India- Africa Strategic Dialogue: Panel Discussion - India-Africa Strategic Partnership: Way Forward
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  • The panel discussion was chaired by Mr. Vivek Katju, Former Secretary, MEA, Government of India. The panellists were Ms. Elizabeth Sidiropoulos; Prof. Abednego Edho Ekoko; Mr. H.H.S. Viswanathan; Ms Ruchita Beri and Prof. Paul Musili Wambua.

    The panel discussion attempted to extract the main ideas that emerged during the two-day dialogue to chart out the agenda for future engagement. There was an unequivocal consensus that the partnership between Africa and India is based on solidarity and that there is no fundamental conflict of interest. Sidiropoulos said that an overarching African Union strategy to deal with emerging powers is only beginning to emerge. In relation to India, the question that immediately comes to mind is how to match what Africa wants, and what India could offer. Therefore, Indian initiatives should be integrated into regional and national development plans. While Sirdopolous talked of the need to ensure transparency through better monitoring and evaluation, Viswanathan stressed the importance of timely implementation of India’s line of credit projects. At the same time, there has to be better coordination with other partners so that efforts towards development are not duplicated. Other discussants pushed for more focus on priority issues, such as, agriculture, food security, health care and education.

    Speaking on capacity building, Ekoko called upon India to use its increasing heft to address the problem of leadership in Africa. He went on to suggest that India should not be averse to placing aid conditionalities in ways that would facilitate Africa’s democratic transformation. On this issue, Katju stated that New Delhi will continue to be shy in prescribing models of governance and development. Nevertheless, as India has a natural affinity towards democracies, it will contribute to the best of its abilities towards democratisation. On the methodology of engagement, Ekoko wanted India to focus more on regional African organisations, such as, ECOWAS and South African Development Community (SADC) so that regional priorities could be better addressed. Wambua, however, said that national sensitivities need to be kept in mind even as engagement with regional organisations is stepped up. Katju clarified that India follows a three-tiered approach in engaging Africa which involves the African Union at one, and regional organisations at another, while simultaneously strengthening bilateral ties with individual countries.

    When the discussion turned to economics, there were interesting perspectives offered by the panellists. Sidiropoulos highlighted the fact that the current commodity boom presents enormous opportunities for Africa. She also said that African nations could learn from India’s economic progress to increase their competitiveness. Viswanathan gave some perceptive insights on African economy and its prospects. Firstly, African countries have registered an economic growth of close to 5 per cent irrespective of whether they possessed natural resources or not. Secondly, Africa because of its demographic dividend has the potential to become the world’s leading manufacturing hub by the year 2030. As India is ideally placed to facilitate Africa’s industrialisation, he asserted that a clear strategy is needed to maximize the opportunities. Also, since Africa will have to leapfrog in terms of adopting technologies, the capacity building programmes have to be adjusted accordingly. He also pointed to the emerging Cairo to Cape free trade bloc comprising 26 nations within the South African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). This trading bloc when realised will be a market of 550 million people presenting enormous economic opportunities to India.

    Discussing security matters, the panellists emphasised on greater cooperation and called for more specific engagements. Alluding to commonality of perception between both the sides, Ruchita Beri called for cooperation on matters related to Indian Ocean and drug trafficking within the regional framework. In her opinion, India could be more proactive in preventive diplomacy and enhancing African capacities. She also suggested seeking convergence with African countries on issues of common interest at the multilateral level. Wambua suggested that India could do more in capacity building of existing security institutions, especially those countering insurgents and militant groups. On international issues, the African delegates wanted India to continue working towards democratisation of international negotiations, especially on trade-related issues. Appreciating the fact that India has supported Africa on many occasions, Sidiropoulos emphasised the need for regular discussions on how African positions on key issues could be brought to the table by India at different forums.

    On taking the partnership forward, the participants agreed that more attention is required on giving shape to the official strategic dialogue accommodating mutual interests and specific concerns. They also felt the need for more people-to-people contacts. Viswanathan insisted upon the need for better awareness about Africa in India to build an enduring partnership. The possibility of providing work permits to African students who come to India for higher education should be explored. While diaspora can indeed be leveraged for better cooperation, complexities and diversities of the diasporic population require better appreciation. Summing up the discussion, Katju said that there is a genuine desire for an enduring, comprehensive and a mutually beneficial relationship between India and Africa. As cooperation in the realm of development intensifies, more innovative ways of capacity building and sharing best practices have to be thought out. Follow up and feedback reports on initiatives taken should be institutionalised. Since security of both sides is interlinked, challenges have to be collectively dealt with at different levels. He concluded reiterating the need for building more awareness and expansion of track two initiatives to strengthen this historic partnership.

    Report prepared by Sundar M.S., Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi