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The Institutional Origins and Strategic Determinants of India's Africa policy

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  • August 20, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar

    Elaborating on his approach to the paper Mr. Xavier disavowed both, a reductionist/particularistic and an overly generalist/homogenizing prism to assessment of India’s foreign policy. He proceeded to identify a number of limitations relating to existing work on the subject of India in Africa, including the clubbing together of China and India vis-à-vis Africa and the assumption, rather that explicit pronouncement, of a definitive policy posture of India in the region.

    Briefly reviewing historical ties between India and Africa, the presenter drew out both high and low points in the relationship. Economic drivers were identified as assuming the central role in determining the nature and direction of evolution of this relationship in the contemporary context.

    The key analytical contribution of the paper was identification of intra- and inter-institutional tensions and short-comings that have hindered optimization of India’s role in Africa. On the diplomatic side, a certain image of African nations has long been responsible for a less than desired Indian presence. Relative informalisation of processes, lack of continuity and near-absence of lateral co-operation amongst GoI Ministries and Missions in Africa were deemed serious lacunae on the practical side.

    As far as academic work on Africa produced in India is concerned, lack of emphasis on field work and consequent regurgitation of known facts and missing policy relevance were viewed as problematic. Business endeavour in Africa by Indian industry was also similarly described as plagued by poor background research. Co-operation between Ministries and business entities was referred to as a “constant fire-fighting exercise”, resulting eventually in an absence of a coordinated, concerted and coherent policy and action agenda. The relative merits of ad-hocism and a diffuse character of policy as opposed to one that is well substantiated were thrown up for discussion.

    External Discussant: Mr. C. Raja Mohan

    Mr. Raja Mohan questioned the assumption that a lack of approximation of India’s model for foreign policy formulation with that of the United States is ipso facto suggestive of a weaker quality of expertise and intelligent input. He hypothesised that examination of certain specific historic episodes was likely to yield interesting insights – some of them departing with the idea that Non-alignment has been the dominant discourse on relations with Africa. On the question of India’s reaction to Apartheid for instance, he raised the question as to whether this was inspired by anti-colonialism or a preference for universalism.

    Despite public rhetoric to the contrary, he emphasized emulation of and competition with China as an undeniably important driver of Indian policy in Africa. Methodologically, he favoured actions and market-based decisions of business actors more closely rather than political signals as more potent conveyers of the progression of India’s role in Africa.

    External Discussant: Mr. Navdeep Suri

    Lauding efforts at public diplomacy by Indian actors in Africa, Mr. Suri underscored the need for greater publicity for these measures. He emphasized the importance of boots on the ground to deliver desired policy outcomes as equally important, if not more so, than official policy pronouncements. He lamented the long-standing experience that the good-will accrued through India’s investment and aid involvement in Africa has failed to translate into tangible gains on the ground for India.

    Mr. Suri recommended better documentation of the “Africa in India” story for the positive ramifications this exercise is likely to yield. On the issue of competition with China he urged appreciation of India’s own unique strengths and an attempt to build on these.

    Internal Discussants

    One internal discussant described pan-Africanism as the cornerstone for any definition of policy on that region. She also suggested that the degree of exceptionalism of the problems identified on the institutional side by the paper as regards Africa needs to be established in light of comparative evidence. The value of incorporating views of the Indian military presence in Africa was also spoken in favour of.

    Another internal discussant came out in support of Democracy and Aid as crucial drivers meriting in-depth exploration. He recommended spelling out and countering of that image of Africa which gets in the way of its prioritization as a region. On the general trend in academic work on foreign policy in Africa, he advocated a more theoretically embedded methodological approach.

    Open-floor Discussion

    One participant suggested inclusion of sub-national actors on the African landscape to derive a richer analytical range. Another questioned the adequacy of a pan-African policy alone to incorporate diversity across the Continent. There was a suggestion that yardsticks against which the paper found Indian policy in Africa to come up short would do well to be explicitly set out. Concern was expressed over capacity-related inadequacies across most regions where India’s pursuit of its foreign policy objectives is concerned even as recent achievements were acknowledged.

    Chairs Summary

    The chair portrayed the African continent as the land of the future. It was his view that India’s diplomatic presence in Africa has a number of achievements to boast of and has played a useful supporting role to India’s business enterprise in Africa. But he equally highlighted the need for recognition of Africa’s felt needs as the over-riding concern for Indian engagement. He took the opportunity to encourage the think tank community to continue making its contribution to influencing policy and educating the wider public.

    Report prepared by Kalyani Unkule, Research Assistant, IDSA