President's visit to Benin, Gambia & Guinea to boost African ties

New Delhi, July 25 (IANS) In a sign of the growing importance India attaches to Africa, President Ram Nath Kovind will embark next week on a seven-day (July 28 to August 3) visit to the western African countries of Benin, Gambia and Guinea, the first by an Indian head of state.

The three resource-rich nations are part of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Western Africa is among the fastest growing regions in the continent, accounting for 25 per cent of the African GDP.

The President's visit is "part of India's outreach to the African continent, and the growing focus on Africa," Vijay Thakur Singh, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said at a media briefing.

"Engagement with Africa is one of the priorities of India's foreign policy. We are looking at countries where high-level visits had not taken place, and identified the countries of ECOWAS for special focus, and they are members of the ECOSOC as well. India is working with these countries on developing programmes as per their priorities," she said and added India also looked to engage with these countries in trade and commerce.

In Benin, the President will hold delegation-level talks with his counterpart Patrice Talon. He will also address Benin's National Assembly in Porto-Novo and meet the Indian community and the persons of Indian origin (PIOs), who number around 1,500. They are mostly involved in trade and small businesses.

"Relations with Benin have been growing steadily. India is involved in trade, including private sector trade, capacity building, ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme, and development assistance programmes," Singh said.

The visit to the three countries "reiterates India's growing relations with the ECOWAS. Benin is an important country and one of the fastest growing in the region," she said.

In the second leg, Kovind will reach Gambia on July 30 and hold talks with his Gambian counterpart Adama Barrow. He will address in capital Banjul the National Assembly, developed with Indian line of credit, and also attend an event by the Indian community. He will also inaugurate an exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi and Khadi during the visit.

Gambia, on the Atlantic Ocean coast, is known for its bauxite reserves. India has provided $1.2 million aid for use of drones and early warning systems for the weather, besides ITEC and ICCR scholarships, she said.

In the final leg of the visit, President Kovind will visit Guinea and hold talks with Guinea President Alpha Conde and also attend an Indian community event there.

MoUs and agreements would be signed with all three countries during the visit, she said.

As part of its increasing engagement with the African continent, India is opening 18 new missions, of which seven will be in west Africa, highlighting the priority for the region.

Kovind's visit would be his fourth to Africa, Ashok Malik, Press Secretary to the President, said.

Pratap Chandra Sarangi, Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises/Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, and Dilip Ghosh (MP) will accompany the President.

--IANS

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