[INTERVIEW] “Eritrea- India relations go back centuries” Ambassador Subhash Chand

January 26 is the day India celebrates its Republic Day. Just five months after the first resident Indian Embassy in Eritrea opened its doors, it celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Republic Day at the Asmara Palace Hotel for the first time. At an event ministers and high ranking officials attended, various entertaining programs were presented showcasing India and the Indian cultures.

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Republic Day of India, Ambassador Subhash Chand held a rather short interview with Q&A about his time in Eritrea and the bilateral Eritrea-India relationship.

  • Thank you for being our guest, if you could please tell us something about the Republic Day of India?

Thank you for having me; it is such a pleasure to talk to Eritrea profile. India became a free country on 15th August 1947. Although we were independent as a country, we didn’t have a book that guided us. The Constitution of India came into effect on the 26th of January 1950. Ever since then, the government of India has followed and is administrated by the constitution. So, as a country we celebrated two significant national holidays; the 15th of August is our Independence Day and the 26th January is when we honor our republic day.

It has only just been five months since we established the Indian Embassy in Eritrea, and this is the first time we are celebrating our national day. Honestly speaking, the reception was overwhelming; we are lucky to have the honorable Ministers, Ambassadors, senior officials as well as the Indian community take part in the event besides all the invited guests. Most of all, I am happy that we were able to make many Indians take part in the event; we had little kids and few young men from the state of Punjab who are working in the construction company perform the traditional dances that represent our country and traditions.

  • Mr. Ambassador, what can you tell us about the Eritrea- India bilateral relationship?

Relationship between these two countries goes back centuries; this is a fact that can be backed up by the archeological reports. Studies show that there was a frequent business movement of Indian traders at the ports of Massawa. This tells us that our people have linked many years ago. And now, during the modern times, since we have opened the embassy here in Asmara, I take it as one of my prior endeavors to try to revive the business amongst many sectors between the two countries.

India has been receiving many Eritrean students for scholarships over the years. The government of India and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has been offering fully funded scholarships every year, but these scholarships haven’t been fully utilized since we didn’t have a diplomatic mission. With various reasons and challenges, we weren’t able to use those scholarships effectively. However, this is something that our embassy is relentlessly working on in connection with various Ministries. I now hope that all these scholarships which many Indian Universities are offering could be used effectively so that for the next years we would ask for more in number. Similarly, there are about 45 capacity building courses that are offered by the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program which is elected to Eritrea which, once again, haven’t been used effectively because we didn’t have an official resident embassy here. But I am happy to tell you that the response I have gotten from all the Ministries is optimistic and I hope to work hard on it before the registration times expire.

Agriculture, mining, science and technology, pharmaceuticals, etc., are other sectors that the two counties could work on together. I believe that we can do much through working together. While on the topic, Confederation of Indian Industry is a business body and they organize CII project partnership, which is a summit dedicated for India Africa Relationship. Hopefully, we are trying to extend invitations to various Ministers to go and participate at the event the CII will hold in March and, hopefully, they would be interested in mutual beneficial sectors.

It is to be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the Ugandan Parliament in July 2018 propounded Ten Guiding Principles of engagement with Africa. These principles emphasize that India wants to engage with Africa in priority sectors to be decided by Africa and without any conditionals. India wants to encourage Indian companies to do business in Africa. India also wants to build as much local capacity as possible.

Therefore, confidently, over the period of time, the momentum will pick up and we should be doing better than before for the future.

  • During your speech, you mentioned that the Eritrea- India Cultural exchange dates back almost 60 years. Please elaborate?

As I said before linkages have existed. I have met many Eritreans who speak about old Indian movies. This is a surprise to me. Simply, that is what culture exchange means. That Eritreans knew our songs, dances and country. Just, for instance, during this evening two Eritrean musicians have performed Indian songs for the audience. This shows that we only need to nurture the cultural exchange between the two countries for our people to explore each other’s heritages.

Being the first resident Ambassador in the country, what is your overall impression about Eritrea?

It is simply a beautiful country. Asmara is such a historic city. It has been five months and we are lucky to be part of this beautiful country and people. I sometimes get shocked that it has already been that many months. It has been an amazing experience. We even look alike. If a person would tell me they are from India, I wouldn’t doubt it. That means we are close in many ways. I am happy to be here and it is my great honor to take the relationship of both countries to the next higher level through working with different Ministries and governmental institutions. Now that a diplomatic mission’s here, it is our job to give services to the Eritreans and Indians and work to reduce the challenges that might come their way. We are here to do our best to see Eritrea-India relations get stronger.

  • Mr. Ambassador, anything you would like to add before we say our good byes?

I am very optimistic about Eritrea. I am happy to know that things are taking positive shape. Since my arrival here, I have seen many visits from and to Eritrea at the highest level which speaks volumes about the evolving situation in the Horn of Africa. It is pleasing to know that Eritrea is part of this peace process and nation building. It will be my honor to see that we strengthen the relationship between the two countries and we also become part of this process that Eritrea is currently undertaking of nation building so that our two countries can prove that we are good friends and we can work together for the betterment of our nations.