By: Vaishnavi Verma, Research Analyst, GSDN
Background of Indian-African Relations
The historical relationship between Africa and India can be traced back to ancient times, specifically the Bronze Age in the Indus Valley Civilization and interactions between India and ancient Egypt. During the medieval period, there was an increase in commercial routes between the Mediterranean and Asia through Arabia, which facilitated contact between India and Africa. This period also witnessed the presence of Hindu traders along the southeastern coast of Mozambique in Africa.
The historical dimension of African-Indian relations is imbued with political implications. Both Africa and India experienced the intrusion of colonialism and its subsequent consequences, as the British colonial administration exerted control over the Indian Subcontinent and significant portions of Africa. The aforementioned concept was further strengthened by India’s endorsement of anti-colonial liberation movements and the attainment of independence by African nations, along with India’s display of solidarity during the Cold War in the 1960s.
Upon observing various regions in Africa, particularly East, and Southern Africa, one can discern the presence of significant cultural connections between the continent and India. According to a report from 2014, the Indian diaspora in Africa holds significant economic and cultural significance. The report indicates that Indian communities can be found in 46 African nations, constituting approximately 12.37% of the total Indian Diaspora. During the tenure of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Indian government demonstrated its “resource diplomacy” in Africa by organizing the inaugural India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008. This summit brought together leaders from 14 African nations, who collectively pledged $ 5 billion in credit and provided substantial amounts of aid amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, in the year 2010, Singh founded the Indian Overseas Facilitation Centre to enhance economic relations and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indian indentured laborers in South Africa.
Importance of Africa
The geographical proximity between India and Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa region, renders Africa of utmost significance to India’s security. This region is characterized by the emergence of threats such as radicalism, piracy, and organized crime.
- Africa has the potential to contribute significantly to the diversification of our energy sources, aligning with the stated objective of our Integrated Energy Policy.
- Africa is home to a significant abundance of valuable minerals and metals, such as gold and diamonds.
- Africa offers a favourable environment for Indian investment.
- Africa possesses a substantial amount of agricultural land that has the potential to contribute significantly to India’s food security. India is considering the possibility of leasing land in Africa as a potential solution to address the scarcity of arable land that we currently encounter.
The endorsement of African nations holds significant importance for India’s pursuit of securing a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Africa serves as a platform for showcasing both India’s soft and hard power capabilities.
India has demonstrated a proactive engagement in fostering peace and stability within African nations by actively participating in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations. India is actively engaged in the process of enhancing the capabilities and skills of African nations through capacity building initiatives. Africa is the primary recipient of India’s ITEC program, which is the largest in terms of beneficiaries.
The Current Areas of Collaboration between India and Africa
The Conclave of India-Africa Project Partnership was formed in 2005, with the primary objective of fostering economic collaboration between India and Africa. The project has played a crucial role in fostering the establishment of Indian enterprises in Africa. Furthermore, the establishment of the India-Africa Summit played a crucial role in institutionalizing and formalizing India’s diplomatic ties with its African counterparts, representing a significant landmark in the realm of Indian- African relations. In recent times, there has been a notable focus on economic engagement between India and Africa, characterized by an increasing trade volume and a growing portfolio of investments. India exhibits a proclivity towards the private sector when it comes to skill and capacity-building initiatives in domains such as health care, agriculture, the digital revolution, and educational collaboration. Moreover, it is worth noting that the significance of marine security cannot be understood in the context of India’s diplomatic ties with countries such as Kenya, South Africa, and other coastal nations and islands.
Areas of collaboration:
- Economic Involvement: Africa’s rich resources, growing middle class, and big working-age population attract international competitors and global powers. India’s consumer-driven goods in agriculture, clothes, pharmaceuticals, and automotive components have enhanced the continent’s significance thanks to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). India launched concessional lines of credit (LOC) in 2003 to boost development collaborations. From 2008 to 2011, India pledged about US$8 billion in LoCs to African states.
Despite the difference between promised funds and actual lines of Credit (LoCs) provided to Africa, recent reports have positioned India as one of the continent’s main funders. India is one of Africa’s top five investors with $74 billion invested in oil and gas, mining, banking, pharmaceuticals, textiles, automotive, and agriculture. The Ministry of External Affairs of India said that under LoCs with Africa in different sectors, 193 projects have been completed, 66 are under execution, and 88 are under pre-execution.
Bilateral trade between India and Africa has grown consistently year after year. For example, in 2020, India exported 5.2% of the continent’s global exports and imported 7%, India has made a substantial investment of $7 billion in a gas field located in Mozambique. Simultaneously, he also asserted that India serves as the third-largest export destination for Africa. Petroleum products accounted for the majority of India’s exports, followed by pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and grains. Moreover, India’s primary African export destinations encompass South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania Conversely, India predominantly imports mineral fuels, crude oil, natural or cultivated pearls, and precious stones from South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Egypt and Morocco among other countries.
- Medical Tourism: India’s involvement and development cooperation with Africa includes health care delivery, as shown by the US$10 million India-Africa Health Fund created during the 2015 third India- Africa Forum Summit. Africans traveling to India for medical treatment increased from 5.4% of total tourist visits in 2010 to 15.4% in 2019, Indian and African healthcare professionals work together on hospital construction and capacity development. India offered food help to Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti, and Eritrea and 150 metric tonnes of medical supplies to 25 African countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some African authorities have condemned the West’s attitude to the continent’s COVID-19 immunization efforts, India kept its vaccine supply lines open throughout the pandemic.
- Education and Information Technology: In recent times, there has been a growing interest among individuals from African nations in Indian universities and research institutions. As of the year 2022, the Indian government has disbursed more than 30,000 scholarships to students from Africa, to the commitment made by the country in 2015 to provide a total of 50,000 scholarships over ten years.
The Indian technological and economic partnership program helps Africa research and build capacity via training and scientific and technological partnerships. Considering the significance of the information and communication technology (ICT) industry in the progress of Africa and the endeavours of various African nations to expedite their technological infrastructure and digital identification, as well as optimize the trade advantages offered by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), India has emerged as a prominent suggestion for collaboration and cooperation. The flagship ICT project Pan African e-Network, proposed in 2004 and launched in 2009 by India and the African Union, connects African countries through a seamless and integrated satellite, fiber optics, and wireless network and uses Indian IT skills to improve healthcare and education in their institutions.
The first international campus of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in Tanzania represents a milestone in India’s Global South initiative and highlights the commitment to develop educational relations between India and Africa. The digital transformation in India has played a significant role in enhancing education and healthcare in Africa through the implementation of e-VidyaBharti, a tele-education platform, and e-ArogyaBharti, a telemedicine platform.
- Security and Defence: The aspect in question is frequently disregarded in scholarly discourse concerning the relations between India and Africa. While there is a perception that India’s increased focus on Africa is a response to China’s growing influence on the continent, encompassing trade, business, and maritime activities, PM Modi addressed the issue of collaboration with Africa during his visit to Uganda in 2018.
He emphasized India’s commitment to combat terrorism, promote peacekeeping efforts, and enhance cyber security as fundamental principles guiding India’s engagement with Africa. India’s historical assistance, which established military academics and trained national cadres and military personalities in African countries like Ethiopia and Nigeria and sent UN missions to Congo and Liberia, may be its greatest asset in this regard. India cooperates with Mauritius, Seychelles, and numerous African coastal nations on maritime security. The Africa-India field Training Exercise-2019 and numerous Indian institutes have promoted Indian-made weaponry to African nations facing instability.
Can India Effectively Compete with China in Africa?
India and China are pursuing their interests in Africa in numerous ways. Despite the Indian government’s claim that its cooperation with Africa is a blend of India’s development goals and the African Union’s long-term vision, most of India’s policies and trade patterns with Africa remain constrained. India’s ties with the African Union, capacity and skills development, education and research, healthcare, and information technology demonstrate its people-centered approach to the continent. The Indian government also prioritizes cultural contacts with Eastern and Southern Africa, which some experts see as a chance to reestablish historical ties.
Nevertheless, China’s dominant economic influence and significance in Africa remain unparalleled, surpassing not only India but also numerous other contenders. In 2021, Beijing’s total bilateral trade with Africa surged by 35.3% to reach USD 254.3 billion. China’s strategic focus primarily lies in the implementation of ambitious infrastructural projects, which serve the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and establish partnerships encompassing resource extraction and high-level government agreements.
These large-scale endeavours are aimed at bolstering China’s economy, expanding its global influence, and safeguarding its strategic objectives. China has a plan to promote its interests among regional blocs and geostrategic African states, unlike India’s limited outreach and penetration. India’s security and military collaboration with Africa is limited, the private sector doesn’t properly grasp Africa’s investment climate. China, on the other hand, has helped military reform in Africa by providing weapons, technology, and independent capacity-building. Since the West sanctioned Russia, China has increased its military outposts, maritime activity, and arms sales to African governments.
Potential Strategies for Progress
a) It is imperative to assert direct authority over our development programme rather than delegating the allocation of funds to intermediaries whose objectives may diverge from those of India.
b) Our assistance should be bilateral and linked with the recipient state’s interests, which should be a major stakeholder and co-investor in plans and projects from start to finish.
c)Second, India should prioritize developing nations with major interests, both current and future. Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Angola, and Algeria are India’s top six commercial partners in Africa, accounting for about two-thirds of its commerce and half of its exports to the continent, although they are not prioritized in India’s growth.
d)The consideration of India’s domestic requirements for raw materials, commodities, and markets should be taken into account when determining its aid strategy.
e) In addition, it is advisable to prioritize assisting nations that demonstrate a willingness to collaborate with us by granting access to their natural resources, rather than relying solely on our generic alternatives.
f) The assisted project should meet local needs. Cost-effective, scalable, future-proof, and commercially repeatable.
g) India should favor public sector assistance initiatives for transparency.
Historically, India’s diplomatic ties with Africa have been rooted in their shared endeavours to combat colonialism, apartheid, poverty, disease, illiteracy, and hunger. There have been modifications in policy, strategy, and implementation. The profound reflection of this sentiment is most evident in the two outcome documents of the India-Africa Forum Summit Ⅲ (IAFS-Ⅲ), namely the Delhi Declaration 2015 and the India-Africa Framework for Strategic Cooperation. India’s leadership’s effectiveness in calming Africa’s concerns will be shown in the following months and years. It’s crucial to show Africa that India’s foreign policy prioritizes it. A white paper on Africa might solidify India’s African strategy.