The Big Picture – India-Africa Ties: Where are they Heading?

  • July 13, 2016
  • 1
The Big Picture- RSTV
Print Friendly, PDF & Email




India-Africa Ties: Where are they Heading?


India’s relation with Africa has been a historical one. In recent years, these ties have been sought to be imposed with deeper economic and strategic relationship. The India-Africa summit which began in 2008 has seen three summits, last one being held in October 2015. PM is now on the first visit to the four countries of the continent viz. Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. These visits are looked at keenly as India hopes to deepen its ties and play a major role in the continent. Meanwhile, these visits have also acquired importance following the recent strain in the relation with some of the African countries following the attacks on Africans in India.

Vision of India for Africa

The vision is now becoming clearer.

  1. The vision is of consolidation and expansion of close political relationship between India and Africa.
  2. Intensifying the economic relationship in a manner that it becomes mutually beneficial.
  3. Intensification of development partnership
  4. Focus on Indian Ocean related issues, security and development.
  5. People-to-people relationship and cultural cooperation between India and African continent.

The foundation of ties has not taken a definite shape for years which it should have because of its historical and cultural linkages. In last few years, the focus has been back again on increasing India-Africa ties. However, the refocus is related to economic growth. Positioning this relationship in a 21st century framework, while recalling the historical sacrifices of freedom, it’s important that new basis are formed on which the relationship can flourish.

India-Africa camaraderie

To some extent, most of Africa is semi-industrialised and so is India, and now both are on path to industrialisation, hence, there is a greater complementarity that is emerging. So India’s need for African resources is going to grow.

Simultaneously the African bloc is huge in UN and India needs their votes. On top of it, there is a sense that India is rising and it needs to have an influence in Africa and have a backing for if India has to establish as a leading power.

For all these reasons, India is making effort and it is being accelerating in last few years. There was a time when hardly any Indian leader was visiting Africa and thus, it is a time to make up for deficit and showing that south-south cooperation is not only about technical nitty-gritty. It is about rising together.

India and China in Africa: Worth the comparison?

India has been said to be little laggard in the way it has dealt with Africa. China is way ahead making inroads into the continent. However, it is a wrong way to look at India’s relation with Africa.

India shouldn’t be looking through the prism of China which is galloping in Africa. India has a very old relationship with Africa. There is trade taking place, Gujarati traders have known to be coming and settling down in east Africa. When it comes to African National Congress, India was deeply embedded in African struggle, INC led by J.N. Nehru had an African policy. So, Africa has been very important. Thus, it is not a recent thing.

South Africa and India are working and dealing with each other since 1994. But in terms of larger economic engagement, it has risen primarily because India had money to invest post liberalisation and when India began to look better 2006 onwards. The credit limits given to African nations has increased with time. Thus, its gradual process of building up ties with African nations.

Not to look at India-Africa ties through prism of China because, ultimately, India’s relationship will run independently of China.

  • Some of the countries like Sudan gave India share in oil field which was controlled largely by China because they didn’t want China to have 100% share in oil field.
  • Nigeria also did the same which wanted that all of their resources should not be controlled by one country.
  • President of Zambia ran on a wildly anti-china platform with increased Chinese investment and labourers, giving no jobs to locals.
  • The beneficiary is Vedanta which was allowed to take copper industry to the point that Vedanta is slated to be 26% of Zambia’s entire GDP.

Therefore, it does help us that there is the China issue.

Role of private sector on rise: India has benefited and the bulk of work done in Africa is running on its own scheme. At the core of this is the rise of Indian private sector investment along with large number of state owned enterprises, PSUs investing, especially in oil and gas industry.

The private sector is visible in African nations like South Sudan with presence of companies like Airtel, Mahindra, Tata, Apollo hospitals, Maratha infantry soldiers maintaining law and order in Juba. Thus, Indian elements were seen on whole host of fronts. It is no longer just about the government of India or PSUs. That relationship is expanding across the lot of areas and that is not driven by China but it is Indian commercial interests and there is a convergence between our interests and Africa. This is big difference between India and China.

Just not resources: India is not sorely resource driven in African engagement. A lot of Indian investments growing into Africa is not only about resources any more. It is about financial services, telecom, hospitals and education. The 50% of all global FDI in Africa is into services and not resources any more. This is a big misnomer about what modern Africa is about. Resources is big. But it is now a major service economy and that is what India is competing in as India is service driven economy.

The President and Vice-President have already been to Africa and now PM visiting shows the focus to get more influence, to get more support for UN reforms, for cooperation in nuclear Suppliers’ Group support and deeper ties.

A different engagement by India

India is of course interested in African resources. There is no reason why India should not be as it is the strength of Africa. The essential approach of India is that it is not purely or nakedly extractive. Idea is that India will help Africa to mine its resources, do the value addition, create employment and then Africa will help by sharing whatever they can share with India. This is a very enlightened approach. However, western or some other countries and experts believe that some kind of neo-colonialism is happening in Africa. But, India should not highlight such criticism as Africans do not feel that way.

  1. Africa is not going to make a choice. It is going to need all its major partners. Major partners from Asia include India and China. It also needs, USA, EU, Japan, Turkey, Russia etc. Thus, they don’t have to make a choice. In this matrix of the partners, India has very obvious attraction and strengths.
  2. Now, with the continuation of India-Africa policy, India is addressing the major deficit in political visibility in Africa which was missing earlier. Also, India is willing to share much more of its financial resources and human development resources than it was willing to do in past.

Importance of South Africa

South Africa has overtaken or overshadowed other countries as far as the India looks at Africa and it also has a strategic location in Indian Ocean. It certainly has attracted bulk of India’s investment and is largest trading partner in Africa. It is also a major economy after Nigeria. Presence of Gandhiji, Mandela and all those connections loom large on India-South Africa relation.

But, India has diversified over time. India is buying oil from other countries. Of course, mineral oils is more in South Africa along with Angola, Congo, Tanzania and Mozambique. Over time, other African economies will start galloping and even West Africa, away from Indian shores towards Atlantic, is being tapped by India in a big way. So, it is not over dependence on South Africa anymore. South Africa is looked upon due to BRICS, IBSA, it being vocal about changing global order, making world multi-polar with which India shares its views. The PM also mentioned the possibility of South Africa and India partnership in coproduction in defence. This will be first time that India will be working with SA in building peace keeping capacities of African governments across the region. South Africa has a convening power. In Pretoria, civil servants, military, bureaucrats across the continents are coming for training. Through South Africa, India can make a gateway to build its capacities, agenda in whole of Africa.

Racial attacks

Africa is described as one entity. It is not made granular or separated. When an incident takes place against one African, the message goes that entire Africa is brutalised in a way. Thus, during interactions with different governments, the Government of India is cognisant of the fact that any kind of violence on African nationals in India, there is a counter violence that takes place in the respective countries, just as it happened this time when the Congolese was hit. If India wants close relation, it has to be assured that no such outward incidents happen which can strain the ties. Whether or not South African or other countries raise this pressure from the media of the continent, it is incumbent on India to do the correct thing and it is hoped that whatever has been promised will be carried forward.

African expectations from India

African nations expect India to show its faith in ‘Atithi devo bhava’. That it believes in Vasudhev kutumbakam. When an African student, businessman, diplomat or visitor comes to India, he has to be given safe, respectful and friendly environment. Indian authorities are versed with it. But now is the need to change the mind of the countrymen.

However, the government denying Indians as being racist is not correct. Indians have racist tendency and it is widely evident. So, government has to come out of denial mode and accept the racial attacks and try to solve the issue. When Indians are attacked in Australia, there is a wide outcry of Indians being racially abused. At government to government level, negative stuff is not raised. But, government has to accept it.

After the end of non-alignment phase, the current generation has disconnected and now they indulge in racist bias. They don’t know how Indians benefit from Africa. Hopefully, the PM’s travel and all emphasis on Africa and building cooperation and the publicity that comes along with it will educate the public. What is lacking is the level of education at the school curricula, in the minds of young Indians. Average Indians don’t know how attractive Africa is and how it belies the western stereotypes of being destabilised and a war prone continent. There are many parts of Africa that are charging forward. The demographic dividend is growing. Thus, India needs to put up a positive image of Africa.

The meeting of ambassadors of Africa was recently organised wherein one of the things they demanded from Government of India is to raise awareness about Africa, to fight the stereotype that drive these people to violence. This is where the challenge lies and also to stop being in denial.

Indian investments in Africa

The extent to which Indians are going there for contract farming, buying land, is a new trend now. There is a growing awareness that land is very sensitive issue. If one goes into Africa and buys or leases land, it has its very serious implications. The new model in Mozambique is introduced where India will extend financial and technological help to Mozambique people to do the commercial farming and this is backed by buy-back production of pulses. This seems to be positive and balanced approach which can be replicated elsewhere because Africa has land, water and fertile environment that is needed by India.

India has similar thing in Myanmar, which is another major source exporter of dal. India doesn’t buy from Indian farmers but Myanmar farmers. It’s a win-win situation for African farmer who gets a guaranteed market for his product and in return India gets steady supply of dal which has become a major inflation problem in India. It is a primary source of protein for vegetarian and poor people but it has become a luxury product which has to be imported from Australia, Canada, America, Myanmar and India is desperate because the rising demand is not matched.

Strategic maritime issues

The strategic importance of Indian Ocean is now being acknowledged. Last year’s India-Africa summit had the introduction of large security element to Indian Ocean. India has become more active in helping African countries fighting boko haram, al Qaeda, Islamic markhaz which are big terrorist organisations functioning in Africa. India has signed dozen security and military agreements in last summit. In Mozambique, Indians are training navy, military service of Mozambique. PM has chosen specific Indian Ocean littoral states and India is now developing a larger Indian Ocean strategy in which linkages are being built up which go beyond just the historical and cultural relations.

India is moving into economics and security of Indian Ocean learning from South China sea issue. China suddenly declares that an international water body is theirs. And South East Asia is unable to resist Chinese pressure. So, India needs to build up a network of influence in Indian Ocean. It will not stop China from coming in but India has to show that Indian Ocean is still India’s ocean which Chinese has publically said that it will never be India’s.

This has been existing for a long time and has now got a sharper focus. There is a geo-political factor which needs to be caught up by India. But, in immediate future, power balance will not change suddenly. What is changing is that, in past India used to have just one or two gateways in Africa: Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Now, thanks to active, constructive and creative diplomacy, India has acquired several gateways to Africa. Morocco offered to be one. Ghana also offered when President went. Mozambique is another one. So, India is developing elbow room for itself on the holistic way and thus it is a positive way.

Way forward:

India yet cannot give lot of economic support. Focus is on support for NSG, on UN Security Council reform issue as it shares same problems of non-representation. So these issues will be talked about.

  1. India is touching life of ordinary Africans building their livelihoods, capacities. Thus India stands out in its approach.
  2. Lot of African countries are democratising, which is why India is special. India is most successful case amongst established democracies. So electoral assistance, constitutionalism, federalism, drafting of rights and charters are important areas where Africa and India can strengthen its political ties.

Thus, India can be a role model for changing countries.

Key words:

South-South cooperation: a broad framework for collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technical domains. Involving two or more developing countries, it can take place on a bilateral, regional, subregional or interregional basis.

Developing countries share knowledge, skills, expertise and resources to meet their development goals through concerted efforts. Recent developments in South-South cooperation have taken the form of increased volume of South-South trade, South-South flows of foreign direct investment, movements towards regional integration, technology transfers, sharing of solutions and experts, and other forms of exchanges.

Connecting the dots:

Transformation from historical linkages to economic cooperation defines India-Africa relations. Analyse


India-Africa Cooperation on Global Issues

Strengthening Ties with Africa

India’s Entry into NSG: Why is South Africa holding out?

For a dedicated peer group, Motivation & Quick updates, Join our official telegram channel – https://t.me/IASbabaOfficialAccount

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE to watch Explainer Videos, Strategy Sessions, Toppers Talks & many more…

Search now.....