Despite the importance of capacity building in India’s development cooperation programme with African countries, a comprehensive assessment of India’s capacity building initiatives has not happened so far.
India has a long history of development cooperation with African countries. Independent India, though extremely poor, strove to share its limited resources with other developing countries under the banner of South-South cooperation. Within two years of independence in 1949, India announced 70 scholarships for students of other developing countries for pursuing studies in India. In 1964, India formally launched the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme to provide technical assistance through human resource development to other developing countries. African countries have been the greatest beneficiaries of the ITEC programme as many African officials have trained under this programme.
The scale of India’s development cooperation expanded rapidly in the 2000s and the country introduced new instruments of development cooperation like the concessional lines of credit. The scope of India’s technical cooperation and capacity building programme also widened during this period. The importance of capacity building was highlighted in all the three India-Africa Forum Summits and the Prime Minister also referred to the role of capacity building in the ten guiding principles of India-Africa engagement. In 2009, India launched the Pan African e-Network which was the largest ICT network in Africa and connected 53 African nations with India. Through the Pan African e-Network, India attempted to use Indian expertise in information technology to provide better healthcare and education for all African countries. The second phase of this programme, e-VidyaBharti, and e-ArogyaBharti was started in 2018. India’s scholarship programme also grew rapidly. In the third India-Africa Forum Summit, India pledged to provide 50,000 scholarships to African students in the next five years and set up institutions in Africa. In 2018, the Ministry of Human Resource and Development launched the ‘Study in India’ initiative to attract students from the neighbourhood and Africa to promote India as an education hub.
Despite the importance of capacity building in India’s development cooperation programme with African countries, a comprehensive assessment of India’s capacity building initiatives has not happened so far. Most of the documents published by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs merely provide a statistical account of Indian initiatives in Africa — e.g. the number of participating countries, students, courses and the budget of the programme, etc. Beyond these numbers, very little is known about India’s capacity building in Africa. Academic papers on Indian capacity building programmes also highlight India’s contribution to building Africa’s human resources but serious academic studies evaluating India’s track record based on surveys of African students have not happened so far. In other words, India’s claims of providing technical cooperation that meets the needs of partner countries and demand-driven development cooperation are not backed by data. The available literature on India’s capacity building programmes are either celebratory in nature or focus on comparing India’s development cooperation with China. Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong conducted a survey of African university students to understand African perspectives on China-Africa links. Their results were at variance with the ‘African view of China-Africa links’ promoted by the western media. However, African perceptions of India’s development cooperation in general and capacity building initiatives more specifically, are not known because no empirical study has been conducted so far.
A critical assessment of India’s capacity building initiatives in Africa is important for several reasons. Firstly, the ideas of shared prosperity and solidarity were important in the 1960s when most countries in Africa had just gained independence and suffered from huge gaps in skilled labour and technical know-how. These ideas are outdated in the current context because many African countries have experienced high rates of growth in the last two decades and have become prominent actors in international politics. Secondly, the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has severely punctured India’s growth story. The IMF projects a 10.3 percent contraction of India’s GDP. As a result, there will be limited budgetary space for additional allocation for Africa in the coming years. At a time when India’s economy is slowing down, it will also be difficult to justify greater budget allocation for African capacity building to the Indian taxpayer, which has so far been oblivious to government spending on international cooperation. A more cost-effective development cooperation programme is the need of the hour. Lastly, Africa is being courted by many countries. In addition to the OECD countries, many southern countries — China, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, are interested in forging closer economic ties with Africa. Therefore, a true assessment of Indian capacity building initiatives is imperative for India to retain its importance in Africa.
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Dr Malancha Chakrabarty is Senior Fellow and Deputy Director (Research) at the Observer Research Foundation where she coordinates the research centre Centre for New Economic ...Read More +