Insights into Editorial: Fortifying the Africa outreach
Recently, President Ram Nath Kovind commenced his seven-day state visit to Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Conakry (July 28 to August 3) and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Maputo on a three-day visit (July 28 to July 30) to Mozambique.
India’s relation with Africa has been a historical one. In recent years, these ties have been sought to be imposed with deeper economic and strategic relationship.
The India-Africa summit which began in 2008 has seen three summits, last one being held in October 2015.
The simultaneity of the two visits may be a coincidence, but it also indicates enhanced priority to Africa. This should be welcomed.
Recent developments of India-Africa:
President Ram Nath Kovind said, Technology has been at the centre of India’s development partnership with countries in Africa, underlining that India is keen to share its digital revolution with Africa to enhance the well-being of its people.
The scientific gains from India’s space programme have allowed us to strengthen communication, resource mapping and disaster management capacities in several African countries.
Air connectivity between India and Africa has got a boost with three new services to Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.
We see a lot of business traffic between India and Africa. The visiting friends and relatives travel segment is also strong given the Indian diaspora in the continent. The new flights will increase access and may lower fares.
Africa is a niche and expensive destination and the new connections will facilitate more leisure travel.
President Ram Nath Kovind highlighted that India led the efforts to establish a Slave Trade Memorial at UN in New York and thanked the country Benin for its support towards global recognition of the indenture labour heritage.
Economic links between India and Africa:
India has substantive economic engagement with Africa. Its trade with Africa totalled $63.3 billion in 2018-19. India was ranked the third largest trading partner of Africa having edged past the United States during the year.
During the past five years, Indian leaders have paid 29 visits to African countries. Forty-one African leaders participated in the last India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, where India agreed to provide concessional credit worth $10 billion during the next five years.
By 2017, India had cumulatively extended 152 Lines of Credit worth $8 billion to 44 African countries.
India has also unilaterally provided free access to its market for the exports of 33 least developed African countries.
Africa needs to reciprocate the same:
- Any objective cost-benefit analysis of India’s development assistance to Africa is unlikely to impress.
- India’s aid being unconditional, the recipients often take it as an entitlement.
- But India is neither a rich country nor has its hands been tainted by a history of slavery, colonisation and the exploitation of Africa.
- In fact, it is a developing country with similar domestic challenges of poverty, infrastructure deficit and underdevelopment.
- India’s funds committed and seats in our prestigious academic institutions offered to Africa are at the expense of the tax-paying Indians.
- India’s aid to Africa should be reciprocated by acknowledgement and quid pro quo in terms of goodwill and institutional preference.
- India cannot simply be a cash cow for Africa, particularly when its own economy is slowing down.
- There seems to be a conspicuous disconnect between Indian developmental assistance to and India’s economic engagement with Africa. The time has now come to integrate these two axes for a more comprehensive and sustainable engagement. It would also facilitate aided pilot projects being scaled up seamlessly into commercially viable joint ventures.
Steps need to take Forward:
For all the development billions spent, how many mega-projects did Indian companies get and how many natural resources does India have access to in Africa?
Therefore, we should reorient our developmental profile to be more economically productive.
- First, we need to take direct control of our development programme instead of handing our funds to intermediaries whose priorities are often different from India’s.
- To make an impact, our aid should be disbursed bilaterally and aligned with national priorities of the recipient state, which should be a substantial stakeholder and co-investor in schemes and projects from initiation to operation.
- Second, India’s development assistance should prefer the countries with its substantial interests, both existing and potential.
- For instance, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Angola and Algeria are India’s top six trading partners in Africa, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its trade and half its exports to the continent; yet, they do not figure commensurately in India’s developmental pecking order.
- India’s own needs for raw materials, commodities and markets should be factored in its aid calculus.
- Third, we ought to prefer aiding countries which are willing to help us from access to their natural resources to using our generics.
- Fourth, the aided project selected should be compatible with local requirements. They should be cost-effective, scalable, future ready and commercially replicable.
- Fifth, for greater transparency, India should prefer its public sector to implement the aid projects.
- Sixth, the Indian Head of Mission in the recipient African state must be an integral part of the aid stream including project selection, co-ordination and implementation.
- Apart from empowering our diplomacy, this would ensure better harmonisation between our aid and economic objectives.
- Finally, the aforementioned should not distract us from our duty to provide the needed humanitarian assistance to Africa: to be rendered promptly and with sensitivity, but without noise.
We must also work together to make global governance more equitable, and for this stronger multilateralism needs to be guaranteed.
As many African countries transitioned from colonialism to freedom, India’s democracy was the template for them.
Simultaneously the African bloc is huge in UN and India needs their votes. On top of it, there is a sense that India is rising and it needs to have a positive influence in Africa and have a backing for if India has to establish as a leading power.
The continent’s strongmen, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser had strong personal links with India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who saw the potential benefits of increased economic and strategic cooperation with the continent.
India and Africa should move forward to build a strong, prosperous and inclusive India-Africa Union. This mantra is not just limited to our domestic agenda, but purposefully guides our external engagement as well.