India and Kenya have had a warm and strong relationship for centuries. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s three-day visit to Kenya shows the importance of Kenya in Indian foreign policy. This was EAM’s first personal visit to an African country amid the Covid pandemic. The main purpose of the visit was to strengthen India’s relations not only with Kenya, but also with important East African countries on the continent. Kenya, along with India’s maritime neighbor, is also a major player in determining the geopolitics of the western Indian Ocean. Both countries serve on the United Nations Security Council and are also members of the Commonwealth. India has a longstanding relationship with the African Union, of which Kenya is an active member.
The most significant aspect of Kenya is the presence of a vibrant and vast Indian diaspora. Indian ancestry is currently around 80,000, including an estimated 20,000 Indian citizens in the country (MEA 2021). The role and contribution of the Indian diaspora was immense and could not be overlooked. On arrival in Nairobi, Jaishankar spoke virtually to the Indian diaspora. He co-chaired the third session of the Kenya-India Joint Commission meeting and also attended the inauguration of the renovated Mahatma Gandhi Library at the University of Nairobi, which was carried out with financial support from the Government of India.
In view of the travel restrictions due to Covid-19, both sides showed great interest in increasing bilateral activities online / offline, with aspects of common interest being clearly prioritized. After joint deliberations, calls were made to intensify joint efforts to combat the disease and to strengthen economic cooperation during and after the Covid-19 period. Care has also been taken to make vaccines and treatments affordable and accessible.
During the talks on the Indo-Pacific, both sides not only discussed the security situation in the Indo-Pacific and the Horn of Africa, but also expressed concern about the rise in terrorism in parts of Africa and Asia. They also agreed to develop cooperation for peace and security in the region. India also recognized Kenya’s “Big Four” agenda: i) manufacturing, ii) affordable housing, iii) general health, and iv) food security. These are the projects under the leadership of the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (Sibal 2021). It continues India’s help in building economic houses for Kenyans, expanding support by providing food security, expanding universal health care, and expanding manufacturing to 20 percent of GDP by 2022 (Sibal 2021). EAM emphasized that “India will continue to develop its partnership with these aspects in mind. Both sides reaffirmed their strong commitment to South-South cooperation. The two sides reviewed bilateral development cooperation and agreed to work together to enhance the partnership by exploring further opportunities in both the public and private sectors in health, environment, ICT, tourism, higher education, automotive, defense and security (Luthra 2021). ”India also offers Kenyans annual scholarships as part of capacity building development partnership projects.
Kenya is an important strategic partner for India. They are united by the presence of a significant Indian diaspora, the shared colonial heritage and their interest in the security and stability of the western Indian Ocean. During the visit, EAM presented blueprints for future cooperation in the face of competition from countries, particularly China and the United States.
Amid the strategic rivalry between the US, China, Russia and Japan for expansion of control in Africa, Jaishankar’s visit to Kenya marks the era of enhanced cooperation between the two nations. The visit ahead of the India-Africa Forum Summit IV this year is intended to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
The author is a PhD from the Center for African Studies, JNU, New Delhi.