With Tharoor’s resignation, Africa loses an ardent friend

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS,

New Delhi : With the resignation of Shashi Tharoor as minister of state for external affairs, India’s Africa policy has lost an ardent advocate who was an eloquent supporter of the country’s renewed engagement with the 54-nation African continent.

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Tharoor, a former United Nations diplomat, stepped down Sunday night ending a weeklong political drama surrounding a controversial financial deal into the Indian Premier League involving his Dubai-based friend Sunanda Pushkar.

Since taking over as junior minister at foreign affairs in June 2009, the African continent saw frequent stops by Tharoor, who also kept in close touch with the African diplomatic corps in Delhi and had good equations with several African leaders from his previous UN assignment.

His last trip to Africa was in January this year, when he visited Mozambique in East Africa to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Armando Emilio Guebuza. After a quick trip to Central America and quake-hit Haiti, Tharoor also participated in the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

He inaugurated the telemedicine facility at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia, as part of the India-initiated Pan African e-network.

In his last speech on Africa at the India-Africa conclave in March, Tharoor said that India’s model of cooperation was to seek “mutual benefit through a consultative process”.

“We do not wish to go and demand certain rights or projects in Africa, but we do want to contribute to the achievement of Africa’s development objectives as they have been set by our African partners,” he said in a well-applauded speech before African foreign ministers and envoys at the Taj Palace Hotel.

This was the message that he carried in his travels across the African continent, where he visited four countries in three consecutive months of 2009.

In September 2009, he wound up a successful visit to two West African countries of Liberia and Ghana.

At the end of a three-day historic visit to Monrovia, the first by an Indian minister in 38 years, Tharoor offered help to Liberia in capacity building, training, trade, investment and IT. He was accompanied by a 13-member business delegation.

Tharoor also visited the Indian contingent of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which includes the first Indian Female Formed Police Unit.

In Accra, Tharoor met with President John Evans Atta Mills, who sought greater investment by Indian companies in agriculture, railways and the energy sector.

The following month of October, he went to Benin to co-chair the first meeting of the bilateral joint commission.

In November, Tharoor again returned to Africa to visit the island nation of Mauritius, where he was the chief guest at the celebrations to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the indentured labourers from India in Mauritius.

Tharoor had complained that journalists never wanted to know about his primary work of increasing India’s engagement with Africa but always sought to dwell on the trivial and controversial, ignoring a vital dimension of India’s foreign policy.

(Devirupa Mitra can be contacted at [email protected])