The death of a Congolese post-graduate student in an altercation on Friday in New Delhi has sparked a major diplomatic controversy. African envoys protested and decided not to attend part of the Africa Day there. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has assured that “stringent action against the culprits”, described as “local goons” will be taken. This incident raises questions about attacks in the recent years and racism against African students, at a time when India and Africa aim on the contrary at developing their relationships at all levels, from student exchanges to trade and politics.
The death of a Congolese student in an altercation
Masonda Ketada Oliver, 29, a Congolese post-graduate student, was beaten by three youth last Friday night around 11.30 pm, in the Vasant Kunj area, in south Delhi. The altercation started over the hiring of an auto-rickshaw. The young man, who was hit on the head with a brick, was rushed to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Trauma Centre but died during his emergency transportation.
“They pushed Oliver to the ground and kicked him in the face and abdomen repeatedly. One of the Indians picked up a large stone from the roadside and hit Oliver on the head,” said in a statement Alem Tsehage Woldemariam, dean of the Group of African Heads of Mission and Eritrean ambassador, adding that a witness who tried to help was also attacked by the men who escaped.
Indian MEA’s firm statement
India’s External Affairs Minister External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj has made a point to reassure firmly the African community. She tweeted on Wednesday: “I would like to assure African students in India that this is an unfortunate and painful incident involving local goons.”
I would like to assure African students in India that this an unfortunate and painful incident involving local goons.
— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) May 25, 2016
“When I came to know about the unfortunate killing of a Congo national in Delhi, we directed stringent action against the culprits,” wrote Sushma Swaraj, adding: “We will also launch a sensitisation programme to reiterate that such incidents against foreign nationals embarrass the country.”
The External Affairs Minister said that Union minister General VK Singh is going to meet the heads of missions of African countries in New Delhi and African students in metropolitan cities to remind them of the Government priority to ensure the safety and security of their nationals in India.
African envoys protest
“The Group of African Heads of Mission have met and deliberated extensively on this latest incidence in the series of attacks to which members of the African community have been subjected to in the last several years,” said Alem Tsehage Woldemariam.
“They strongly condemn the brutal killing of this African and calls on the Indian government to take concrete steps to guarantee the safety and security of Africans in India,” he added.
African diplomats in New Delhi have decided not to participate in the follow up of the Africa Day celebrations organised today by the Indian government there, as they “mourn” the Africans citizens killed by mobs in India recently.
“The African Group (of heads of missions) has requested a postponement of the event. They have also decided not to participate in the celebrations, except the Cultural Troupe from the Kingdom of Lesotho,” said the statement, adding that the ambassadors organised instead their own event.
Africa Day commemorate every year on May 25th the founding in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of the Organisation of African Unity which became in 2002 the actual African Union.
Not the first dramatic event
African diplomats already issued last February a protest statement, after mobs had attacked African students in several incidents.
A crowd had attacked for instance a Tanzanian student in Bangalore (South) because they thought wrongly that the student had caused an accident where an Indian woman lost her life.
“We are frequently confronted with racism and prejudice in India”, told Media India Group an African student. “Most Indians are friendly but a minority is treating us badly, even if we just came here to study. We most of the time try to stick together with other African students.”
Student exchanges at stake
This climate puts the student exchange programmes between India and Africa at stake.
“Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in India, the African heads of missions are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India unless and until their safety can be guaranteed,” according to the statement.
The developing India Africa relationship
These attacks also go against India’s aim at strengthening its relationships with Africa at all levels, from trade to politics.
In July, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is said to visit South-Africa and Mozambique, after the successful India-Africa Forum Summit held in New Delhi in October 2015. This Summit was a huge Indian diplomatic effort to develop its footprint on a continent in a phase of rapid economic development and where Indian diaspora and Indian businessmen are yet very active.