Event ReportsPublished on Apr 01, 2021
A cross-analysis of the three regions indicates multiple complementarities between India and Europe vis-à-vis Africa — and that there are good reasons to initiate triangular cooperation in certain sectors.
Indian and European engagement patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has heralded an increasingly fragmented world that is fuelling protectionism and playing into nationalist narratives. While India is trying to cope with the rising number of cases, Europe is caught in a struggle to retain its values. Despite these challenges, India and European Union (EU) remain natural partners that share universal values like democracy, pluralism, inclusivity, respect for international institutions, freedom, and transparency. One region where India and EU can collaborate is the African continent where both have independently adopted public policies in recent years making Africa one of their priorities. Although both have specific interests in Africa, a cross-analysis of the three regions indicates multiple complementarities between India and Europe vis-à-vis Africa, and that there are good reasons to initiate triangular cooperation in certain sectors.

In this backdrop, on 26 February 2021, a virtual discussion was co-hosted by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India and the Freie University in Berlin, Germany. The topic of the discussion was ‘Indian and European engagement patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa.’ The discussions began with the idea of continuity in India–Africa relations, a relationship that has been friendly, collaborative, and rooted in a sense of common solidarity.

India–Africa engagement

There are certain fundamental ideas that characterise India’s Africa outreach. Not only is there a shared sense of solidarity, but there has also never been any major conflict of interest between India or any African country. India’s development partnership rests on three fundamental principles: No conditionalities, no prescriptions, and no questioning of sovereignty.

These factors were also highlighted during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2018 address at the Ugandan Parliament, in which the 10 Guiding Principles for India–Africa engagement were outlined. While these principles essentially reflect continuity in policies that have historically defined India–Africa partnership, they also reflect at the same time a change in the nuances and priorities in Indian engagement in the continent. India’s emphasis remains on capacity building and development, trade and investment opportunities, using India’s experience with the digital revolution to support Africa’s development, working together to tackle issues such as climate change, combating terrorism, and working together at multilateral organisations. India is also aiming to open 18 new resident missions in Africa by 2022. On the security and defence sector, back in 2019, the first Africa–India Field Training Exercise-2019 (AFINDEX-19) took place which saw representation from 17 African countries. Another important initiative is the India–Africa Defence Ministers’ Conclave held in February 2020 that led to the adoption of the ‘Lucknow Declaration’ pertaining specifically to defence, military, and security cooperation between India and African countries.

Africa–EU engagement

The European and African continent are each other’s closest neighbours. Over the past two decades, the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) have worked together to strengthen and reinvigorate their partnership and respond to new challenges. There has been a realisation of Africa’s great potential in terms of its natural resources, cultural diversity, population (set to double by 2050 and has an average age of 22) and entrepreneurial dynamism. The EU continues to remain Africa’s principal trading, development, and security partner. To support the African Union on Agenda 2063, Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, borrowing from the US initiative of the same name, unveiled the framework for a Marshall Plan with Africa on 18 January 2017. Professor Tobias Berger highlighted that this German initiative aims to increase trade and development in Africa and reduce migration flows north across the Mediterranean. Other European initiatives include Denmark’s ‘Opportunity Africa,’ launched in 2013 to promote inclusive and green economic growth in Africa, Germany’s Pro! Africa initiative launched by the German government to foster economic development, and the new Africa Strategy of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) aimed at cooperation, development, and creating prospects.

Apart from development and trade, the EU also hasmajor concerns about rising instabilities and armed insurgencies in certain parts of the continent. The Horn of Africa, North Africa, West Africa, Sahel, and Great Lakes region are places that have witnessed increasing instability with dozens of jihadist armed insurgencies and civil wars. There has been a strong French security presence in this region since 2013 and major efforts have been undertaken to combat terrorism. France also maintains a naval base on the island of Réunion and Mayotte, both French overseas territories. Their missions focus on maritime security and illegal migration. There is also the issue of economic insecurity. Each year in Africa, between 10 million and 12 million people reach working age, but only around 3 million jobs are created.

In 2007, the Africa–EU Strategic Partnership was established by heads from 54 African states and 27 European countries to facilitate cooperation between the two continents. The fifth African Union–European Union Summit was held on 29–30 November 2017 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. The 2020 summit did not take place because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been postponed to 2021 and India has been invited to participate as an observer.

There is huge potential for an India–Africa–EU trilateral to further these aims, since there is an inherent need to tackle common global challenges like terrorism and armed insurgency, migration, climate change, cyber security, development, and trade. The new European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen has prioritised relations with Africa as the EU’s ‘close neighbour and most natural partner.’ A purposeful triangular cooperation between India, EU, and Africa in the 2+1 format will help us to leverage our strengths in terms of presence, competitive edge, and funds. Indian firms need to invest in Africa’s dynamic local economies and budding entrepreneurial ecosystem, while the EU needs to focus on having a political consensus regarding their development policy in Africa. Africa's consumers are expected to spend over US$ 1.4 trillion by 2020; a local Indian presence will help advance Indian interests in Africa. India and Europe need to catch up as China’s increasing influence poses a risk for India and European countries as they continue their search for new markets and resilient supply chains in Africa. India can work to enable greater African agency and pursue greater engagement with its long-established and well-integrated diasporic community in Africa as China will likely focus on areas that will further their economic influence.

While there is enormous potential to further Indian and European engagement in Africa, what remains to be seen is how they capitalise on the tremendous opportunities that are present. As mentioned earlier, China has made a head start where engagement with Africa is concerned. Although, there has been greater Indian and European involvement and cooperation with Africa in recent years, there is scope for a lot more.


• Ambassador H.H.S. Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF

• Dr Tobias Berger, Assistant Professor, Freie University, Berlin

• Ambassador Navdeep Suri, Distinguished Fellow and Director, Centre for New Economic Diplomacy, ORF

• Dr Malancha Chakrabarty, Fellow, ORF

• Dr Eva Magdalena Stambol, Postdoctoral Researcher, Freie University, Berlin

• Abhishek Mishra, Junior Fellow, ORF

• Dr Ingo Peters, Associate Professor, Freie University, Berlin

This report is prepared by Kripa Anand, Research Intern, ORF.

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