1. Introduction
  2. Explain India’s peacekeeping approach and how it’s creating divergence from its developmental partnerships.
  3. Conclusion – brief way forward.

Deadly violence in Juba last month left over 300 civilians dead, including two Chinese peacekeepers. The violence comes less than three months since the formation of a transitional government in South Sudan. If South Sudan slips back into civil war, there could be far-reaching consequences for Indian investments — Indian companies have invested in South Sudanese oil companies, along with a pipeline and other commercial ventures.

Now a temporary ceasefire has been signed in Juba, but the persistent volatility in South Sudan is a reminder for India to think more strategically about its engagement in fragile contexts in Africa. Growing engagement in Africa’s fragile contexts thus raises three sets of questions for India.

  • First, will India be ready to embrace a more ‘robust’ or ‘muscular’ form of peacekeeping in Africa? Second, should India think more coherently about its security and development investments in fragile contexts in the continent? And third, how can India ensure that its investments and development partnerships do not exacerbate existing conflict fault lines in Africa?

India is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping. In South Sudan alone, more than 2000 Indian peacekeepers contribute to UNMISS. Over the past two decades, UN peacekeeping operations have grown in ambition and mandate — from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. India’s position has consistently been that such ‘robust’ or ‘muscular’ peacekeeping violates the principles of non-interference, impartiality and neutrality, and non-use of force. The turn towards more robust peacekeeping has also been intertwined with the Responsibility to Protect norm.

African governments have themselves called for more robust peacekeeping. China has already indicated a change in its position — in 2015 Beijing deployed its first combat battalion to a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

India regularly participates in mixed mandate missions and has frequently contributed combat and police forces to UN missions. But this has been mostly ad-hoc — the ambiguity has given India space to withdraw from or refuse to participate in some missions, while be more actively involved in others. But, as one of the largest troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions, with a direct and growing stake in African security, is it time to reconsider ambiguity.

Arguably, India’s approach to peace building is well placed to manage these priorities with its focus on strengthening local institutions and economies.

But there seems to be a disconnect between this peace building approach and India’s African development partnerships. Indian development partnerships have typically not been engaged with institution building, justice, or conflict mediation.

Finally, it is important that Indian development partnerships do not exacerbate existing fault lines in fragile contexts. Indian development partnerships in Africa are demand driven and free of any political conditionality.

Development is by its very nature a contested activity. Development partnerships thus have the potential to exacerbate existing fault lines and contribute to insecurity. India uses an ‘ingredient’ approach investing in specific productive sectors of the economy that can generate economic growth. In Sudan, for example, Indian state-owned engineering companies are helping build road infrastructure — these projects tends to be geographically clustered and therefore risk exacerbating the development gap between the center and periphery — a factor that is already recognised as a key cause of Sudan’s conflict. India thus needs to consider mechanisms through which the unintended spill over effects of an ingredient approach can be managed.

The context of fragility means that it will be increasingly difficult for India to isolate its security and economic investments in Africa. Greater global power & reach also means a greater impact, a larger foot-print, both positive and negative. Ambiguous approaches may no longer suffice, and a broader cohesive strategy backed by up robust institutional mechanisms will be required.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish February 7, 2023