Gambia: Visit of Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs on relations between Gambia and India
MV. Muraleedharan, India’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, who was on a state visit to The Gambia, spoke to The Point about bilateral relations between The Gambia and India.
He also spoke about the purpose of his visit, education, climate change, trade and agriculture, among others.
Below, the full text of the exclusive interview:
Thanks to MV Muraleedharan, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs. Welcome to The Gambia.
Le Point: Could you please tell us the purpose of your visit to The Gambia?
Muraleedharan: The purpose of my visit is to maintain the momentum in the exchange of high-level bilateral visits and to continue working to deepen and expand bilateral relations. You will recall that in July-August 2019, the Honorable President of India, Mr. Ram Nath Kovind, paid the very first State visit to The Gambia. Earlier in March 2019, Gambian Foreign Minister Dr Tangara visited India as part of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Gambia High Commission in New Delhi. The purpose of my present visit is to review the progress made on various action points emanating from our President’s historic visit to The Gambia and to take our relationship to the next level.
Le Point: Relations between India and Gambia are strengthening, what can the two countries do to strengthen these bilateral relations at a particular level?
Muraleedharan: India and The Gambia share warm, cordial and friendly relations. We work closely together in the multilateral arena. On the occasion of the celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday, the President of The Gambia, HE Adama Barrow, wrote an article on “What Gandhi Means to Me” for the Gandhi Anthology.
India has provided eight lines of credit for various development projects in The Gambia, including the construction of the National Assembly building in Banjul; supply of agricultural tools; electrification of the Greater Banjul region; etc. In the area of capacity building, a large number of diplomats and senior officials have been trained in India under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program.
We are working closely in the health sector and India has provided a large amount of medicine to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
In terms of the way forward, through our deliberations, we will not only consolidate existing collaboration, but seek new avenues. I see potential in all areas of our collaboration, including politics, defense and security, trade and economics, partnership for development and people-to-people relationships. I notice several sectors that have potential such as agricultural equipment and tools, electrical and mechanical machinery, agri-food, energy, solar, oil and gas, electronic governance, fintech, intelligent transport and telecommunications, etc.
The point: Data on the volume of trade between the two countries has been encouraging of late given the size of The Gambia – is there any hope for improvement in this area?
Muraleedharan: There is always room. India’s duty-free tariff preference regime could be put to good use by Gambian exporters, given that tariffs are zero or marginal applicable to almost 99% percent of items exported to India. . It is important to have regular visits of business delegations from both sides to participate in seminars, trade fairs and exhibitions, etc.
With the pandemic receding and the global economy rebounding, we are optimistic that the volume of trade both globally and between the two countries will increase significantly.
Update: India being one of the fastest developing countries in the world and the fact that the pace of development of the country is unprecedented, what can Africa learn, the Gambia in particular from India at this respect ?
Muraleedharan: The growth, prosperity and development of a nation is a collective effort of all citizens. Africa, blessed with its vast natural resources and a young population, is expected to be the engine of global economic growth in the future. We are sharing our successes and achievements with our partner countries so that our partner countries in Africa, including The Gambia, can have similar success stories of growth. One example is our use of ICTs to bring development benefits and government programs to the doorstep of everyone in the country, including the most remote corners and inaccessible lands. Our mantra, as Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi succinctly puts it, is “with all, for the development of all, with the confidence and efforts of all”.
The point: The cotton industry in The Gambia was once very productive. Is there a way in which the two countries can cooperate to ensure that The Gambia resurrects this industry to improve the creation of more jobs for young people in the industry?
Muraleedharan: Our training programs, information sharing and skills upgrading are available to relevant experts in The Gambia. We will be happy to share our experience if The Gambia finds it beneficial. India would be happy to consider any proposal to help revive the Gambian cotton industry in terms of technical assistance for cotton production and processing.
Le Point: How about the tourism sector! Can the two countries progress in the tourism sector?
Muraleedharan: Tourism is an important pillar of our economies. We would certainly encourage tourist flows in both directions, as travel is getting easier with the increase in Covid-19 vaccination. We also need to collaborate in the hospitality industry, including through online tours, training sessions and experience sharing with a view to improving the productivity and incomes of those who work in this sector.
Moreover, India offers world-class quality medical facilities, with state-of-the-art hospitals and the best medical experts at an affordable cost. Moreover, the availability of Ayurveda and Naturopathy in the purest form makes India the most sought after health tourism destination. So I suggest that Gambian nationals can take advantage of India’s health tourism facilities as India has relaxed COVID related restrictions for travel to India.
The point: When it comes to education, India offers scholarships to so many Gambians every year. In the future, could we anticipate more scholarships for Gambians than today?
Muraleedharan: Both in absolute terms and particularly on a per capita basis, our scholarship slots are very high for The Gambia, as measured by strong bilateral relations.
India ranks among the top five destinations for African students for higher education and around 25,000 African students are currently studying in India. The “Study in India” program which offers a large number of places in the main institutes on a self-financing basis as well as merit scholarships. We have received an unprecedented number of approvals for Gambian students during the current academic year under this program and I see huge potential. Online or distance learning is the way to go. As part of the e-Vidya Bharati (Tele-education) network project, the Indian government announced 15,000 scholarships for students and professionals in Africa to take courses offered by major Indian institutions in emerging fields . I am happy to see that a large number of Gambian students are taking advantage of this facility. And of course India will continue to offer fully funded ICCR scholarships to Gambian students. Overall, the number of Gambians studying in India is increasing rapidly and I suspect this upward trend will continue in the times to come.
The point: On climate change, given that India is advancing technologically, has the country made a global commitment to reduce emissions as part of its global commitment?
Muraleedharan: India is at the forefront of its climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. The Indian government is continuously increasing the share of renewables in its energy mix and at COP26, PM Modi announced that India will meet 50% of its energy needs from renewables by 2030. PM also announced India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy to less than 45% and by 2070 India will meet the Net Zero target.
India is running the world’s largest clean energy program to reach 175 GW of renewable capacity (including 100 GW of solar power) by 2022 and 500 GW by 2030. In 2020, India was the 3rd largest producer of renewable energy in the world with 38% (136 GW out of 373 GW) of the total installed renewable energy capacity. As part of its commitment to climate change mitigation, India has spearheaded the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which is now an alliance of 121 countries, including The Gambia.
Le Point: Finally, India and Gambia having both been members of the Commonwealth, are there any plans for India to finally open a high commission (embassy) in The Gambia?
Muraleedharan: Our Embassy in Dakar and the Gambia High Commission in New Delhi work closely together to ensure the overall development of bilateral relations. Having said that, we would certainly like to open a resident Indian mission in Banjul in due course.