Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 29, 2020
Emerging contours of India’s growing presence in Africa

During this century India’s ties with diverse African states have grown steadily in the economic, politico-strategic, educational and cultural spheres. Interweaving bilateral, multilateral, regional and continental ties with a continent comprising 54 sovereign states with immense diversities in terms of colonial past, levels of economic and technological developments, political systems, languages and religion has always been a challenging task. However, it has become little more manageable owing to institutionalization of such ties through organizations such as India – Africa Forum Summit (IAFS).

The fourth IAFS is scheduled in September 2020 in India. In the third IAFS, attended by all the 54 states, 41 African heads of the states/governments were present in New Delhi in 2015 October. In addition to $7.4 billion concessional credit pledged in 2008, India offered $10 billion over the next five years. Moreover, grant assistance of $600 million including $100 million for India Africa development fund, as well as 50,000 scholarships to African students to pursue studies in India, made India-Africa development cooperation quite substantial. Out of these, India has already earmarked 40,000 scholarships and has spend more than $100 million of the development fund. Furthermore, from 2015-19, India has hosted about 35 African leaders.

Besides, from the Indian side 29 visits of African countries at the level of President, Vice President and Prime Minister have already taken place. In March 2018, India decided to open up eighteen new embassies in Africa. Out of these, in the year 2018-19, embassies in five countries such as Rwanda, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, The Republic of Guinea and Burkina Faso were established. In addition to these five embassies, by February 2020, Harsh Shringla, India’s foreign secretary, reportedly confirmed that four more embassies were opened up in Africa taking the total up to nine. Besides, India held three meetings with Regional Economic Communities (REC) of Africa. In 2019 the bilateral trade between India and Africa stood at $69 billion reflecting 12 per cent annual rise. Although powerful African states such as Nigeria and South Africa happen to be important trading partners of India, the Focus Africa programme that commenced after 2002 has grown to a point where India’s trade has expanded in quantity/volume across the continent embracing several African countries. India also has reached a point where it exports finished goods, adapted technology, and finance to African countries and buys strategic raw materials from them, in its turn.

However, considering the formidable scale, magnitude and impact of China’s presence in Africa in practically all the spheres of economic, commercial and political activities, it would be inappropriate to compare the role of India and China in Africa, at this stage. Nevertheless, if India claims that its model of development for Africa is without any conditionality, could asymmetry in power relationship between India and several African states be easily wished away? India’s growing engagement with Africa can be appraised appropriately by capturing glimpses of India’s policy in Africa since the past seven decades.

Independent India deployed non-alignment as a foreign policy strategy to negotiate with the politics of the Cold War divided by the bi-polar world. Non-alignment was a logical extension of India’s nationalism and a way to find freedom of expression for India in international politics. It also signified continuation of India’s struggle against imperio racist powers. Thus, India supported anti-colonial struggles in Africa by being a part of the Bandung project of 1955. India’s support to liberation struggles in Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau etc. could be viewed in this context. Although India had refrained from offering de jure recognition to provisional republic (GPRA) formed in the 1950s by the Front of National Liberation (FLN) of Algeria under Nehru, Indira Gandhi offered de jure recognition to provisional government formed by Guinea Bissau’s liberation movement, namely, African Party of Independence of Guinea and Cape Verdes (PAIGC) in the 1970s signifying little more unequivocal and concrete support to decolonization. Further, India had raised the issue of racism in the Republic of South Africa at the United Nations in 1948 and was equally responsible for ousting South Africa from Commonwealth of Nations in 1961.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had provided a forum for India and African countries to take concerted political and economic actions. India as the Chairman of the NAM (1986-89) administered the Action for Resistance of Invasion by Colonialism and Apartheid (AFRICA) Fund worth $50 million to ensure that the frontline states that were fighting apartheid South Africa reduce their dependence on the latter. Moreover, after the Lusaka summit of the NAM in 1970 the emphasis of the NAM shifted from political to economic issues as India and African countries through G77 and wanted to work towards building a New International Economic Order (NIEO) through North South dialogue and promote South-South cooperation. Along with other developing countries India worked to get better prices for primary commodities, ensure transfer of credit and technologies from developed to developing countries to rectify the structural imbalances in the world economy. However, with the end of the Cold War in 1991 the NAM lost its erstwhile significance.

Systematic initiation of economic reforms in India coincided with the end of the Cold War. The reforms entailed measures of liberalization of economy which progressively began to integrate India with the world economy. Besides, developments in Africa such as the end of white minority regime in Namibia (1990) and South Africa (1994), the choice of African countries to reform their economies and the consequent emergence electoral representative democratic regimes in Africa from the mid-1990s,  the birth of the African Union (2002) etc. began to offer new opportunities to India.  Similarly, owing to sustained growth rates on an annual average of six to seven per cent after initiation of reforms almost for a quarter of a century, India emerged as a rising power which became a force to be reckoned with in world politics as it became a member of G20 and transcontinental grouping like the Brazil, Russia, India China, and South Africa (BRICS).

In a globalising world, India’s engagement with security related issues in Africa prompted it to participate in several United Nations (UN) peace keeping missions in conflict prone African states. Besides, it has been training Africa’s military personnel in India as well as through the institutions concerned with capacity building projects in countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria. India has defence partnerships with Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Botswana, Uganda, Mozambique and Namibia. It has been keenly interested in containing piracy on the Somalian coast, combatting terror unleashed by outfits such as Al Shaabab and Boko Haram and curbing the activities of criminal syndicates including the flow of narcotic drugs and small arms. To meet energy security, the energy hungry economy of India forged closer ties with the then Sudan in 2003 and the ONGC Videsh became a stakeholder in Sudanese petroleum sector along with Malaysia, Sudan and China. The Southern Sudan has oil while oil refineries and the outlet to the sea are via Sudan. India can venture to connect South Sudan to sea via Kenya. In view of the possibilities of interruptions of oil supply in the conflict ridden regions of the Persian Gulf and west Asia, India chose to cultivate ties with oil rich countries in the Gulf of Guinea such as Nigeria and Angola. Thanks to reforms, a network of India’s multinational firms such as Tatas, Reliance, Mahindras, Infosys, Mittal, Kirloskar etc. and state owned companies and banks began to operate effectively in Africa. Air Tel run by Mittal became a dominant Telecom firm in Africa while Tatas began to emphasize how by investing abroad they were contributing towards the project of nation building in India in a globalizing world. Globalisation has also prompted India to concentrate on the Indo-Pacific region, in general, and the Western Indian Ocean, in particular. Prime Minister Modi’s state visits to Seychelles, Mauritius (2015), Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya (2016) and Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa (2018) etc are cases in point. Similarly India’s involvement in promoting blue economy and projects like Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) further underscore its growing concern for the Indo-Pacific region.

In the educational and cultural domains India and African states have a younger population. India’s urge to promote cooperation in the IT sector through initiatives such as Pan African e network through the AU and efforts to establish institutions of higher education such as India Africa Institute of Foreign Trade (IAIFT), India Africa Diamond Institute (IADI), India Africa Institute of Education Planning and development (IAIEPA) would go a long way in promoting Indo-Africa cooperation in education.  In addition, during 2015-19, seven vocational training centres were established in countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Zimbabwe and Egypt.

Briefly, India certainly has emerged as one of the dominant actors on the African scene. As a relatively developed among developing countries, an emerging power of India has had asymmetrical forms of association with most of the African countries in diverse domains. Any asymmetry in power relations does give upper hand to the powerful country and yet African states are sovereign and can deploy their sovereign powers to negotiate between contending powers that are competing towards either exploitation of resources or capacity building projects in Africa to ward off likely possibilities of imperial dominance from India.

For more arguments, see Harshé, Rajen (2019) Africa in World Affairs Politics of Imperialism, the Cold War and Globalisation (Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge)

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Rajen Harshé

Rajen Harshé

Rajen Harshé is a founder and former Vice Chancellor of the Central University of Allahabad Prayagraj and former President of the G.B. Pant Social Science ...

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