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Sansad TV: Perspective- India’s Africa Outreach





Vice President Venkaiah Naidu has wrapped up his three nation visit to Gabon, Senegal & Qatar. This was the first-ever high level visit from India to two African countries – Gabon and Senegal and it has added momentum to India’s engagement with Africa and emphasised India’s commitment to the African continent. During his visit VP Naidu held delegation level talks with the top leadership of both the countries followed by MoUs on various aspects. His vist to Senegal coincided with 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties. India’s partnership is based on the principle of equality, mutual respect and benefit; in line with Africa-owned and Africa-led development.

Importance of Africa:

  • Geostrategic
    • Africa is critical to India’s security, especially the Horn of Africa region, because of its proximity with India. The threat of radicalism, piracy, organized crime emerge from this region
  • Economic
    • Africa can help us in diversifying our energy sources, which is one of the stated objective of our Integrated Energy Policy
    • Africa also contains rich reservoir of valuable minerals, metals including gold and diamond
    • Africa provides a space for Indian investment
    • Africa has ample agricultural land which cab address India’s food security. India is looking at leasing land in Africa to overcome the land deficit that we face in terms of arable land
  • Geopolitical
    • Support of African countries is important for India’s aim of gaining a permanent seat in UNSC
    • Africa provides a space for displaying both India’s soft and hard power
    • India has been actively involved in peace and stability of African countries through UN Peace keeping operations. India is involved in capacity building of African countries. Africa is also the largest beneficiary of India’s ITEC programme

Strategies adopted by Indian government:

  • Pan African level engagement
  • Partnership with regional organization
  • Development partnership through IBSA and BRICS
  • Bilateral engagement with countries
  • Involving Indian communities and Indian Diaspora

Africa is at a critical juncture:-

  • Economic growth of the continent is estimated to be 3.2 percent in 2018.
  • It also houses six of the world’s fastest growing economies- the World Bank estimates Ethiopia will grow at 8.2 percent.
  • Several African countries have been providing incentives to attract foreign investors and partners in growth 

Nature of the relationship so far:-

  • India’s Africa policy over the past few decades has oscillated between passive and reluctantly reactive at best. Strategic apathy toward the continent was obvious on many fronts.
  • Most of the countries in Africa did not feature in India’s larger foreign policy matrix, but until recently there wasn’t any significant attention paid to the continent.
  • Indian leaders seldom travelled to African nations .
  • The narrative of India’s contemporary relationship with Africa is dominated by the historicity of their interactions.,the century old trade partnerships, socio-cultural linkages built by a thriving diaspora, nationalist movements during the Nehruvian era that supported anti-imperial struggles, and shifting geopolitical tides with the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM).
  • Beyond this rhetoric, what kept driving this relationship forward was the acquisition of critical assets by State Owned Enterprises (SOE) looking to diversify the energy basket away from West Asian nations and other commercial ventures by Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Multi-National Companies (MNC).

The relationship changed and there are areas where both India and Africa can work together:

  • Currently, India’s forte in the continent has been developmental initiatives such as Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), Team 9, and Pan Africa e-network among others are aimed at building institutional and human capacity as well as enabling skills and knowledge transfer.
  • Conscious attempt at evoking morality to reflect an “alternate model of development” by using terms such as “win-win cooperation” to describe New Delhi’s approach to Africa.
  • One of the new trends in this relationship has also been the role played by sub-national organizations and state governments that have been crafting independent relationships with African counterparts.
    • For example, Kerala is planning on importing Cashew from African countries for its processing plants that are running low on raw material.
    • Similarly, Ethiopia and South Africa are working with Kudumbashree, a self-help group created by the Government of Kerala aimed at eradicating poverty and empowering women, to find ways to localize and adapt the model in their respective countries.
  • A unique factor that sets Indian interactions apart is that there is palpable goodwill for people of Indian origin, a sense of familiarity and cultural connection, with Bollywood movies and songs often acting as a bridge.
  • China role:-
    • Whereas India’s policy has focused on job creation in the countries it has invested in, China has tended to bring in its own labour causing resentment among the locals.
    • The Chinese model has often been criticised for creating huge debts for the nation in which it sets up projects, the Nairobi-Mombasa rail link being one example of this.
    • The $ 4 billion project has left Kenya with enormous debts and the Chinese military base in Djibouti has raised fears that Beijing is abandoning its non-interference policy in the region
  • Role of Indian businesses:-
    • Indian businesses are active across geographic spaces and sectors in Africa. Agri-business, engineering, construction, film distribution, cement, plastics, and ceramics manufacturing, advertising, marketing, pharmaceuticals, and telecommunication are only some of the sectors that have Indian players.

Way Forward:

  • First, we need to take direct control of our development programme instead of handing our funds to intermediaries whose priorities are often different from India’s.
  • To make an impact, our aid should be disbursed bilaterally and aligned with national priorities of the recipient state, which should be a substantial stakeholder and co-investor in schemes and projects from initiation to operation.
  • Second, India’s development assistance should prefer the countries with its substantial interests, both existing and potential.
    • For instance, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Angola and Algeria are India’s top six trading partners in Africa, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its trade and half its exports to the continent; yet, they do not figure commensurately in India’s developmental pecking order.
    • India’s own needs for raw materials, commodities and markets should be factored in its aid calculus.
  • Third, we ought to prefer aiding countries which are willing to help us from access to their natural resources to using our generics.
  • Fourth, the aided project selected should be compatible with local requirements. They should be cost-effective, scalable, future ready and commercially replicable.
  • Fifth, for greater transparency, India should prefer its public sector to implement the aid projects.