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India Seeks a Strategic Reset in Relations With Mozambique

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India Seeks a Strategic Reset in Relations With Mozambique

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar’s recent trip highlights India’s growing interests in the gas-rich, Western Indian Ocean littoral state.

India Seeks a Strategic Reset in Relations With Mozambique

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar (right) co-chaired the 5th India-Mozambique Joint Commission Meeting with Mozambique’s Foreign Minister Veronica Macamo on Apr. 14, 2023.

Credit: Twitter/ Dr. S. Jaishankar

Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Mozambique from April 13 to 15 came at a critical time. The global COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the ongoing Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique have impacted national, regional, and global interests. Jaishankar’s visit is therefore meant to advance bilateral relations between Mozambique, a Western Indian Ocean littoral state, and India in order to accelerate progress and promote prosperity amid a complex geosecurity environment plagued by both traditional and non-traditional security threats.

India’s engagement with Africa dates back several centuries, with deep-rooted civilizational and historical linkages. Today, India’s approach to the continent is guided by the Kampala Principles enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018, which are based on a shared vision of prosperity, and a universal quest for liberty, dignity, equality, and opportunity for all. This can be achieved through multifaceted Indo-African cooperation based on the constructive framework of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), which drawn upon the ancient ethos of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family), and resonates with the “humanist African philosophy” of “Ubuntu” (I am because you are). This recognition of “the oneness of the human race,” as South African leader Nelson Mandela once put it, clearly resonates in the current Indian government’s approach in engaging with like-minded friendly foreign countries.

Against that broader backdrop, Jaishankar paid his first visit to Mozambique. The trip emphasized how important the East African littoral state is for New Delhi’s energy strategy, as it is expected to become a major liquified natural gas (LNG) exporter due to the discovery of over 180 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas reserves in the Rovuma basin in the north of Mozambique. In recent years, India-Mozambique economic engagement has expanded significantly, driven by substantial investment (around $10.5 billion) in the natural gas and coal industries.

India is the biggest investor with a 30 percent participating interest (20 percent held by ONGC Videsh Ltd. and Oil India Ltd; 10 percent by BPRL) in Area 1 of the Rovuma Basin gas project. In addition, International Coal Ventures Private Ltd, a consortium of five Indian public sector undertakings (PSUs) acquired a 65 percent stake in the assets sold by Rio Tinto group. Also, there are several other Indian companies with a presence in the coal mining sector of Mozambique, which include JSPL, JSW, Coal India Ltd, Tata Steel, Essar, Midwest Africa, Sunflag Group, etc. Jindal Group’s fully-owned subsidiary Vulcan acquired the Moatize coal mining asset and the 920-km Nacala Logistical Corridor from Brazilian mining giant Vale in December 2021. The coking coal coming from these mines today supports a significant proportion of the steel industry in India.

However, the ongoing conflict since 2017 in the northern region of Mozambique is undermining Indian interests in more ways than anticipated.

This high-level visit comes at a time when the current security, economic, and geopolitical dynamics are shaping Mozambique’s priorities and future actions. Despite the positive trends as a result of massive investments in the mining and energy sector, the country continues to witness the severe economic shocks created by the adverse impact of climate change, natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, and terrorism. The lack of capacity and capability to address these challenges has created the space for a more focused and responsive engagement between India and Mozambique.

Jaishankar’s trip demonstrates the constructive partnership India has with Mozambique in building capacity and developing mutual capabilities to face the challenges that the complex geopolitical and security environment projects. India’s involvement in the development of Mozambique’s rail and road infrastructure, health sector, and mining and energy sector defines the robust engagement New Delhi has with Maputo.

Recent constructive engagements have positively influenced and shaped a favorable outlook in the minds of the people of Mozambique toward India. Most notably, on December 25, 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic under the Mission SAGAR initiative the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kesari delivered 500 tons of food aid. Further, in solidarity with India’s extended maritime neighborhood, New Delhi was the first responder in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) following Cyclone Idai’s destructive impact in Mozambique. INS Sujata along with ICGS Sarathi and INS Shardul reached Mozambique on March 19. 2019 to provide necessary support to the local administration. India has also provided Mozambique with Indian-made COVID-19 vaccines and other critical medicines under its Vaccine Maitri initiative.

Jaishankar’s visit outlines the wide spectrum of engagement New Delhi has with Mozambique, with defense and security as crucial topics. India has been at the forefront of the global fight in combating terrorism, and in this context, India has always been committed to supporting the capacity-building and capability-enhancement efforts of the Armed Forces of Mozambique. To this end, India has gifted four fast interceptor crafts and other self-defense equipment to Mozambique.

Jaishankar, summarizing his visit, said, “Like many of our partners in the [Global] South, Mozambique too faces similar challenges. The challenges of climate change of course are one. But they are also a country that is busy combating terrorism, especially in the north, and Indian security assistance has been very effective there. We have provided four fast interceptor crafts, which actually bear the brunt of the workload in terms of the offshore and littoral security operations that have been taking place over the last few years. [We have] not just given the craft, but the fact that we are helping to maintain them and ensure their high rate of utility, I think, is also something that is worth recognizing.”

He also emphasized that “our defense ties have also taken giant strides in the past few years and we are again cooperating very effectively, especially when it comes to dealing with the challenges of terrorism.”

India has a high stake in not only maintaining peace and security in Mozambique but also growing and progressing together under South-South solidarity. This was evident in the fact that during Jaishankar’s visit, he was accompanied by senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs; the head of India’s Working Group dealing with defense and security matters; and two very important heads of enterprises dealing with energy and with railways, which are core areas of New Delhi and Maputo’s cooperation. With Mozambique sitting right at the center of India’s “gas-based economy” strategy, investment and business opportunities will likely grow, to the benefit of both India and Mozambique (and, of course, the region).

India’s broader lens of constructive engagement puts a premium on harmonizing relations through collective efforts to address the present and emerging threats to security and stability in the wider Indian Ocean region. This is India’s commitment and vision to tackle the emerging threats and challenges that the global community faces and can be addressed through an holistic approach as outlined by Modi in his dynamic “5S” vision. Therefore, this visit by Jaishankar highlights the great potential the two extended maritime neighbors have for expanding the mutually beneficial constructive engagement to cultivate an environment that is conducive to the expansion of ties in a wide spectrum of areas.