India, Africa – a new story

> Rajen Harshe

Building on the legacy of the India-Africa Forum Summits (IAFS) of New Delhi (2008) and Addis Ababa (2011), the recently concluded third IAFS in Delhi witnessed the participation of 54 African nations, involving around 40 heads of the African states. Such an unusually large gathering of delegates strengthened, at least symbolically, the resolve of India and Africa to widen and deepen their partnership at the bilateral as well as continental levels.

Considering the range of issues discussed and the unprecedented scale on which the summit was organised, it appears to have marked a great leap forward in India’s growing engagement with Africa. The IAFS dealt with diverse areas of mutual cooperation, from the global to the continental. At the global level, Indian and African leaders unambiguously flagged the dire need to bring about desired reforms in global institutional governance to make it more representative by inducting India and at least two African states as permanent members at the UN Security Council. Similarly, showing concern about global warming, to which India and Africa contribute the least, a plea was made to convene a meeting of “solar-rich” countries ahead of the Paris climate summit that begins later this month. In addition, matters concerning political and energy security, the fight against terrorism, development cooperation, including trade, investment, education and health-related issues, also figured in discussions. On the whole, the summit did create an atmosphere of partnership, where the emerging Indian economy successfully forged ties with the rapidly growing economies of Africa on a vastly different scale. For instance, in addition to the US$7.4 billion concessional credit pledged in 2008, India has announced credit of US$10 billion over a period of five years. Besides, India will offer grant assistance worth US$600 million, which will include US$100mn for the India-Africa development fund and US$10mn for an India-Africa health fund. India has also announced 50,000 scholarships to African students to pursue their studies in India.

In fact, the centuries-old ties between India and Africa, especially with countries in eastern and southern Africa, were firmed up due to India’s consistent support to anti-colonial and anti-racist liberation struggles in Africa. India’s towering leaders, such as Gandhi and Nehru, and their ideas on liberation, as well as Afro-Asian unity, had an impact on African leaders like Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Kwame Nkrumah. Once the political battles for liberation in Africa were formally won, economic factors began to dominate India-Africa ties.

After embarking on the course of reforms in 1991, India’s economy has registered remarkable growth with an annual average of over 6 per cent. Strategic mineral commodities, especially oil, became essential for India’s growing and energy-hungry economy. This prompted India to actively forge relationships with resource- and oil-rich countries such as South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria and Angola. Africa’s key minerals, such as uranium, gas, copper, iron ore, phosphates and platinum, have also been crucial for India’s growth. Likewise, India’s technology, suitable for tropical conditions, and investment are required in Africa for developmental purposes. Indian capital, private as well as public, has already entered different parts of Africa. India-Africa trade currently stands at US$70 billion, an unimpressive figure compared to China’s trade figure of roughly US$200 billion with Africa. Even though India is emerging as a major trading nation with growing investments, it has to contend with other formidable rivals, such as China, Japan and South Korea, in Africa under globalisation. However, deceleration in the Chinese economy may open up a window of opportunity for India to make further inroads in Africa.

As trading nations on the seas, India and the African countries have to strengthen their maritime security. India’s successful interventions to counter Somalian pirates along the eastern coast and its efforts to woo island-states like Mauritius, the Seychelles and Djibouti in the western Indian Ocean are evidence of this attempt. Besides, the advent of non-state multinational terrorist organisations, such as al-Shabaab in east Africa and Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as diverse terrorist outfits operating in India, make cooperation in sub-conventional warfare between the two mandatory as far as combating terrorism is concerned. Moreover, managing challenges related to security is feasible if India and Africa can politically draw from each other and learn from their best practices on managing diversity and social heterogeneity in terms of designing representative institutions, the federal arrangement and the devolution of powers to ensure social harmony.

In the realm of development, India’s reputation of building capacity-related programmes, especially those concerning information and communication technology, will be enhanced if African students who come to learn are treated respectfully in India as they can build a more solid bond of relationships between the two areas in the long term. Further, Indian generic drugs, due to their relatively cheap prices, are used heavily to fight HIV/ Aids in Africa. If African states are worried about Indian patents over these drugs and the consequent acceleration of their prices, this may warrant further negotiation.

Irrespective of these prospects for wide-ranging cooperation, ritual speeches that condemn colonialism or dominance of the developed North and rhetoric about partnerships will seldom deliver results on the ground unless monitoring mechanisms are in place. There has to be objective peer review of all the projects in progress on both sides. Taking cognisance of the fact that two-thirds of the population in India and Africa are going to be below 35 years of age, India has a great opportunity to reinvent its association with Africa, provided it is sensitive to intra- and inter-state politics in the region and, at the same time, capable of mediating its relations, despite formidable rivals like China, in the context of globalisation. – The Indian Express

The writer, visiting professor at the department of international relations, South Asian University, New Delhi, is former vice chancellor, Allahabad University.

November 2015
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