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Egypt, India’s Africa pivot

Gateway House (GH): How does Egypt, as chair of the African Union (AU), view the AU’s role in influencing democratic transition in its member states at a time of political turbulence in the region?

Dr Heba Salaheldin Elmarassi (HSE): Egypt is keen to achieve peace, security, and political stability in all the African countries because these factors are essential enablers of any economic development and regional integration in Africa. Egypt supports the principle of ‘African solutions to African problems’ without any external interventions from any country. Egypt is also actively implementing the African initiative, ‘Silence the Guns’, by the year 2020. These are the only ways to deal with the common security challenges we face as Africa is better able to understand these complicated political disputes and their circumstances.

Enhancing African peace and security sustainably is a strategic goal for our continent and for Egypt during its chairmanship of the AU in 2019. Mediation and preventive diplomacy are still top priorities on the AU’s agenda. But this apart, Egypt will: a) increase coordination between the mechanisms of peace and security to integrate without disruption the early and active response to various crises; b) focus on conflict and dispute settlement in different regions of the continent; and c) reinforce African mechanisms for post-conflict reconstruction and development. In this context, it will host the African Union Centre for Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development (AUPCRD).

GH: Terrorism has spread to East Africa, the Sahel and West Africa too. What is AU’s response to U.S. military scale-back in the region? Also, India-Egypt security cooperation has increased. How can India contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in Africa in light of the challenges posed by terrorism?

HSE: Egypt has been contributing to combating terrorism and extremism in the region (West Asia and West and East Africa) through institutional bodies and effective tools, such as the Cairo International Centre for Conflict Resolution, Peace-Keeping and Peace Building (CCCPA) and the Regional Centre for Combating Terrorism for the Sahel-Saharan Community (CEN-SAD).

Egypt is looking forward to India’s role in strengthening the AU’s efforts to activate the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and deepening cooperation and engagement with the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs). I would like to point out the importance of the first AFINDEX, organised by the Indian government in March at the Aundh Military Station, Pune, which provided training on peace-keeping operations (PKO) to 17 participating African countries. We encourage the Indian government to intensify such training courses for African countries.

Egypt and India are among the top 10 countries that contribute to PKO in the United Nations. We are looking forward to deepening cooperation with India in conflict resolution and conflict prevention in Africa by building African capacity in peace-keeping through the CCCPA and its Indian counterpart, the Centre for United Nations Peace Keeping (CUNPK). We are also ready to cooperate with several African centres, such as the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa, the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Ghana, National Defense College (NDC) in Nigeria, and the Peace Support Training Centre (PSTC) in Kenya.

GH: With Chinese financial institutions disbursing credit, Chinese companies have become major stakeholders in infrastructure development across the African continent. Is this in anticipation of the upcoming second Belt and Road Forum? Also, what is your assessment of China as a development partner for the AU and its member countries?

HSE: Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi will be participating in the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing from April 25 to 27: Egypt is also participating in it as president of the AU to explore the BRI’s potential to benefit the AU.

Egypt believes in the importance of integrating the various developmental initiatives of all the partners, including India, to implement development and modernisation for ‘Agenda 2063’, whose aim is to achieve a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. (Such development also has to be) people-driven, rely on the potential of the African people, and respect the sovereignty and capabilities of its states.

On a bilateral level, Egypt aims to enhance cooperation with China in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to help it achieve the goals of ‘Egypt Vision 2030’ by adhering to the principles of sustainable development to improve the quality of life of the Egyptian people and protect the rights of new generations in leading a prosperous life.

The BRI is complementary to Egypt’s development efforts to attract more investments and build new megaprojects across the country, including the Suez Canal Corridor and logistic industrial zones.

GH: Egypt’s ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) along with 21 other nations suggests that African countries want to facilitate intra-African trade as high logistics costs inhibit intra-continental trade. How can Egypt, as head of the AU, boost Egypt’s trade with African countries and its FDI across the continent? Also, how can Egypt facilitate the integration of North Africa, which has been elusive so far?

HSE: Egypt is keen to achieve regional economic integration in the African continent by expediting the implementation of the CFTA.

North Africa is an integral part of Africa. It shares the same challenges, vision and aspirations of the other African regions. Notwithstanding the challenges some of its countries face, the region has: a) a privileged geographical location at the crossroads of Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia; b) accessibility to several markets in Europe, the United States, the Arab world and Africa through preferential trade agreements with those regions; c) a young and increasingly educated population; and d) great potential in sectors such as renewable energy, manufacturing, IT, tourism and business development services. Over the past decades, North African countries have witnessed high economic growth rates. They also have a great abundance of natural resources, such as oil, gas, phosphate and others.

Indian exporters can avail of a wide range of opportunities in the African continent by taking Egypt as a hub for Africa and benefiting from the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement, which brought together the markets common to the Regional Economic Communities of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Commission (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This created the biggest free trade market between 26 African countries and a total of 625 million consumers. These agreements require only 35% Egyptian value addition to the exports – India can put in up to 65% — which will have a positive impact on Indian exports to Egypt and Africa. Egypt too can be a hub for Indian products, seeking Arab and EU markets, as per the free trade agreements between Egypt and both the other sides.

GH: ‘Agenda 2063’ envisions at least a 50% increase in power generation from Regional Power Pools (RPPs). How can India and Egypt best cooperate under the framework of the International Solar Alliance (ISA)? Both have immense untapped potential in solar power to boost power generation from RPPs in both grid-connected and off-grid regions?

HSE: Egypt has endorsed ‘Agenda 2063’, which is a master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future. It knows the importance of intensifying scientific cooperation between African countries to avail of the natural resources of the continent and diversify energy sources by supporting renewable and clean energy projects.

The Egyptian parliament’s ratification of the Framework Agreement of the ISA in January 2019 is an important step in the implementation of the national strategy for energy diversification for sustainable energy supply.

There are vast investment opportunities for Indian companies in the field of solar energy. Egypt has a key role in regional and global energy markets because of its geographical proximity and strategic location. It can become a regional electricity inter-connection hub by establishing electricity connections with neighbouring countries, including Jordan, Sudan and Libya, supplementing ongoing electricity connection projects with Saudi Arabia, Cyprus and Greece. Egypt recently inaugurated the Benban Solar Complex in the city of Aswan, southern Egypt, consisting of 200,000 solar panels and 780 sun trackers.

Africa’s potential in the field of solar energy can attract Indian investments, particularly those seeking to supply electricity in off-grid regions. Most African countries lie in the solar belt, which is most convenient for solar energy applications.

GH: AU’s theme for the year is ‘the year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons’: what plans does Egypt have as AU chair in developing programmes? How can Egypt’s experience as a destination for refugees, etc help other African countries in policy formulation in this regard?

HSE: Egypt has been host to almost 5 million refugees and asylum-seekers from over 58 different Arab and African countries, those forced to leave home due to: conflict, terrorism, climate change, severe poverty, water scarcity and drought. The effects of these crises are obvious in Africa as the number of refugees is about 8 million, 90% of whom are refugees from within the continent. The number of displaced persons is about 18 million.

Egypt is adopting a developmental approach, which includes mega continental and regional projects, to provide job opportunities. It is devising innovative rehabilitation programmes for displaced persons and a medium-term development plan that will create integrated and attractive economic zones throughout the continent to employ the African workforce and keep them in their motherland.

Our effort is also to integrate existing refugees with the Egyptian people since there are no refugee camps in Egypt. Refugees are living in an urban setting among Egyptian communities across the country. Egypt represents a model as far as the social inclusiveness dimension is concerned as most refugees are sharing public services, such as access to education, healthcare, resources and the privileges that local citizens have.

Heba Salaheldin Elmarassai is the Ambassador of Arab Republic of Egypt to India

This interview was exclusively conducted for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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