India: The Development Partner Africa Needs

Official Logo for Third India-Africa Forum Summit

The beginning of the 21st century saw a drastic increase in the diplomatic activity between India and African nations, resulting from India’s drive to heighten its engagement with Africa. The First Indian Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) was held in 2008 and witnessed the participation of over 14 African nations. Subsequently, the initiative grew due to the consistent efforts of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, which seems eager to cultivate Indo-African ties. The most recent summit meeting, the Third IAFS in Delhi held in 2015, witnessed the participation of 54 African nations and involved 40 heads of the African states. However, the efforts of Modi’s administration did not cease there. He personally conducted a ‘Africa tour’ in July 2016 during which he visited African nations with the sole purpose of stressing on India’s role as a viable development partner for Africa due to their similar colonial histories, struggles for independence and underdeveloped conditions. As India’s telecommunications and service sector grows, it will turn to African countries for copper, a mineral which is suffering an increasing shortage in India. India is also seeking to significantly increase its nuclear power generation, and given its stringent domestic regulation, it will look to invest in Namibia and Niger, which contain some of the largest uranium reserves in the world. Likewise, India’s investment and technology are required in Africa for developmental purposes. In this emerging world scenario, there can be very little doubt about India’s role as a development partner for Africa due to their shared cultural experiences, common challenges faced in achieving growth and controlling booming populations. India is a more substantive development partner for Africa because it seeks to harness the potential of the blue or maritime economy, takes an active role in democratic processes in African countries and forges military ties to combat piracy and terrorism.

There is no doubt that growth in Indo-African ties is coming at a time when the slowdown in Chinese growth is becoming more evident and predictions of Indian economic growth are gaining validity. With the South Asian nation’s economy expected to grow more rapidly than China’s over the medium to long-term, firming up of ties can benefit both parties involved. India’s involvement in Africa may be more beneficial than China’s due to India’s domestic democratic record. The Indian administration has entertained multiple requests by African nations to share its democratic experience and to aid in the introduction and maintenance of democratic structures in Africa. To this end, India has remained the largest contributor to UN-mandated peacekeeping and other operations in Africa, with more than 30,000 personnel involved in 17 of 22 total missions in the region since 1960. Additionally, India has agreed to provide observers who will ensure that election practices in states such as Congo and South Sudan are in keeping with democratic principles and norms.

Agro-business initiatives also form a crucial prong of India’s rhetoric. India is the most advantageous partner for Africa with regards to the development of the agricultural sector because Indian successes have taken place in the context of low capital intensity farming and varied biodiversity conditions, which can be of great relevance to Africa. In order to allay fears of African heads of state, the Indian government has focused on providing technology and expertise to Africa, rather than creating an import-export imbalance that could harm Africa’s growth. Currently, a vast majority of exports from Africa to India are raw materials such as crude oil, gold, raw cotton, and precious stones. Meanwhile, most exports from India to Africa consist of high-end consumer goods such as automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and telecom equipment. This imbalance does not necessarily align with Africa’s goals to diversify away from natural resource dependence, which is a common issue in Africa’s trade relationships with China, the US, and the EU. In order to remedy this problem, the Indian government has subsidized technology sharing between Indian private companies operating in Africa, such as Emami Biotech, Tata Group and ONGC Videsh, and their African trade partners. Moreover, India is attempting to move away from perpetuating the colonial relation of trade and to aid Africa in diversifying its exports to India by offering duty free access to Indian markets to all Least Developed Countries (LDCs), a success of the first India-Africa Forum Summit, to promote diversification of exports to India.

Another prong of the holistic approach to Indo-African ties is the sustainable development of the blue or maritime economy. At the Seychelles Blue Economy Summit in the UAE in 2014, Seychelles Vice President Danny Faure famously stated that “The majority of world trade is by the sea. The majority of new mineral resources will not be found on land but on the seabed. There is no food security without a sustainable ocean. Thus, we’re working closely with India on developing the blue economy concept.” The development of the blue economy holds immense promise for both Indian states and African nations. Over the past decade, the African Union Commission (AUC) has built an enlarged Africa-wide consensus regarding the critical role that the blue economy could play in fostering structural transformation in Africa during the next decade. This is encapsulated in the African Union’s 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AU 2050 AIMS), which describes the blue economy as the “new frontier of African Renaissance.” In keeping with the alignment of Indian and African initiatives on the development of the blue economy, the mega-modernization project of the Indian government, known as ‘Sagar-Mala’, has initiated coastal area development and port infrastructure building.

As trading nations on the seas, India and the African countries have cooperated in strengthening their maritime security. India’s essential approach to maritime cooperation has revolved around its central security concern in African waters – security against piracy off the Horn of Africa. The Indian navy has played a significant part in tackling Somali piracy, with Indian warships escorting nearly 3000 merchantmen in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. Diversifying its role in African waters, the Indian navy has also begun to play a greater role in West African states by offering greater patrolling assets and remote surveillance systems to monitor their respective maritime domains. The advent of non-state multinational terrorist organizations, such as al-Shabaab in east Africa and Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as diverse terrorist outfits operating in India, make cooperation in sub-conventional warfare between the two mandatory as far as combating terrorism is concerned.

As India surpasses economic powers, such as Japan, that were also competing for African partnerships, it must prepare itself to face global giants such as the United States and China. However there is a crucial difference between Indian and Chinese strategies: while the Indian government has only recently heightened its diplomatic engagement and private companies have been filling the vacuum of public initiative since the 1970s, China’s government has been aligning itself with African nations for over two decades. Moreover, China’s endeavors in Africa are largely focalized through the government, with the vast might of its treasury, as well as private companies which are encouraged to invest in Africa through concessions and economic benefits promised by the government. India has also yet to realize the potential of offering benefits, such as duty and tax concessions, to private companies for investing in African nations. Therefore, while India may not have been one of the first global economic powers to recognize Africa’s potential, it is insistent on increasing its economic and cultural partnerships with African nations in the coming future. India is a more viable development partner for Africa as their cooperation spans more than trade and economic relations; the two countries are invested in bettering their respective democratic practices, their role in the sustainable development of the blue economy and combating terrorism. With China’s involvement in Africa coming under criticism for its questionable human rights record, trade imbalances and neocolonial attitudes, India has found an opportune moment to enhance its relations with African nations. However, whether India succeeds in combating or neutralizing the effect of Chinese involvement in Africa over the past three decades remains to be seen.

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