Africa-India: Analyzing The Conditions And Stakes Of A Win-Win Partnership


By Pooja Jain and Alioune Ndiaye*

The Indo-African partnership has been rooted in the spirit of the Afro-Asian conference held at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. Cemented by a common stand against colonization and racism, today this partnership is at a turning point motored by the stellar economic growth in the two regions and the growing exchange between them. The goal of shared development through cooperation between the two regions is a perspective that is in line with the reduction of world poverty as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Understandably, the third edition of the Africa-India Forum Summit generates a lot of interest. The Summit this year was much larger than in previous years, with participation from 54 African countries. Participation in the previous two summits, held in 2008 and 2011, was limited to Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in accord with the Banjul Agreement. The 2015 Summit has given greater privilege to bilateral endeavours. That said, the implication of regional actors is an asset of the India-Africa partnership and should continue, in the interest of promoting regional development in Africa. Additionally, regional cooperation provides a platform for opinion building and sharing common positions in international organizations. Meanwhile, keeping the regional dimension alive, the unprecedented levels of participation in the third Summit is an opportunity to be explored. The scale of this Summit provides an occasion to renew and further accelerate the India-Africa partnership.

This article studies the stakes at play in the 2015 Summit and future perspectives on cooperation between India and Africa. It is based on shared reflections of the two authors hailing from Africa and India.


Though rich in natural resources, Africa accounts for three percent of total world trade. Hence, enhancing the continent’s share in the world economy is a major stake. In this regard, the Indian experience – with industrialization based on the development of indigenous scientific and technical capital – is worth exploring. Indian technology sells itself as adaptable and affordable. Mangalyan, the Indian mission to Mars, cost $80 million; much less than the $2.5 billion invested in the American mission Curisosity. The green revolution in the 1960s, and the push for information technology in the 1980s, have been major success stories of India’s brush with scientific and technological development. An India-Africa cooperation that promotes economic and technological exchange and the indigenous transformation of Africa’s natural resources could be a vector for moving the continent up the global value chain.

The Diamond Institute in Botswana has been one of the flagship projects in this direction. In line with India’s initiative “Make in India”, a “Make in Africa” project supporting local private sectors and employment generation should be one of the pillars of the growing Africa-India partnership. John Kuffour, the former President of Ghana, underlined that Africa’s strategy towards cooperation with India should be based on “marrying African resources with Indian technology”.

Countries in Africa should also negotiate better access to the Indian market. An equal partner, Africa’s support is crucial to India when it comes to trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), climate change talks and the expansion and reform of the Security Council. India’s duty free tariff lines to Africa were revised in August 2014 to further boost trade with African countries. In spite of the revision, which was raised to cover 98 per cent of Indian tariff lines, Africa’s exports to India, especially agricultural, remain low. The reason behind the dismal level of exports could be because products of interest to Africa, such as coffee, tea, vegetables and spices are excluded from the duty free market access scheme. India is either a direct competitor of Africa in the above-mentioned products or is interested in protecting its local producers. A rural and agricultural economy, domestic concerns, and the interests of agricultural producers can have a direct impact on politics and elections in India. It also has to be noted that most of the products covered under the duty free market access scheme, including cashew nuts and aluminum ore, are in India’s interest because the country processes and re-exports them to developed countries. Therefore local processing and further expansion of the duty free scheme are what countries in Africa should push for in their cooperation with India.

When it comes to security and strategic concerns, India should enhance its cooperation with Africa in two domains. India could position itself as the principal ‘security provider’ in the Indian Ocean region, which we call the strategy of the “Varuna Triangle”. India’s readiness to contribute to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa makes it one of the top contributors in this regard, as it provides India with a good knowledge of the African terrain. This experience and willingness can be capitalized and integrated into a security strategy designed at the African Union level, in order to deal with security issues faced by the African continent.

The federal structure of the Indian republic also provides opportunities for decentralized cooperation that countries in Africa could explore. For instance, South Africa and Mozambique were participants in the “Vibrant Gujarat” forum launched by Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat and now India’s Prime Minister.


When it comes to India’s future engagement with Africa, diversification is the word to go by. The Export-Import (EXIM) bank of India is a major actor in India’s cooperation with Africa. Though concessional credit lines by the EXIM bank require that 75 per cent of the goods and services be exported from India, there is an interest for joint ventures with local partners in Africa. In Senegal, for instance, the urban transport project in Dakar was conducted by a joint venture between Tata India and Senbus, a Senegalese company. Similarly, the Senegalese programme of self-sufficiency in the production of rice was supported by the supply of irrigation pump sets by the Indian company Kirloskar, which again was working with a local partner TSE Entreprises. For more sustainable cooperation, the EXIM bank should continue the promotion of joint ventures in Africa for greater local participation in projects, development of the private sector fabric and for increasing employment opportunities in the country of operation. This has to be reinforced through a diversification of Indian companies involved in the EXIM bank operations in Africa.

Recently, an article by P. Vaidyanathan Iyer (Indian Express, October 20, 2015) pointed out that the contracts for most of the EXIM bank projects in Africa have been won by three Indian companies: Angelique International, Lucky Exports and Jaguar Overseas. This restricted number of Indian companies imposes multiple limitations on cooperation between the two regions. It also points out the low level of exchange and communication between decision-makers and enterprises from Africa and India. A partnership limited to a handful of companies carries the risk of nepotism, and a restricted transfer of technology and know-how. An increase in the number and type of enterprises is crucial to the renewal of the partnership, and the 2015 Summit should enhance interaction between Indian companies and their African counterparts.

Annual or triennial summits, which only privilege decision-makers and ‘big’ actors to the neglect of smaller actors, do not engender a bottom-up relationship. A diversification of actors and resources is integral to sustainable cooperation. Decentralization, greater communication, enhanced engagement of small and medium enterprises, and of federal states with the likes of the previously mentioned “Vibrant Gujarat” forum, are a step forward in strengthening cooperation at the grass-roots level. Trade between India and Africa also needs to look beyond natural resources and raw materials to an emphasis on manufacturing.

Indo-African cooperation is often concentrated in the Anglophone regions of Africa, which house the majority of the Indian diaspora in Africa. Mauritius and South Africa occupy a position of privilege in India’s relationship with the African continent. The partnership needs to be extended to other regions in Africa with diverse linguistic profiles, in order to impart a new dynamic to the relationship.

The TEAM 9 programme launched in 2004, which includes a diverse set of countries in the West African region, sets an example for a future Indo-African relationship. A holistic engagement with the whole of the African continent is an imperative for an emerging India with global ambitions. Better communication and exchange between the two regions could reduce the risk of isolation and conflicting stands on issues of mutual benefit and shared interests and ideas.

In the last round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, India stood almost isolated in its stand on domestic food security in spite of a common position on food subsidies with African and G33 countries. This is an instance of diplomatic negligence by the Indian government in mobilizing a shared position and in the chance to build consensus with its African partners on issues of common concern at international organizations. Though India and its African partners back the stand of differentiated responsibilities, there are incompatibilities in the urgency to respond to climate change issues, especially with certain coastal and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). The India-Africa Forum Summit of 2015 would be an occasion for India to revise and formulate a mutually convivial stand on the issue of climate change ahead of the summit in Paris in December 2015.


In the article titled ‘Engaging with an aspirational Africa’ published in the Indian daily The Hindu dated 19 October 2015, Sanjay Baru points out that one of the major stakes for the Indo-African relationship is the way Africa is imagined and projected in India. Africa as an equal partner and a ‘rising’ continent cannot be subject to prejudice of racism and tags of the ‘dark continent’. India would have to take a more proactive and clear stand against incidents of racism and physical violence against Africans in India. These incidents are a blot on the moral standing of the country, which has been pivotal in its relations with Africa. A relationship which claims to build itself on “people to people contact” needs a mutual effort by India and its African partners on raising awareness about the continent in the minds of the Indian public, and in institutions of higher education.


Africa and India have a lot to give and receive from each other. Separated by the caprices of geology, Africa and India have been linked together by the humanist and ideological solidarity and vision of their leaderships in the fight against colonization and racism. Today, in the era of globalization this solidarity should be reinvented in terms of mutual development and shared prosperity for the well being of their populations.

* Pooja Jain and Alioune Ndiaye are co-founders of the Center for Research on the Indo-African Partnership.

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