Event ReportsPublished on Mar 21, 2013
India's economic cooperation with many of the African countries is booming but some parliamentarians from Africa think that to make the cooperation more constructive, India should try to make the local population also stake holders.
India needs to expand depth and scope of dialogue with Africa: MPs

India’s economic cooperation with many of the African countries is booming but some parliamentarians from Africa think that to make the cooperation more constructive, India should try to make the local population also stake holders.

This view was expressed during an interaction with 35 parliamentarians from Africa at Observer Research Foundation on March 21, 2013. Several Indian experts from the foreign policy, media and business sectors also participated in the lively discussion which touched upon wide-ranging areas.

It was pointed out that the abundance of positive news coming out of Africa - news about the continent’s economic, political and social resurgence -- signifies that this is going to be the ’century of Africa’. By 2030, there will be at least one billion people of working age on the continent, a demographic dividend that many will be keen to exploit. In order to take advantage of the numbers, African countries will need to become manufacturing hubs and make use of international interest in the region. India, in addition to having a historical experience familiar to many African countries, is in an advantageous position as a trade partner. Trade between African nations and India is already at $70 billion, and is capable of reaching $100 billion by 2040 according to optimistic estimates. India and Africa are also establishing greater social and political ties. ORF itself has a burgeoning Africa Studies Programme, which collaborates with local diplomatic missions and other think tanks around the world, addressing policy concerns which national governments may not have time for.

Speakers noted that it is important to expand the depth and scope of the dialogue between India and Africa. Speaking with members of parliament is useful to this end because as elected representatives they are directly connected to their constituents, and can speak about issues which ’little presidents’, or political appointees, cannot. Problems and solutions which affect the daily lives of the people can thus be discussed more specifically and at a local level - providing a different perspective from the broader discussions undertaken by national leaders. India does not view Africa as a single unit, so political communication is on a multilateral or bilateral basis. The growing frequency of this communication was praised, and the opportunities for Indians in human resource training, capacity management and business throughout Africa were highlighted.

While opportunities for international participation were emphasised, concerns were also raised that too much foreign involvement, particularly in business, would prevent Africa from developing its own ’business class’. For some, the perception of Africa as the ’continent of the future’ was merely the lure of untapped natural resources waiting to be exploited. The need to avoid profiteering and abuse of natural and human resources was stressed; this could be achieved by diversifying business interests, incorporating corporate social responsibility schemes, and most importantly, by involving the local population in ongoing projects. The idea of value addition, giving as well as taking - whether through the development of infrastructure, granting of scholarships, establishment of training institutes, or provision of employment opportunities - is critical to the success of any international partnership.

A good example of Indian and African cooperation can be found in the railway sector, which was brought up several times during the interaction. The Indian government, through enterprises like RITES, has been involved in updating old railway lines and building new networks, assisting with planning, consultation, training and other activities in several African countries. Locals are hired, allowing the technical know-how to be passed on. Furthermore, the physical resources which remain (in this case the trains and railway tracks) are used by the people. Other projects have come to fruition through the extension of Lines of Credit (LOCs), whereby the Government of India disburses assistance through credit agreements. Indian firms carry out the projects funded by LOCs, but efforts are made to ensure local participation and local benefit.

While the dangers of excessive involvement from abroad were brought up, the idea that India and China may be attempting some kind of new colonisation of Africa was rejected. India is not pursuing a donor-recipient relationship in Africa; it is seeking partnerships. The Economist may once have described Africa as the ’hopeless continent’, but India views it as a vital pillar of global growth.

Economic partnerships are blooming, but the average Indian may not know about the average African or vice versa. A joint media endeavour to increase coverage of each region in the other would promote mutual understanding and awareness. This would also help bring to light issues other than financial development. India and the African countries face similar problems ranging from drug distribution and abuse to human rights violations, and these issues too would benefit from cooperative analysis.

Also discussed was reform of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council. Many questioned whether the institution - and others like it - was still relevant in its current form. It may have suited the international political system 60 years ago, when it was established, but that is no longer the case. It was argued that to better serve the needs of the moment, Africa and India should step up and take the initiative on the world stage.

Think tanks and alternative policy institutes serve as platforms for bringing experts together and addressing questions which require further exploration. Several speakers mentioned that the establishment of more of these institutes to participate with their partners globally would be an asset to any country. India and Africa, enjoying economic growth, demographic dividends and socio-cultural revolutions, are poised to reap the benefits of a mutually fruitful partnership.

(This report was prepared by Anahita Mathai, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.