South-South Solidarity

by | Jul 1, 2022

It was during the phase of expanding the Pan-Africa e-Network platform, created under a project of the Government of India that, in 2011, I landed up in Rwanda, a beautiful country with a cool climate and scenic, hilly terrain. Rwanda, due to its geographic location on the continent, is called Africa’s heart. There was a flight from Nairobi in Kenya to Kigali, hopping over the small Bujumbura airport in Burundi. It was here that I met Colonel Ben Karenzi, a medical doctor, and Commandant of the Rwandan Army Hospital. He gave me a PowerPoint presentation on the proposed Super Specialty Hospital for Military, with 3D drawings. This was new to me, habituated to seeing the traditional Indian hospitals, which had evolved over several decades, adding layers upon layers of facilities. I was presented a copy of A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It, the story of Paul Kagame, a refugee who, after a generation of exile, found his way home.

Dr. Ben Karenzi and his team paid a return visit to India and saw Hyderabad as a fast-emerging hub for the treatment of international patients, mostly coming in from the African continent, finding it more suitable than the two other great Indian medical hubs – Mumbai, crowded and expensive, and Chennai, a little away. Our focus was using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to provide whatever services were possible in Africa itself and a lengthy follow-up back home after they returned, post-treatment. These visits and people travelling more often provided an impetus for better bilateral relations between India and Rwanda. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rwanda in July 2018 and soon after, the Indian High Commission in Kigali became operational, on August 15, 2018.  

After superannuation from military service, Dr. Ben became a consultant in the management of international projects. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockouts and disruptions of international air travel, he could not visit India earlier, but he finally arrived last month on a week-long trip. It was very kind of him to visit me at my home as his first stop and before returning – what is generally called briefing/ debriefing sessions done at the beginning and conclusion of a visit. Age had affected both of us and there was no ‘pink of health’ anymore. But the spirit was indomitable and the vision about what could be done between India and Rwanda, sharper.

During this visit, Ben Karenzi spent an entire day at Bharat Biotech International Limited to understand the aspects of capacity building for vaccine manufacturing in Africa, totally dependent on UNICEF-sponsored vaccine programmes for their children, which means, vaccines manufactured in the Western countries. The CDC Africa is merely two years old, and a continental strategy is yet to emerge on what African people need and will get without dependence on imports. India offers a shining example of such a pursuit. India is now not only self-sufficient in all essential drugs and pharmaceuticals, including vaccines, but provided desperately needed COVID-19 vaccines to Rwanda and other countries. The Indian “price” is unbeatable and Western powers can only persist by fortifying their current dominance through rules and regulations they have historically created and imposed upon Africa. 

Ben Karenzi spent another day at the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) factory in Hyderabad. BHEL had created a small 28 MW hydroelectric project on the Nyabarongo River in Rwanda, with an 80-million-dollar Indian line of credit. The project has eased out Rwanda’s electricity shortage to an extent. Rwanda has abundant methane reserves and can become an energy hub, following the gas turbine route. Besides being an energy partner, BHEL, with its world-class Plant and Machinery (P&M) building capacity, can establish the Kigali centralized water and sewage system. The focus is not merely funding and doing, but making the Rwandan people learn advanced engineering and cater to the needs of the African economy, something India did in the 1960s. Rwanda’s only sugar refinery and its only modern textile mill are both run by Indians, and it is time to upscale and raise the stakes.   

Since everything eventually acquires a name, this working together of developing countries has been called “South-South” cooperation. It is a broad framework of collaboration among countries of the global South, with all developed countries in the North. When the developing countries share knowledge, skills, expertise, and resources among themselves through concerted efforts, it is called “South-South” cooperation. There is a trend, led by China, of an increased volume of South-South trade and foreign direct investment. Between African and Asian continents, there is regional integration, technology transfers, and impromptu sharing of solutions and experts. It will take another few decades before becoming a viable alternative to the North-dominated world order, but the baby is born; it will grow with time. 

Ben Karenzi presented me a folder on Vision 2050, the Rwandan national development strategy, launched in December 2020 by President Paul Kagame. Rwanda aims to be an upper-middle income country (UMIC) by 2035, and a high-income country (HIC) by 2050. This means realizing a per capita GDP of about 4000 dollars by 2035 and of over 12,000 dollars by 2050. For understanding, India has a per capita GDP of 2000 in 2022. According to Mr. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), in his February 2022 speech at the Asia Economic Dialogue, “I believe that with our progress, we will reach $10,000 per capita in the next 15-20 years.” Of course, with more than 1.35 billion people, and growing, it will be a humongous task. India must go global, capitalizing on its technology and engineering expertise. 

I am yet to deep dive into the document, but what struck me most was the assertion of President Kagame, “Vision 2050 has to be about the future we choose, because we can, and because we deserve it.” It is, indeed, true that we all are as big as our dream. Without aspiration, any individual, or community, or nation, easily gets lost in merry-making, only to be subjugated by a higher power, or to wither away into oblivion. The idea of ‘who I am’ and ‘what do I do with my life’, is fundamental. It was not until Bal Gangadhar Tilak proclaimed, “Swaraj is my birth right, and I shall have it!” that a movement started in India to overthrow the British Rule. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam used to say, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” So, President Kagame’s call to choose, because we can, and because we deserve it, is a call of our times, for the entire global South, where more than five billion people live mostly impoverished lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved this much, that South-South cooperation is the only way forward. The urgent need for vaccines has opened a window of opportunity for a South-South cooperation initiative in health and related areas. But if not for Indian and Chinese vaccines, there would been a disaster. While the superficialities of advanced healthcare systems in the Western world surfaced, the vaccination of billions of people throughout the global South was a historic achievement. This has to move on to agriculture supply chains, and finally, education. It will happen, because we deserve it. It will take years, even decades, but like a tree that takes years before giving fruits, it will happen, if started and sustained.

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15 Comments

  1. This was refreshing reading. Must thank you Prof Tiwari, for showing us a whole new world!

    This blog, along with Dr Ben Karenzi’s write-up in the comments section, throws light on vistas for creative and constructive collaboration. Just the thought of it fills us readers with optimism, enthusiasm, inspiration, as also pride.

  2. Refreshing change of topic with focus on relations with Rwanda, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your emphasis on sharing expertise and resources with Rwanda goes a long way in South-South-Solidarity !!

  3. Interesting blog. Read and heard at many places- Rwandians are incredibly friendly and hospitable. The same reflects in the pic attached with the blog.

    As you said,not only in health but even in other areas South – South cooperation can see opportunities worth considering. Cheers to such positive beginnings ahead!!

  4. Delighted to read South-South Solidarity blog. This had been the backbone of the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) where I worked for close to three decades. We used to admire Dr Kalam and you in his team as our heroes and of course later worked together on many projects. Our work on Telemedicine later became Pan-Africa e-Network by TCIL.

    During COVID-19 pandemic, and recovery of economy after that, the range and quantum of South-South cooperation has expanded significantly. And India being a major emerging economy has contributed in various ways towards strengthening south-south cooperation and has become an active player in development cooperation efforts with low-income countries in Asia and Africa.

    India’s growing economic power is indeed changing the dynamics of global economic governance. Within the WTO, India’s profile and influence has risen dramatically. Today India positions itself as the voice of developing countries in global trade talks. There is going back now. A big economy must function as a big economy and it is imperative that Africa is embraced as a sister-continent, especially in Agriculture. Thanks for highlighting this important aspect.

  5. May I add the High-5 Priority Project declaration of the African Development Bank (AfDB) for the continent:

    Light up and Power Africa
    Feed Africa
    Industrialise Africa
    Integrate Africa
    Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa

    Excellent blog and a picture radiating warmth of friendship…

  6. The principle in Dr. Kalam’s statement “You have to dream before your dreams can come true”, reminded me of a book I read when I was a young adult titled “Creative Visualization” by Shakti Gawain, which promotes the art of using mental imagery and affirmation to produce positive changes in your life. Dr. Ben Karenzi and other leaders of Rwanda are indeed visualizing the future of their nation. The country has ambitious initiatives to achieve their 2050 goals. One such initiative is Kigali Innovation City, a pan-African project with potentially $2 billion investments to house international universities, technology companies, and biotech firms, employing up to 50,000. I expect to see great progress in Rwanda in the coming years ahead with South-South cooperation from other African nations, India and others.

  7. Dear Sir, Thank you for sharing the blog. As per my understanding, The South-South cooperation agenda and South-South cooperation initiatives must be determined by the countries of the South, guided by the principles of respect for national sovereignty, national ownership and independence, equality, non-conditionality, non-interference in domestic affairs and mutual benefit. New IT startups in India related to Artificial intelligence and Machine learning can play an important role in increasing the per capita GDP of African countries like Rwanda.

  8. Dear Professor Tiwari, The South-South cooperation is the way forward provided it is not marred by IPR, patent regime, economic greed and WTO etc. etc. All the south countries involved in this cooperation/ collaboration should be equal partners and all should derive benefits from this effort. Regards.

  9. I love the concept and idea of visualising your future to create it and the references you provide. Inspiring..

  10. Indeed Prof Tiwari: “It will take years, even decades, but like a tree that takes years before giving fruits, it will happen, if started and sustained.”

  11. Very interesting blog on a topic NOT discussed about and NOT publicised/
    Interesting to see that a war ravaged country has ambitious plans.
    Till the Covid, the attention of most people, including me was to look towards the more advanced nations for many good things that we lack.
    The non availability of vaccine in many countries and the need to share with the less ‘privileged’ has woken in many of us.
    It is time that we think of the southern brethren and extend out help and cooperation in achieving their dreams and many more.

  12. Dear Sir, A very nicely written blog which each and every person can get connected. The story of Rwanda and words of President Kagame are quite inspiring.

    As rightly brought out unless we have a vision and unflinching intent to achieve we will wither away into oblivion, It is the vision of those great people which keeps us motivated and makes to put in our effort to achieve them.

    South-south cooperation is definitely the need of the hour and we have the capability achieve much more.
    Thank you once again for a thought provoking blog

  13. It was a great honor and pleasure for me to visit Prof Arun at his home. I was very happy to find him in good health. Prof Arun presented me with a copy of “India Wakes”, a book he authored with Bart S Fisher. It is a great read for better understanding the ongoing geopolitical positioning of great powers – USA, China and India.

    It was as exciting and fulfilling for us to discuss South-South cooperation. India has great good will within the South. This is good ground for exploring of economic opportunities for mutual benefit of the respective peoples. The key areas are: economic infrastructure – energy, water & sanitation, transportation (rail, road), ICTs – and technology (biotech, pharmaceutical, defense (including cyber and space security).

    Rwanda has positioned itself as a business destination of repute on the African Continent. With its visionary leadership, Rwanda should be the favoured address targeting the Great Lakes and Continental markets. continent. Facts about Doing Business Environment can be found on: https://rdb.rw/why-invest-in-rwanda/; https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IC.BUS.EASE.XQ?locations=RW

    During my visit, I was treated to great Indian hospitality at BHEL facilities in Hyderabad. It was an informative opportunity to me that demonstrated India’s capabilities in heavy engineering work for several sectors including energy (oil & gas, hydro, solar); water & sanitation and others.

    Rwanda provides opportunities for utilization of BHEL capabilities in the mentioned sectors. Priority ones are Methane gas extraction and energy generation, water and sewage treatment plants.

    Energy generation is a high priority for Rwanda. It has an industrialization strategy that will require sufficient energy production to materialize. Methane gas a resource available and with huge reserves. So far, 2 main investors are involved. Concessions are available if there is interest. Hydro power and Peat are also options to consider.

    Indian companies should build on the existing excellent diplomatic and political relationship between Rwanda and India to strengthen South-South cooperation.
    Indian corporates should target the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with headquarters in Rwanda, the birthplace of the AfFTA. This will further enhance India’s global geopolitical positioning.

  14. Loved reading this post too. Sir, thank you for recalling the words of President Kagame, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and Lokmanya Tilak, and reminding us to dream.

  15. India has been wasting on the tremendous historical goodwill most African countries have towards India. They have known Indians, thanks to hard working and honest Gujarati businessmen, for last couple of centuries. You will find Indians in the remotest parts on Africa. But our government does precious nothing except producing concept documents and MOU’s.

    Indian govt. has to start trusting Indian private players to spearhead developmental activities in Africa with active govt. participation and backing. But who will erase this deep rooted impression in our officials’ mind: ” all businessmen are chor.” You have seen this. I have seen this.

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