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India-Africa ties get a boost

Ruchita Beri is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • June 09, 2011

    Addis Ababa, the diplomatic capital of Africa, played host to Indian diplomats, businessmen, artisans and artists that were present as part of the interactions during the Second India-Africa Forum Summit. India’s relations with African countries have got a boost with the various cooperation initiatives unveiled by the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh.

    The Prime Minister emphasized the growing importance of Africa, calling it the “new growth pole” in the world. There is no doubt that Africa is an emerging priority in India’s foreign policy. India has often emphasized that its partnership with Africa rests on the triad of skills transfer, capacity building and trade. The buzzword of India- Africa co-operation is co-development or two-way development.

    Initiatives

    The Prime Minister’s Summit speech was a landmark event in that it identified Africa as a priority area for India. The goodies offered to the Africans were similar, if not more, than those offered by the Prime Minister during his annual Independence Day address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort in New Delhi. India has revealed plans to set up eighty institutions in Africa. They are to be set up at the Pan-African, regional and bilateral levels. At the Pan-African level, India will cooperate with Africans to set up institutions related to food processing, integrated textiles, weather forecasting, life and earth sciences, agriculture and rural development. At the regional level, India will help to establish institutions like soil water and tissue testing laboratories, regional farm sciences centres, seed production cum demonstration centres and material testing labs for highway development. At the bilateral level, India and various African countries will jointly establish institutes for English language training, information technology, entrepreneurship development and vocational training. India will also set up rural technology parks, food testing laboratories and separate centres for food processing, geo-information application and rural development within Africa.

    The other initiatives include - a US $ five billion line of credit to support Africa’s development goals; an additional US $ 700 million to establish new institutions and training programmes, and a US $ 300 million line of credit for development of a new Ethiopia and Djibouti Railway line. In the area of human resource development, India has proposed to set up an India-Africa virtual university with 10,000 new scholarships under this proposed university. It has also raised the number of training slots and scholarships available under the India Technical and Economic Cooperation programme. The scholarships available to African students under this programme for the next three years will be more than 22,000.

    Finally, keeping in view the recurring threat from piracy off Somalia and the grave situation within the country, India has proposed to support the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) with a grant of US $ 2 million. The framework of India-Africa cooperation, released at the end of the summit, gives a glimpse of the comprehensive nature of the cooperation encompassing economic, political, health, science and technology, education and others areas.

    Message from Addis Ababa

    The main message that the Second India-Africa Forum Summit leaves for all to read is that India is interested in an enduring partnership with Africa. It is a partnership that is based on fundamental principles of equality, mutual respect, mutual benefit and interdependence. It has offered a large chunk of concessional loans that contribute to capacity building in the socio-economic sector, human resource development, agriculture and setting up of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). India has also sought the co-operation of Africa in reforming the United Nations Security Council.

    India has also indicated that it is not reticent in raising its voice against the suffering of common people in North Africa. It recognises that winds of change are blowing across North Africa and West Asia region. It has accepted the right of the people to determine their future through democratic means.

    India’s continued support to United Nations’ and the African Union’s peace keeping operations was meant to signal its concern for the establishment of peace and security in Africa as well as for the rise of piracy off the Somali coast.

    African Reaction

    The African response to the Indian initiatives unveiled by the Prime Minister has been positive. Most Africans recognise that the Indian approach hinges on enhancing skills and building capacities. They are also aware that India is ready to share appropriate technology that is affordable and accessible for sustainable development and poverty elevation. No wonder, African leaders such as President Mwait Kibaki of Kenya have urged African countries to partner with India in order to meet the commercial and technological investment requirement urgently needed to connect with the global economy. Similarly, President Teodore Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and the current Chairman of African Union reiterated that “Africa values India’s partnership and called for diversification of cooperation to cover more areas of cooperation.” Dr. Manmohan Singh visit to Addis Ababa and Dar e Salaam has definitely addressed the criticism and unhappiness within Africa about the lack of high level visits from India.

    Challenges

    The initiatives launched by India in Addis Ababa has definitely sent the message that India is serious about building new partnerships with Africa. It has also recognised that the top six emerging economies are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised, “We will work with Africa to enable it to realise this potential.” However, there are concerns about whether the pledges made towards capacity building would be delivered on time. Therefore, the first challenge for India is to live up to all the promises made in Addis Ababa.

    One of the important features of the Indian approach towards Africa is that it is not driven by the government alone. The Indian industry and corporate world is equally interested in doing business with Africa. A large number of Indian private sector companies, including Tatas, Kirloskars, Mittals and Reliance, have invested in Africa in recent years. However, it is critical that Indian officials and businessmen work together to meet these deadlines. India would face competition from other countries that are engaging the Africans - China, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, Japan, European Union and the United States. There is no doubt that over the years India’s trade with Africa has expanded. It was a little less than a billion dollars in 1990-1991 and currently it is US $ 46 billion. However, in comparison China’s two-way trade with Africa has grown to US $115 billion in 2010. While the Africans have said that there is enough space for all, India will have to ensure that it works with African leaders and people in a partnership that is effective.

    At the same time these initiatives throw up a challenge in terms of enhancing capacities within India – diplomatic, academic and professionals. Within India’s Ministry of External Affairs there is a need to strengthen the team of officials working on Africa. As India’s dialogue with Africa increases, it is quite natural that there will be demand for professionals and scholars with expertise in African affairs. Among the academic institutions, universities, think tanks there is a dearth of experts on Africa. It is time that these issues are given priority. Finally, the Addis Ababa Summit has revealed that “Brand India” in Africa is a model that stresses on partnership in enhancing skills and capacity building within the continent. India will have to tap on all the goodwill that exists within the continent to make this partnership work.

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