India's prime minister on Thursday is kicking off a four-nation African tour, including countries that haven't been visited by an Indian leader in more than three decades.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip is meant to raise India's profile in energy, trade and investment on a continent where China's presence has been strong. He begins in Mozambique, followed by South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.

India's foreign ministry has described the four countries on the Indian Ocean as economic gateways to landlocked African states. Mozambique alone receives almost a quarter of India's investment in Africa, according to India's government.

Several agreements are expected to be signed with each country, the foreign ministry said, and energy and food security will be key issues. Mozambique soon will be the world's third largest exporter of natural gas after Qatar and Australia, the ministry said.

India also hopes to sign civil aviation agreements to introduce direct flights. No Indian airline has direct connections with Africa.

A long-term agreement to import pulses from Mozambique is expected to be signed on Thursday. India has been trying to control the prices of pulses, a staple diet for millions of its poor, which have doubled in the past 18 months because of two successive drought years.

South Africa, which lists India as its sixth-largest trade partner, is another key stop for Modi.

He is expected to meet with the Indian community in South Africa, which has more than one million people of Indian origin. He'll do the same in Kenya, with 80,000 people of Indian origin.

In Durban, South Africa, Modi is expected to take a brief train journey to commemorate Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose experience with racism while living in South Africa as a young man shaped his resistance to segregation with nonviolent protest