Narendra Modi with Filipe Jacinto Nyusi during the welcoming ceremony in Maputo yesterday. India is scrambling to catch up with China, which has a strong presence across Africa. Image Credit: PTI

MAPUTO: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday kicked off a four-nation tour of Africa, vowing to be “a trusted friend” of Mozambique after talks with President Filipe Nyusi in Maputo.

Modi set the tone for his continental visit by announcing a raft of cooperation agreements as India scrambles to catch up with its Asian rival China, which has a strong presence across Africa.

He will also take in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya over his five-day trip.

“Mozambique’s strengths are also the areas of India’s need. And what Mozambique requires is available in India,” Modi said.

“In Mozambique’s march towards economic prosperity, India will walk every step of the way.

“We will be a trusted friend in your development and a reliable partner in ensuring a bright safe and secure future for our people.”

Modi, the first Indian leader to visit Mozambique in 34 years, said the two countries would work together on agriculture, defence, security and health care.

India has been working to build ties with African nations as it vies for a greater share of the continent’s natural resources. Last year, it hosted a summit of Africa’s heads of state in New Delhi.

Its economic footprint in Africa is dwarfed by that of China, whose trade with the continent topped $200 billion (Dh734 billion) last year.

India is gaining ground, however, led by private entrepreneurs with a keen interest in the continent’s burgeoning energy sector.

But relations between India and the continent have been strained in the past by incidents of alleged racism, with African ambassadors as recently as May claiming after the brutal murder of a Congolese teacher that African nationals in the Indian capital live in a “pervading climate of fear and insecurity”.

Modi’s Africa tour will focus on hydrocarbons, maritime security, trade and investment, agriculture and food, according to Indian officials.

Later Thursday, Modi will head to South Africa for a two-day state visit, holding talks with President Jacob Zuma on Friday in Pretoria and meeting business leaders.

India is now South Africa’s sixth largest trade partner, with two-way trade reaching $5.3 billion in 2015-16.

South Africa has been vocal on the need to reform the UN Security Council, making it a natural ally in India’s long-running campaign to be made a permanent member.

India and Africa are together home to a third of the world’s population, but neither India nor any African country has a permanent seat on the council, which is made up of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States.

With 1.3 million people of Indian origin, South Africa also has the largest diaspora population in Africa, a major element of Modi’s diplomatic push across the world since taking office two years ago.

On Friday evening, he will address a thousands-strong audience at a stadium in Johannesburg, having hosted similar rallies for the diaspora in cities from New York to London.

While in South Africa, Modi is also expected to honour Mahatma Gandhi’s time in the country.

India’s independence hero lived in South Africa for 20 years, working as a lawyer and activist campaigning for the rights of Indian people.