India and Kenya have nurtured a warm and strong relationship through ages. External Affair Minister S. Jaishankar’s three day visit to Kenya is testimonial to the importance of Kenya in India’s foreign policy. This was the first in-person visit of EAM to an African country amid the Covid pandemic. The visit was primarily to strengthen India’s relations with not only Kenya but major East African countries on the continent. Kenya along with India’s maritime neighbour, is also a significant stakeholder in determining the geopolitics of the Western Indian Ocean. Both the countries serve in the United Nation Security Council and are also members of the Commonwealth. India has a long established connection with the African Union of which Kenya is an active member.
The most significant aspect of Kenya is the presence of a vibrant and huge Indian Diaspora. The Indian origin presently numbers around 80,000, including an estimated 20,000 Indian citizens in the country (MEA 2021). The role and contribution of the Indian diaspora has been immense and cannot be overlooked. On arriving in Nairobi Jaishankar addressed and interacted virtually with the Indian diaspora. He co-chaired the third session of Kenya-India Joint Commission Meeting and also participated in the inauguration of the renovated Mahatma Gandhi library in University of Nairobi, done with the financial support from the Indian government.
In light of the travel restrictions due to Covid-19, both sides showed keen interest in increasing bilateral activities online/offline with a clear priority on aspects of mutual interest. Post joint deliberations, a call was made to enhance joint efforts to combat the disease and to strengthen economic collaboration during and after the Covid-19 period. Affordability and accessibility of vaccines and treatment was equally emphasised.
While discussing the Indo-Pacific, the two sides not only discussed the security situation in the Indo-pacific region and the Horn of Africa, but also expressed their concern over the rise of terrorism in parts of Africa and Asia. They further agreed to expand cooperation for peace and security in the region. India also recognised the big four agenda of Kenya: i) manufacturing, ii) affordable housing, iii) universal health, and iv) food security. These are the projects led by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (Sibal 2021). It further elaborates India’s assistance in building economical homes for Kenyans, extending support by providing food security, expanding universal health coverage and amplifying the manufacturing sector to 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product by year 2022 (Sibal 2021). EAM underlined that “India will further build upon its partnership taking these into account. Both sides reiterated their strong commitment to South-South Cooperation. The two sides reviewed bilateral development cooperation and agreed to work together to enhance partnership through exploring further opportunities both in the government and private sector in the areas of Health, Environment, ICT, Tourism, Higher Education, Automotive, Defence and Security (Luthra 2021).”As a part of capacity building development partnership projects, India has also been offering annual scholarships to Kenyans.
Kenya is a key strategic partner for India. The presence of a significant Indian Diaspora, shared colonial legacy, and their interest in the security and stability of the Western Indian Ocean binds them together. During the visit EAM laid out blueprints for future cooperation, in the face of competition from countries especially China and the United States.
In the midst of the strategic rivalry among the United States, China, Russia and Japan to expand control in Africa, Jaishankar’s visit to Kenya, marks the era of enhancing cooperation between the two nations. The visit ahead of the India- Africa Forum Summit–IV this year is expected to boost bilateral relations between the two countries.
The author is a Doctorate from Centre for African Studies, JNU, New Delhi.