Event ReportsPublished on Mar 30, 2011
The form of engagement between India and Africa should be defined by the idea of long-term mutual benefit and sustenance, and not merely by development and aid-giving.
Mutual Benefit Should Define India-Africa Partnership

The form of engagement between India and Africa should be defined by the idea of long-term mutual benefit and sustenance, and not merely by development and aid-giving. This was one of the consensus built at a roundtable on the topic of "India-Africa Partnership: New Models of Cooperation" organised at Observer Research Foundation on March 30, 2011. Attended by former Indian ambassadors, who had served in many African countries, notable scholars of African Studies, and African diplomats, the roundtable was an informal brainstorming session that proposed to highlight some of the pressing issues in India-Africa partnership and future endeavours.

One of the most notable points brought up was the utter lack of reporting done by the Indian media on issues concerning the African continent. Deemed to be one of the fastest growing continents in the world, with no fewer than six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies placed in sub-Saharan Africa (according to a study by The Economist), the discussants stressed the need for Indian writers to weave in their own thinking and analysis into the dialogue on Africa’s growth story and India’s subsequent engagement with it.

On the issue of forms of engagement, former ambassador Mr. Rajiv K. Bhatia suggested some important points that are needed for the way ahead. He stressed the need to address the great political deficit that exists and increase the amount of Indian officials visiting Africa. There needs to be a greater interest in the political developments in Africa, and a subsequent greater involvement of foreign policy in the continent.

Despite the notion that most government to government engagements have been highly successful, when it comes to the second tier of economic and business relations, there is a lot more to be accomplished. The recent India-Africa Partnership Conclave held in New Delhi from March 27-29th, 2011, saw the participation of 650 delegates, discussing 204 projects worth $ 18 billion. Moreover, Mr. Bhatia emphasised the need to concretise these business commitments, increase the present $46 billion in bilateral trade, and very importantly, study the competitors in the region, namely China’s role in Africa and how it is building its partnership.

On the third tier of engagement, that of civil society and media presence, there is a lot more to be accomplished. Mr Bhatia emphasised the need to ’establish a community of practice’ whether it is in the academic realm, in the media arena or in the person-to-person interaction.

Former Indian ambassador Mr. K.K. S. Rana, who has served in Algeria, Kenya, and Mauritius, commended India’s long-term engagement with Africa through human and resource capacity building, using African personnel in Indian investments in the continent, and not merely exercising its role as an economic power but for its societal and cultural contribution.

However, Dr Suresh Kumar from the Department of African Studies, University of Delhi, emphasised that much lay ahead for the India-Africa partnership, and that sustained engagement could only be created by improving the standards of education in the African continent. He proposed a greater number of exchange of students coming in from Africa with scholarships and vice versa, for Indian students to be sent to the continent to get first hand experience of its socio-cultural diversity.

Prof Jamal M. Moosa highlighted the problems with funding within Indian universities.  With only three main universities having Africana Studies programmes, he said, there is a legitimate need to increase the commitment to studying the continent, leverage the ability to disseminate the education, and build a synergy between the academics and policy-makers vested in the continent.

The participants said the ORF Programme on Africa can be a good platform where African embassies in Delhi could bring visiting officials and academics, strengthen networks, engage in more profound and specific roundtable sessions, and provide a bridge between various entities interested in furthering the India-Africa partnership.

Distinguished Fellow at ORF and former ambassador to Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, Mr H.H.S. Viswanathan, who heads the Africa Programme, summed it up saying that the world’s relations with the African continent can be divided into three phases. First, the past that was marred by an exploitative and patronising nature which saw the continent suffer. Second, the present which sees the continent in its resurgence and countries around the world, including India, are seeing the importance of building a mutually beneficial relationship. Third, the future where the importance of the continent would be to such a degree that strong relations with the continent will be not just mutually beneficial but imperative to tackling global issues.

The event was attended by diplomats from the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Embassy of Madagascar, Dr. Suresh Kumar from the University of Delhi, Prof. Jamal M. Moosa from Jamia Millia Islamia University, Ms. Ruchita Beri from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Amb. Kishan Rana, Amb. R Rajagopalan, Amb. Rajiv K. Bhatia and the ORF faculty.

(This report is prepared by Anjana Varma, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation)

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