Festive season, so few want to fly to Africa with Kovind

But a number of MPs, contacted by Kovind's office, have opted out, preferring to celebrate festivals in their own constituencies

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Festive season, so few want to fly to Africa with Kovind
President Ram Nath Kovind


As President Ram Nath Kovind undertakes his first foreign tour, to East African countries of Djibouti and Ethiopia, from Tuesday, his office at the Rashtrapati Bhavan is struggling to cobble up a delegation to go with him.

Normally, the Presidential delegation includes a minister and a group of MPs. Unlike the hectic Prime Ministerial visits, those of the President and the Vice-President are largely ceremonial and protocol-oriented. MPs, officials and mediapersons become part of such delegations to take free foreign trips.

But a number of MPs, contacted by Kovind's office, have opted out, preferring to celebrate festivals in their own constituencies. The President's press secretary, Ashok Malik, confirmed that there have been difficulties in contacting some of the MPs as they are in their hometowns. He said the delegation is expected to be finalised by Saturday.

The President will follow Prime Minister Narendra Modi's practice of taking only a small team of mediapersons on board his special flight, unlike his predecessors, who used to have 30-odd journalists to accompany them on foreign visits.

This will also mean an end of the usual on-board press interaction by the President while on foreign tours, which used to be an opportunity for mediapersons to meet him in an informal setting.

Dr. Neena Malhotra, joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs and in-charge of East and South Africa Division, said Africa was chosen as the first destination for President Kovind's overseas visit to demonstrate importance attached to the continent by the current government.

She said Prime Minister Modi has declared Africa a priority for both foreign as well as economic policies. During the past three years, there have been 16 VVIP visits from India to African countries. India hosted some 50 heads of African countries during the India-Africa summit in 2015 in Delhi.

Former President Pranab Mukherjee visited the continent thrice, former Vice-President Hamid Ansari undertook seven visits as part of Modi's African outreach. PM Modi, himself visited Africa six times. Dr. Malhotra said, during the past three years, there is not a single country in Africa not visited by a central minister.

President Kvoind will be in Ethiopia during October 4-6 for a business event and an interaction with the Indian community. This is the first visit to Ethiopia by an Indian President in 45 years. The First Lady, wife of President Mulatu Teshome, has studied in India along with nine other ministers.

Ethiopia is also the largest recipient of concessions by India. Before reaching Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the President will visit Djibouti on October 3 and stay their overnight. The bilateral trade stood at US$284.54 million in 2016-17. India, within the rubric of South-South Cooperation, has extended lines of credit amounting to US $ 49.13 million to the government of Djibouti for construction of a cement plant.

The stopover at Djibouti is significant following China's new military base in the country. In Africa, as in other parts of the world, China has deployed substantive capital and is in the process of implementing infrastructure projects. India banks on historical connections with some countries, the English language, and the presence of diaspora constitutes important pillars to build robust engagements.

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