In an historic first, Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Nigeria for three days, from Jan. 21-23, immediately following his attendance at the Non-Aligned Summit in Uganda last week. As if to make up for lost time, Jaishankar conducted a vigorous schedule, including chairing a regional conference of Indian Ambassadors in West Africa; addressing three bilateral business forum meetings, delivering a lecture at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), in Lagos; and finally, co-chairing the 6th Joint Commission Meeting between India and Nigeria, in Abuja. It is notable that nothing of this sort was done for Blinken, who was also in Nigeria this same weekend.
While Jaishankar—a career diplomat, with service to Russia from 1979-1981; India’s longest-serving ambassador to China, 2009-2013; and then the U.S., from 2013-2015—did not announce a specific program such as China’s BRI, he came armed with a weapon possibly even stronger: the secrets of how India was overcoming a century of struggle against a shared colonial oppressor. As he told the Nigeria-India Business Council (NIBC), “we have a shared past, not always a happy history, not between us, but between us and some other people.”
Jaishankar was perhaps most expansive on this shared “anti-colonial, now anti-globalism” history when he addressed the intellectuals at the NIIA think tank. Taking a straight shot at the unilateralist world, he said, “democratic is not just political democratic. It is not just the rights of different nations. Democratic also means every region, sometimes every large country, must have within its own grasp, the basics of its production, so that it is economically and socially secure.” He recalled the still-fresh memory of the Covid-19 epidemic, and reminded everyone that, “[India was] still vaccinating [its own] people when we started supplying vaccines to 100 countries in the world. And I compare it to Global North, where there were countries sitting on vaccines eight times the number of their population, and they wouldn’t give it to a small island next to them.”
Jaishankar further detailed the success his country has had in overcoming the scourge of globalism, which he said had been “weaponized” against the Global South. In addition to the success of vaccine production, he emphasized India’s recent victories in space, “a domain which holds so much possibilities for development.” Not only “outer” space, he said, but also the “inner” space of drone technology, which has “tremendous implications for our daily life,” far beyond surveillance and terror.
As Jaishankar told the business/investors at the NIBC, his fundamental message was that “Africa is rising, and India is betting on Africa’s rise. We are betting on Africa’s rise because, by any objective assessment, today there is so much growing for Africa in terms of demography, in terms of resources, in terms of ambition, in terms of, increasingly, policy alignments. That clearly [offers a] potent, a very different, much more positive future in the very short term.”
Jaishankar’s full speeches can be found on the somewhat finicky MEA website: https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?50/Speeches__amp;_Statements