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Horn of Africa: geopolitical significance & why India should care more [Mains Article]

India is somewhat late in joining the scramble for political influence in this critical corner of the Indian Ocean. The President’s visit will hopefully lay the foundations for a comprehensive engagement with Djibouti and the Horn of Africa.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
October 20, 2017

Contents

  • What is Horn of Africa?
  • Historical Connections with India
  • India’s role in Horn of Africa in Post-Cold Period
  • Indian Navy Anti-Piracy Operations
  • Problems of prosecution of pirates
  • China’s role in Africa
  • India’s concern over China’s presence
  • Horn of Africa and other international powers
  • Way Ahead

Horn of Africa: geopolitical significance & why India should care more [Mains Article]

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GS (M) Paper-2: “Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests”
GS (M) Paper-3: “Security challenges”

 

What is Horn of Africa?

  • The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in Northeast Africa.
  • It juts hundreds of kilometres into the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, lying along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden.
  • The area is the easternmost projection of the African continent.
  • The Horn of Africa denotes the region containing the countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.
  • The area has experienced imperialism, neo-colonialism, Cold War, ethnic strife, intra-African conflict, poverty, disease, famine and much else.

Horn of Africa iastoppers

Historical Connections with India

  • In pre-independence era, Britain saw the protection of sea lines of communication and controlling the choke points, and maintaining access to major islands of the Indian Ocean as central to India’s security and economic prosperity.
  • Independent India adopted military isolationism and replaced its inherited regional security role with non-alignment. As a result, India’s influence on the ground diminished.
  • However, things began to change in the 1990s as India turned to economic globalisation.

India’s role in Horn of Africa in Post-Cold Period

  • India’s growing commerce resulted in intensifying India’s focus on Africa as a major economic partner.
  • More broadly, the new reliance on the sea lines of communication for India’s economic growth saw the rejuvenation of India’s maritime sensibility.
  • By the turn of the new century, Delhi declared that its national interests were no longer limited to the Subcontinent but stretched from the “Aden to Malacca” in the Indian Ocean.
  • At the Africa summit in Delhi during 2015, most participating leaders wanted an expansion of security and defence cooperation with India.

Indian Navy Anti-Piracy Operations

  • Indian Navy warships patrol the Gulf of Aden and quietly provide escort and security assistance to not only Indian but also foreign merchant vessels.
  • About 1,350 ships belonging to different countries have availed themselves of this facility so far.
  • During the first fortnight of September 2010 alone, INS Delhi scored success on four separate occasions to foil attacks by pirates. In all, 22 piracy attempts have been averted by the Navy.

Indian Navy Anti-Piracy Operations iastoppers

Problems of prosecution of pirates

  • It is worth noting that a considerable degree of consultation, coordination and cooperation in capacity building in anti-piracy operations has been taking place. However, there is a problem about what to do with the pirates apprehended on the high seas as Indian laws do not permit their prosecution by our courts.

China’s role in Africa

  • Beijing’s infrastructure development in the Horn preceded the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative by President Xi Jinping. But it has acquired an unprecedented momentum in recent years.
  • One of the more visible infrastructure projects in the region has been the 750 km-long rail link between landlocked Ethiopia and Djibouti.
  • China’s geopolitical interest in the Horn has come into sharp focus over the last decade with the regular deployment of naval units to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Although piracy has now come down significantly, China is raising its strategic profile in the region.
  • Under an accord signed last year, Beijing has secured the rights to a base in Djibouti that can host up to 10,000 soldiers until 2026.
  • This is the first ever foreign military base for China. But Beijing is not the only one that has bases in the region. France, which ruled Djibouti during the colonial era, has the largest concentration of its foreign troops in the country.

India’s concern over China’s presence

  • Situated on the north-western edge of the Indian Ocean, Djibouti could become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
  • China has stepped up activity in the Indian Ocean, which New Delhi considers within its sphere of influence, in recent days, citing anti-piracy patrols and freedom of navigation. It has forced the Indian Navy to tighten surveillance of the strategic waters.
  • The Indian Ocean shipping lanes carry 80% of the world’s oil and a third of the global bulk cargo. China is looking to secure its energy and trade transportation links along the vital shipping route.
  • The Indian Ocean is also emerging as the playground for countries eyeing a bigger role in world affairs. China is looking to generate goodwill and influence in the Indian Ocean countries by investing in projects such ports, roads and railways.
  • China is looking to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean, and is building ports and other infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  • The Indian Ocean figures prominently in President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative to build a new Silk Route. India has kept away from OBOR as its centrepiece.

Horn of Africa and other international powers

  • Many regional powers are now trying to shape the strategic landscape of the Horn through military bases and armed interventions.
  • Djibouti, for example, is reported to host military facilities of Saudi Arabia and Qatar; Eritrea has bases for UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar; UAE and Turkey have facilities in different regions of Somalia.
  • After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Washington established its largest permanent base in Djibouti called Camp Lemonnier, which houses at least 4,000 military personnel.
  • Foreign military presence in Djibouti is not limited to the Western powers. From the east, Japan in 2011 acquired a facility to support its anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

Way Ahead

Horn of Africa: geopolitical significance India

  • India does not have an embassy in Djibouti. Recently, the Indian president’s visit suggests Delhi is now ready to end its prolonged neglect of Djibouti and re-engage the region strategically.
  • The emphasis here is indeed on “re-engagement”, for modern India has a long tradition of critical involvement in the Horn.
  • India is somewhat late in joining the scramble for political influence in this critical corner of the Indian Ocean. The President’s visit will hopefully lay the foundations for a comprehensive engagement with Djibouti and the Horn of Africa.
[Ref: Indian Express, The Hindu, HT]

 

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