Originally Published 2015-11-06 10:23:15 Published on Nov 06, 2015
It has been a cliché to refer to India and Africa as natural partners. With the recent India-Africa Summit in Delhi, there is a chance to make it a reality. But for this, concerted action is needed on the parts of the governments, private sectors, civil societies, think tanks, academics and the media on both sides.
India-Africa Forum Summit: A new vision and a new strategy?

The recently concluded India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi is not to be looked at merely as the third edition in a series. With the over-arching theme of "Reinvigorated Partnership-Shared Vision", the Summit stood out in three ways: First, unlike the earlier versions, India did not go by the Banjul Formula by which only a selected group of countries were invited. This prevented the participation of the smaller ones. This time around, India managed diplomatically to get out of this artificial restriction created by the African Union. The move was welcomed by all the African countries. Second, going by the Final Declaration, the narrative of the Summit has changed from the past. From what India can do for Africa which has been the main theme so far, the discourse today is what can India and Africa do together. This is in keeping with the changes in the political and economic heft of the two players. And third, the important role that India and Africa can play on major global issues has been brought out very well.

Summits like this, with the participation of all the 54 African countries (more than 40 of them at the Head of State or Head of Government level) are great public relation exercises and have to be accompanied by a whole lot of pomp, protocol and activities. By all accounts, the Ministry of External Affairs did a splendid job on the organizational front. In today's world, Summit Diplomacy has attained special significance because most Foreign Policy initiatives have a top-down approach. Hence, the real value of such a Summit is the injection of a much needed momentum in the Partnership.

PM Narendra Modi's frank admission in the inaugural address that "there are times when we have not done as well as you have wanted us to. There have been occasions when we have not been as attentive as we should be. There are commitments we have not fulfilled as quickly as we should have" was deeply appreciated because it brought out the collaborative nature of the partnership. It also implied that such errors will be avoided in the future.

The Final Declaration had some impressive figures in the Development Partnership Agenda. India promised $ 10 billion in concessional credits over the next five years. In addition, $ 600 million in grant assistance was also announced. This would include $ 100 million for the India-Africa Development Fund and $10 million for the India-Africa Health Fund. One had expected that there would be more funding forthcoming for these two critical sectors. Hopefully, if the right projects are identified, they would not suffer because of lack of resources. Another important decision was to grant 50,000 scholarships to African students for the period 2016-2020.

On many global issues, India and Africa reiterated that they are on the same page. This pertains to questions on climate change, sustainable development, renewable energy and global governance. PM's address also mentioned need for cooperation in the ministerial meeting of the WTO at Nairobi in December. He stressed that India and Africa should speak with one voice on the important issue of UN reforms and the UNSC expansion. The two sides "emphasized the need for an early implementation of the recent UNGA Decision 69/560". There is clearly an understanding, but the action plan has yet to be spelt out.

Two other areas of crucial importance both to India and Africa have been prominently mentioned. These pertain to counter-terrorism and the Blue economy. It is hoped that intensive cooperation in these two sectors will be initiated very soon.

What is of great practical significance is Para 32 of the Declaration which talks of the establishment of a regular formal monitoring mechanism. The need for this has been felt for a long time. Bureaucratic delays on both sides have led to non-utilization of the full amount of the Lines of Credit. The new monitoring mechanism can ensure timely implementation of the initiatives announced.

In taking the partnership forward, there are some vital factors which have to be taken into account:

  •  African nations came up recently with their Vision Agenda 2063. The central theme of this is Pan-Africanism, a sense of unity, self-reliance, integration and solidarity. In economic terms, it means that the development of Africa will be increasingly owned and driven by Africans themselves. Hence, India's partnership initiatives will have to be dove-tailed into the Agenda 2063.

  •  The great contradiction in the African economy was eloquently brought out in the Namibian President's address when he said "Africa consumes what it does not produce and produces what it does not consume." This has to change. Can India's partnership help in the change?

  •  The demographic profiles of India and Africa can be leveraged to mutual benefit. PM, in his address mentioned that "two thirds of India and two thirds of Africa is under the age of 35 years. And if the future belongs to the youth, then this century is ours to shape and build." But this is not pre-ordained and cannot be taken for granted. New innovative ways of tapping the potential of the youth have to be found on both sides.

  •  Regional Integration in Africa is proceeding at a very rapid pace. India has to build mechanisms to partner effectively with the Regional Economic Groups.

  •  Our combined voice on global issues needs to be heard much more and more effectively. On most of these issues, our views are similar, if not identical. It need not be a repeat of the old G-77 or the NAM rhetoric. From a role of the opposition in the past, we are both today in a position to play the role of positive contributors to Global Governance.

It has been a cliché to refer to India and Africa as natural partners. With this Summit, there is a chance to make it a reality. But for this, concerted action is needed on the parts of the Governments, Private sectors, Civil societies, Think tanks, Academics and the media on both sides.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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