the opinion that it was political ineptness that kept India out of the grouping. At the inaugural OIC meeting in Rabat, Morocco, in 1969, India first sent its Ambassador to the country to apply for observer status. The official was not a Muslim, which gave India-baiters an excuse to object to his presence. By the time the Indian government sent Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, then a senior Minister in the Central government, to Rabat, those opposed to India's admission had gained the upperhand.
Observers of the diplomatic scene point out that even a country like Gabon, where only 10 per cent of the population is Muslim, is a member of the OIC. Nigeria, another country, where the population is divided almost evenly among Muslims and Christians, is also an OIC member.
Diplomats point out that India, which is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, deserves to be a member of the OIC. This sentiment was echoed by the Senegalese Foreign Minister. "The issue of India not being a member of the OIC should be reconsidered, for its own strategic interests, especially at a time when Islam is under attack. We need help from all our friends," he told Frontline. Russia has already applied for observer status in the OIC. With a secular government in place in New Delhi now, there is a feeling among well-wishers of India in the Islamic world that it too should consider applying for observer status.
Gadio, an articulate diplomat who has a doctorate from an American University, said that his country gave great importance to strengthening bilateral relations with India. In the Indian capital, he met with senior Cabinet Ministers, including External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh. Gadio said that the Senegalese President is an economist by training whose goal is to make Africa self-sufficient and end its dependence on international aid and loans.
"He believes in building partnerships and wants Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy," he said. The Minister emphasised that India's experiences in fighting poverty and overcoming some of the problems of underdevelopment were very important examples for Senegal. The Minister said that the last two years had been extremely productive for India-Senegal relations. The Indian industry and investments have started moving into Senegal. Tata Motors has set up a vehicle production plant in Senegal and will be sharing its expertise and know-how with its Senegalese counterparts.
India and Senegal have initiated the "Team-9" project, involving seven other west and central African countries. Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea and Chad form the other seven members. The countries will be involved in multilateral projects, with India providing the funding up to the tune of half a billion dollars. "India is now fully into multilateralism and we in Senegal want to propose the holding of an annual Africa-India summit on the lines of the Franco-African summit," said Gadio.
The Minister described the unfolding events in Darfur as a "tragedy". He clarified that his government had stated at the A.U. meeting in Addis Ababa in the first week of July that the population of Darfur was in urgent need of assistance and that the activities of the "Janjaweed" militias had to be stopped and a political settlement of the crisis expedited. "We believe in the unity of Sudan and the integrity of its territory," he added. The Minister said that the A.U. had a Peace and Security Council to tackle issues happening on the African continent. He is of the opinion that the international community should resist the temptation of sending peace-keepers to the region as it would only "aggravate" the existing problem. "What we propose is to bring an African solution to an African crisis. The current Chairman of the A.U., President Olusegun Obasanjo, is trying his best," said the Minister.
The Senegalese Foreign Minister wants Khartoum to do more to facilitate the presence of A.U. troops and observers in Darfur so as to bring a speedy end to the tragedy there, which he termed as a detriment to the goals of NEPAD and the A.U. At the same time, Gadio readily admitted that the events in the "Great Lakes Region" (the area consisting of Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Congo) constitute a much bigger tragedy for the African continent than Darfur. "In Darfur, around one million people may have been displaced. In the Great Lakes region, an estimated three million people have lost their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo itself. Like Europe before 1945, we hope Africa is paying its last dues to history. Ten years down the road, we will be okay," Gadio said.
The Senegalese Foreign Minister is firmly of the view that the A.U. is doing a better job than its predecessor. "The leadership is different, the spirit is different. I personally have a lot of respect for the A.U. Commission President Alpha Konare's leadership. He is a committed pan-Africanist," said Gadio. Konare is a former President of Mali. Gadio, however, warns that there could be pitfalls for the A.U. as some people are still caught in "the mindset of the OAU, not aware that the African continent is moving towards political unity and more federalism". He said that African governments are trying their best to deal with the challenges of good governance. "Corruption is not an African monopoly. A corruption scandal of the Enron scale will never happen in Africa. Their budget was perhaps bigger than the whole of Africa. Corruption is a beast that we will have to control and eradicate."
The Minister was all praise for the Indian model of democracy. "Conceding defeat and accepting defeat should be gracefully done all over the world, as it is in India." He was also appreciative of the fact that the United Progressive Alliance government in India is sticking to the commitments made by the former government to NEPAD and the Team-9 project. "From the Indian example, African countries can realise that you can struggle for development, fight poverty and still democratise your politics," he said. He added that the people of Senegal were now fully aware of their right to "hire and fire" their leaders.