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Re-energising India’s Africa policy


The Narendra Modi government designed a forward-looking strategy to deepen relations with African countries. Even as the COVID-19 era began in March 2020, New Delhi took new initiatives to assist Africa through prompt despatch of medicines and later vaccines.


GS-II: International Relations (Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Mains Questions:

Critically examine the implementation of India’s Africa policy and suggest ways to make new commitments and improve Africa–India relations. (10 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The History of Africa–India relations
  2. Modern-day relations between India and Africa
  3. India’s Support to Africa
  4. Asia-Africa Growth Corridor
  5. The macro-picture: Latest Developments

The History of Africa–India relations

Ancient ties

  • Africa and India are separated by the Indian Ocean and the geographical proximity between the Horn of Africa and the Indian subcontinent has played an important role in the development of the relationship since ancient times.
  • Indo-African relations date back to the Bronze Age period of the Indus Valley civilization, Pearl millet first domesticated in Africa have been discovered from the site of Chanhu Daro and there is at least one burial of African women from the same site as well.
  • It is thus postulated that Indus valley maritime activities included journey to the horn of Africa and bringing back African crops along with African diasporra to the Indus valley since Pearl millet was cultivated in South Asia since 2nd millennium BC but there is no such evidence from the Near East.
  • In the 2nd century BC the Greek’s accounts of Ptolmaic Egypt and its trade relations mention Indian ships making the trip and Greeks began to utilize this knowledge from Indian sailors to conduct maritime activities in the Indian Ocean and conduct business with the Indians directly instead of relying on the middle men, when Romans replaced the Greek administration in Egypt, this began a 400-year period of trade relations between the Roman Empire and India.
  • The Greek Ptolemaic dynasty and India had developed bilateral trade using the Red Sea and Indian ports.
  • With the establishment of Roman Egypt, the Romans took over and further developed the already existing trade.
  • Relations attained stronger levels during medieval times due to the development of trade routes between the Mediterranean and Asia, through Arabia. Zheng He, a Chinese admiral met with the Malindi envoy present in Bengal.

Post-Independent relations

  • During the British colonial rule in the Indian Subcontinent and large parts of Africa, the Indian city of Mumbai was already a center of ivory trade between East Africa and Britain.
  • The stay of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa between 1893 and 1915 remains one of the main events which paved the road to the modern-day political relations.
  • At the wake of the Cold War, many African countries joined the non-aligned movement pioneered by Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia. During the years of decolonisation, India exerted considerable political and ideological influence in Africa as a role model and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Modern-day relations between India and Africa

  • India, for the first time, constituted the basic framework for the relations under the South-South Cooperation platform in the India-Africa Forum Summit, which was held in 2008.
  • The India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) is the official platform for African-Indian relations. The IAFS is held once in every three years.
  • Trade between India & Africa has grown exponentially during the past 15 years and India has emerged as Africa’s fourth largest trade partner behind China, EU & USA whilst Africa has emerged as India’s sixth largest trading partner behind EU, China, UAE, USA & ASEAN.
  • India’s top three exports to Africa are mineral fuels and oils (processed petroleum products), pharmaceutical products and vehicles. Mineral fuels and oils, (essentially crude oil) and pearls, precious or semi-precious stones are the top two imports accounting for over 77% of our imports from Africa.
  • Increasing Political and Economic Engagement: In the last few years, Africa has been the focus of India’s development assistance and also diplomatic outreach, as evident in plans to open 18 new embassies.

India’s Support to Africa

  • In 2006, India launched its flagship aid initiative in Africa by constructing the $125 million Pan-African e-Network, the continent’s largest tele-education and telemedicine initiative.
  • India’s duty-free tariff preferential scheme for Least Developed Nation (LDCs) launched in 2008 has benefited 33 African states.
  • After South Asia, Africa is the second-largest recipient of Indian overseas assistance with Lines of Credit (LOC) worth nearly $10 billion (nearly 40% of the total LOC globally) spread over 100 projects in 41 countries.
  • India is investing in the capacity building providing more than $1 billion in technical assistance and training to personnel under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program.
  • Approximately 6,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in UN peace-keeping missions in conflict zones in Africa.

Support in Fight Against Covid-19

  • Under the e-ITEC initiative, India has shared Covid-19 management strategies, training webinars exclusively aimed at training health-care professionals from Africa by Indian health experts.
  • India is also sending consignments of essential medicines, including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol, to many African countries in addition to doctors and paramedics.

Asia-Africa Growth Corridor

  • The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC is an economic cooperation agreement between the governments of India, Japan and multiple African countries.
  • India launched a vision document for Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC at the African Development Bank meeting in 2017.
  • It aims for Indo-Japanese collaboration to develop quality infrastructure in Africa, complemented by digital connectivity, which would undertake the realization of the idea of creating free and open Indo-Pacific Region.
  • The AAGC will give priority to development projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro-processing, disaster management and skill enhancement.
  • The connectivity aspects of the AAGC will be supplemented with quality infrastructure.
  • Unlike OBOR, now BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), which entails development of both land corridor (new economic belt) and ocean (marine silk road), AAGC will essentially be a sea corridor linking Africa with India and other countries of South-East Asia and Oceania by reviving ancient sea-routes and creating new sea corridors that will link ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden and similarly the ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai; Kolkata will be linked to Sittwe port in Myanmar.

The macro-picture: Latest Developments

  • The latest economic data confirms what was apprehended by experts: India-Africa trade is on a decline.
  • India’s investments in Africa too saw a decrease from $3.2 billion in 2019-20 to $2.9 billion in 2020-21.
  • India’s total investments in Africa over 25 years, from 1996 to 2021 is only about one-third of China’s investment in Africa.
  • A recent Gateway House study showed that Africa experienced a sharpened international competition, known as ‘the third scramble’, in the first two decades of the 21st century – Countries from Americas, Europe and Asia have striven to assist Africa in resolving the continent’s political and social challenges and, in turn, to benefit from Africa’s markets, minerals, hydrocarbons and oceanic resources, and thereby to expand their geopolitical influence.
  • Geopolitical tensions in Asia and the imperative to consolidate its position in the Indo-Pacific region have compelled New Delhi to concentrate on its ties with the United Kingdom, the EU, and the Quad powers, particularly the U.S. Consequently, the attention normally paid to Africa lost out.
  • For mutual benefit, Africa and India should remain optimally engaged and, on this note, India’s External Affairs Minister highlighted India’s role in peacekeeping in Africa, in lending support to African counter-terrorism operations, and contributing to African institutions through training and capacity-enhancing assistance and assured that India’s aid for economic development in the African continent is set to continue at the UNSC.

Way Forward

  • The third India-Africa Forum Summit was held in 2015. The fourth summit, pending since last year, should be held as soon as possible, even if in a virtual format. Fresh financial resources for grants and concessional loans to Africa must be allocated, as previous allocations stand almost fully exhausted.
  • The promotion of economic relations demands a higher priority. Industry representatives should be consulted about their grievances and challenges in the COVID-19 era.
  • It is essential “to impart a 21st century complexion to the partnership with Africa” and this means developing and deepening collaborations in health, space and digital technologies.
  • To overcome the China challenge in Africa, increased cooperation between India and its international allies takes priority and the recent India-EU Summit has identified Africa as a region where a partnership-based approach will be followed.
  • India has an intrinsic interest in helping Africa achieve progress. The spirit of “developing together as equals” defines this bilateral partnership.
  • A resurging Africa and a rising India can give a strong impetus to South-South Cooperation, especially when it comes to addressing challenges in areas like clean technology, climate-resilient agriculture, maritime security, connectivity, and Blue economy.

-Source: The Hindu

July 2024