India- Africa Strategic Dialogue: Session I - Global Strategic Issues
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  • The first session was chaired by Mr. Shashank, Former Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Speakers of the session were Prof. A.E. Ekoko, Department of History and International Studies, Delta State University, Nigeria and Dr. Arvind Gupta, Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair, IDSA.

    Ekoko spoke on “Emerging Global Challenges: The African Perspective”. He stated that the economic meltdown and European financial crisis have emerged as challenges of globalised world. Those who were initially of the opinion that the economic meltdown would have few spillover effects on the African economy have been proved wrong. The economic crisis has definitely impacted on various sectors of African economies. In Nigeria, reserves declined from US$ 61.9 billion in September 2008 to US$ 50 billion in January 2009 due to fall in oil prices. Similarly, unemployment rose by 10 per cent in Africa in 2009 and an estimated 7-10 million youth were added each year to an already long line of 200 million jobless people in Africa.

    Secondly, Ekoko discussed the challenges of climate change. He stated that climate change and the environmental problem it generates are transnational, demonstrating global interdependence. Though Africa is regarded as least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions, it is almost universally seen as the continent most at risk of climate-induced challenges. There is inter-connectivity between environmental degradation and conflict. Almost every conflict is either a struggle for control over resources or a scramble to access them, whether it is in Chad, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia or Kenya.

    Thirdly, Ekoko highlighted the challenges relating to water security. He observed that reduced water supply in environmentally fragile regions could lead to increased competition which has the potential to turn violent. It has been projected that one-third of all people in Africa live in drought-prone regions and that by the middle of the century between 350 and 600 million Africans will be at the risk of increased water stress. The United Nations (UN) has identified nine river basins in Africa where conflicts could arise.

    One of the most important impacts of climate change on human civilization will be an acute and permanent crisis of food supply. The root cause of food insecurity in Africa is the inability of people to gain access to food due to poverty; hence, the continent continues to lag behind in the progress towards poverty alleviation. The challenges of food security in Africa include an underdeveloped agricultural sector, barriers to market access, effects of globalisation which comes with the liberalisation of market.

    The next issue Ekoko emphasised was the challenge of energy security, migration and national hazards. He stressed that though Africa is the lowest consumer of energy, the lowest emitter of greenhouse gases, one of the largest exporters of sub-soil natural resources, yet it faces the greatest security risk and under-development.
    Changes in sea levels, increased natural disasters and reduced availability of agricultural land may cause large-scale and destabilising population movements. At present, a third of the world’s refugee and internally displaced population are found in African countries. The UN Security Council has recognised such large-scale population displacements as a threat to international peace and security. Discussing natural hazards, he stated that three of the five regions across the globe that are at risk of flooding in coastal and deltaic areas of the world are located in Africa: North Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa.

    The second part of Ekoko’s paper dwelt upon India, Africa and the challenge of non-traditional warfare. He stressed that terrorism has been the gravest of non-traditional threats. India and Africa have been victims of terrorist attacks and have therefore been drawn into the global war on terror. He believed that following “Five D Proposal” given by the UN Secretary General, both India and Africa will be able to curb terrorism. They are: Dissuading the dissatisfied sections of the society from resorting to terror, denying them the means to act, deterring state supporters, developing the capacity of states to deal with terrorism, and defending human rights.

    In his concluding remarks, he said that India is beckoning on Africa for a true partnership in development strategy, in exploitation of Africa’s vast natural resources and in Africa’s human capital development for mutual benefit. The challenge of the economic meltdown and euro zone financial crisis is the challenge that should make Africa dramatically turn to Asia in general and India in particular, leading to a strategic reorientation in Africa’s policy approaches.

    Gupta, the second speaker of the session, spoke on “India-Africa Relations in the Changing Geo-political Environment”. According to him, India-Africa relations have been historical and dates back to the colonial period when India supported the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle in Africa. Regular exchange of people, ideas, trade and commerce, and the presence of Indian diaspora, has further strengthened India-Africa ties. Mutual complementarities exist for further deepening of relations between the two sides.

    Gupta stressed that the new phase of relationship is not based on mere sentiments; rather the convergence of national interest on the both sides propels the new relationship. Indian projects in Africa are designed to build capacities and help African people build societies in the way they like it. Bilateral trade has grown rapidly in the last few years and has crossed $50 billion. Africa, in return, is helping India fulfill some of its energy demands. Indian companies have made large investments in Africa in recent years helping create more jobs.

    He further emphasised that both India and Africa are affected by global security issues. The Indian Ocean has emerged as a major route for trade and at the same time it has also become a hot bed for piracy. Africa’s oil and mineral wealth has attracted worldwide attention. Numerous conflicts in African countries have invited intervention from outside powers. In the recent years, the African countries have found their place in global power hierarchy. He also expressed hope that both India and Africa can co-operate with each other without depending upon Western munificence.

    According to Gupta, some of the global challenges that have brought India and Africa closer are:

    • Global economic crisis has caused huge economic uncertainties. The United States may be tipping into a recession, and similarly, the Euro-zone sovereign debt crisis may spread to other areas. An economic recession will adversely impact Africa and India.
    • Challenges relating to energy, food and security are concerns of the world today. Both India and Africa are cooperating closely with each other in these areas. Africa is important for India in terms of fulfilling India’s energy demands, and similarly, India has been a help to Africa in terms of supplying pharmaceutical products at low cost. At the same time, India can play an important role in the development of agriculture in Africa.
    • Cooperation between India and Africa is the need of the hour so far as piracy is concerned. The Indian Navy is involved in patrolling and anti-piracy activities in the Somalian waters.
    • In the case of terrorism, both sides have similar positions. Terrorist groups have found shelter in some African countries. Some of these have links with al Qaeda.
    • Climate change will adversely impact islands in the Indian Ocean and also lead to destruction of coral reefs. Both India and Africa are affected due to climate change.
    • India and South Africa are playing important role in IBSA and BRICS and in the emergence of a multi-polar world. Both sides are interested in democratisation of the UN Security Council and World Trade Organisation.

    In his concluding remarks, Gupta stressed on the need for both sides to strengthen strategic dialogue and form co-operative security relationship among them. The India Africa Forum is an important platform for improving ties between two sides. Both sides have adopted the Africa-India Framework for enhanced cooperation to supplement the existing framework.

    During the Question and Answer session some important observations were made by the chair and the audience. They are:

    • Piracy is a global as well as a regional issue. Stabilising the national governments is more important than tracing the pirates.
    • Similarity between India and Nigeria in terms of population is a common factor. Both the countries can take lead in dealing with food security, agriculture, etc.
    • India’s rich experience of democracy can be shared with African countries.
    • Cooperation in areas like food security, e-connectivity, agriculture, information and communication technology can strengthen India-Africa relations.
    • It is time to convert the state-to-state relations to people-to-people interactions.
    • Exchange of scholars between IDSA and think tanks of Africa was also highlighted. IDSA to start a news letter on major issues pertaining to India-Africa ties.

    Report prepared by Anshuman Behera, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi