An independent South sudan is the “final product” of a peaceful process that India has “fully supported,” said Vice-President Hamid Ansari while en route to witness the new country’s official birth.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan after nearly 30 years of civil war, a conflict that ended with an internationally mediated settlement. “It is appropriate India be represented at this historically important event,” said Ansari.
Carefully underlining India’s desire to remain in the good books of both Sudans, Ansari said India’s support for South Sudan was a “reflection” of its “old relationship” with both Sudans. However, India has had an unusually regular flow of contacts with what is probably the world’s poorest nation and among the world’s most isolated nations.
Fortuitously, the Indian engagement can claim to go back to pre-civil war days when President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed addressed the then provincial assembly at Juba, the capital-to-be of South Sudan.
More interesting is how India maintained sporadic contact with the Southern rebels when the war was at its bloodiest. India began regularly sending South Sudan officials and politicians to India for training and exchange programmes from 2006 onwards.
India’s interest is partly geopolitical. South Sudan is gravitating to the English-speaking East African nations, a bloc which lies at the heart of India’s Africa policy.
The new country has other attractions. As the Indian foreign ministry’s own literature notes, South Sudan “reported to has some of the largest oil reserves in Africa outside Nigeria and Angola.” An Indian diplomat said hydrocarbons were a “priority” in the relationship. India’s got early dividends from its southern engagement: in 2009 the rebels guaranteed the safety of New Delhi’s energy interests.
The other potential is farming. South Sudan is the size of France but with only 8.5 million people. As a Food and Agricultural Organisation report noted, only 84 per cent of the country’s arable land is cropped. If farmed efficiently, it calculated, South Sudan could feed all of Africa — or India.
Which is one reason Mahindra tractors have been shipped out to South Sudan starting four years before the country officially exists.