For centuries China has used gifts of giant pandas to foreign countries as a soft power diplomacy tool.
But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has staked a claim to the concept of “cattle diplomacy”.
During a visit to Rwanda on Tuesday, Modi donated 200 cows — considered sacred in India — to poor residents of Rweru model village, south of the capital Kigali.
The gesture builds on a Rwandan government scheme called “Girinka” which since 2006 has contributed cattle to poor rural families in an effort to combat malnutrition by ensuring children have access to milk.
“Girinka” is a greeting in the local Kinyarwanda language meaning “may you have many cows”.
Modi left Rwanda for Uganda before travelling to the BRICS summit that on Wednesday will bring together his own country with China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa in Johannesburg.
“I got a glimpse of rural life in Rwanda during the memorable visit to Rweru model village. I thank President Paul Kagame for accompanying me,” he said.
The Girinka scheme, which Modi said “is helping transform the lives of people across rural Rwanda”, has been celebrated for helping to reduce poverty by almost a quarter between 2000 and 2010.
Modi and Kagame also announced a series of deals including a a $200 million (171 million euros) Indian loan that will be used to develop Rwanda’s irrigation schemes and expand the Kigali Special Economic Zone.
Modi’s visit comes a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Kigali, inking 15 bilateral deals including loans and grants worth millions of dollars.