If 21st Century could be termed the Asian century, the African innings may start well before the Asian innings finishes. For India, with its fuel needs, provision of food for its huge population, Africa may hold the best sustainable answers. We have a huge connect with Africa. Mahatma Gandhi connects us with Africa, indelibly. The author explores the possible contours of our relationships with African nations in the article.
The African Safari- Indian Options
The closest possible relations with African countries are a prerequisite for the success of Indian foreign policy. The tremendous good will that has existed for decades need to be converted to tangible and mutually advantageous course of action. A concerted and comprehensive and result oriented approach has to be devised and implemented forthwith. It appears that the next Chief Guest for the Republic Day 2019 will be Cyril Ramaphosa President of South Africa after a reluctant US President expressed his inability. We should have leaders who value and respect the gesture and dignity of the invitation and with whom we have a great relationship since it is a unique honour.
With South Africa our relations are millennia’s old and ever expanding in bilateral and multilateral formats like BRICS,IBSA and G-20 in the modern context. It is also timely as we are celebrating 150thbirth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi for whom South Africa became the cradle of his conviction for the liberation of India from the yoke of British colonialism. As Vice President Venkaiah Naidu during his three-nation recent tour to Southern Africa also mentioned“It was this soil of Africa which gave the nourishment and inspiration and made Mahatma Gandhi what he was. It was Africa that transformed his vision and gave greater clarity to his life’s mission. Africa has always been close to Mahatma Gandhi”. So,is Africa to India and the Indians.
What has lacked and been lamented by the African leadership is the frequency of high-level visits from India to Africa. South Africa may have been an exception where the ministerial preferences stopped. It was in fact PtJawaharLal Nehru who had visited many countries in Africa in 1960s and propagated for their independence and development.
India has also garnered tremendous goodwill as a result of its quest for their well being. The toil of the Indian origin diaspora became the bridge of continuity in the post-independence period. Somehow while we received and hosted a large number of African leaders either bilaterally or through the multilateral meetings like the NAM or India- Africa Forum Summits in India, the agenda for our top leadership for visit to African countries in a focussed manner was missing. It became a real concern over time as many of the strong African leaders from big countries felt slighted.
Fortunately, the trend has been reversed. We have seen a spate of interactions at different levels from both sides and India developed an ambitious agenda of mutually beneficial cooperation from trade and economic collaboration to capacity building. During the last four years or so, more than 26 outgoing visits by Indian Presidents, Vice Presidents and Prime Ministers have taken place which is a testament to the “Africa Focus” in the Indian foreign policy establishment.
Most recently, interaction with southern part of Africa was from October 31-November 5 when Vice President Venkaiah Naidu paid a visit to Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi which have been marked by lack of exchanges except for Lilongwe, where former VP had visited in 2010.
The visits to the three countries, part of SADC and COMESA, was aimed at further strengthening the bilateral relationship. However, apart from highest level bilateral interaction with counter parts and overview of relations, a common denominator was closer collaboration in the 4 Ds (Defence, Digitalisation, Diamonds and Diaspora). In Botswana,the Vice President inaugurated the Global Expo 2018 where 25 Indian companies were participating and addressed a CEOs meet apart from institution of India-Africa Diamond Institute and visit to Diamond Trading Centre. Direct supply of the rough diamonds was on the cards despite the monopoly of the global players like De Beer.
During the period 1978-2012 there was significant collaboration in defence sector between the two countries.It included cooperation for capacity building and training of the Botswana forces for conventional operations and in Peacekeeping. Membership of International Solar Alliance was valued by the host country.
The visit, after a gap of 21 years, to Zimbabwe was highly significant since it was a major visit after the country got out of the Mugabe shadow and is mainstreaming after the recent elections where India was also an observer. Tremendous B2B opportunities exist in mining, agriculture, ICT, Healthcare, diamond trading and traditional medicine which was clearly evident from the several MoUs that were signed. Harare also wanted to export rough diamonds directly to India. They wanted urgent help in the medical sector especially in life saving drugs and India immediately agreed to provide the requisite drugs and ambulances. India also announced a line of credit of US$ 310 mn for upgradation of Hwange Thermal power station as well as for Bulawayo plant and that for Deka Pumping station and the Indo-ZIM Technology Centre. India also agreed to help Zimbabwe back to the CHOGM fold.
In the final leg at Malawi, India extended a LoC of US$ 219.75 mn . An important MoU in the peaceful use of nuclear energy was also signed and closer collaboration in disaster relief and management was agreed to. Bio fertilisers, construction, tea ,sugar, telecom, power transmission etc., were identified for intensifying trade and investment and technology upgradation. As such about 100 Indian companies are operating there offices in Malawi.
Inauguration of India -Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural development will go a long way in exploiting the synergies to mutual advantage.Malawi’s over 8,500 strong Indian diaspora is pretty active. Naifu’s visit was not only highly symbolic and reassuring but was also equally substantive.
Prime Minister Modi, while speaking at the Parliament in Kampala in July this year outlined his Africa vision through his ten guiding principles which include: Africa is among top priorities for India and momentum of cooperation will be sustained through regular exchanges;development partnership as per African priorities; preferential access to Indian markets for African products; assist in harnessing digital revolution in Africa; improve Africa’s agriculture potential; fight climate change together; work together to keep oceans and maritime lanes free for all; Africa instead of becoming a theatre of competition should become nursery for its youth; and aspire and work together for a just , representative, democratic global order. These are ideal, achievable and collaborative policies that dictate a paradigm shift compared to other big powers who are trying to get into the ‘Gold Rush’ for exploitation by way of neo-colonialist approaches.
China has been in the lead in Africa outreach for decades through their “Chequebook Diplomacy” with consequent debt traps for their local clients. But they still secured the early bird advantage which despite the realisation by Africans and prevailing good will for India will be difficult to dislodge.They do have deep pockets and it was only in September this year at their China-Africa Forum (FOCAC) that the Chinese announced US$ 60 billion in financial assistance aid to Africa while waiving loans to some countries.
India will have to learn to coexist and collaborate even with the Chinese in Wuhan Spirit, if necessary, so that a win-win outcome for all stake holders, especially Africans, remains the hallmark of their presence and partnership.
China may not be averse to it. It could perhaps be on the pattern of Africa- Asia Growth Corridor (AAGC) where Japan is a major partner and the US and others are exploring to collaborate even though this ambitious project as of now has not much to boast about. In the meantime,India has to strive to expeditiously deliver on its promises be it for Line of Credits (LOCs), Project implementation, or for that matter capacity building.
It may be recalled that at the IAFS III in 2015 India had announced a LOC of US $ 10 bn with $ 600 mn in grants and over 50,000 capacity building scholarships. India has also decided to open 18 new missions in Africa during 2018-21 some of which have already become functional. However, most of them work with skeletal staff and hence significant contribution and follow up is lacking. Moreover, it is essential that we should post seasoned and senior diplomats as Ambassadors rather than the ones who are either unwilling or have no other choice.
At a recent conference organised by CII and VIF most of the African Ambassadors expressed concern at delays in implementation of high decibel pronouncements. They also made a point repeatedly of the slow delivery mechanisms and recommended that a Constant Monitoring System with respect to India’s projects be instituted. These are genuine demands and realistic expectations and are essential for making the Indo-Africa Partnership functional and mutually beneficial. Africa has great potential to be crucial to India’s food and energy security needs.
It’s Afritime. Let’s wake up to it!
Ambassador Anil Trigunayat
Former Ambassador to Jordan. Libya and Malta & Distinguished Fellow Vivekananda International Foundation