By Tridivesh Singh Maini
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four nation Africa trip from July 7-11 came at an important time. India-Africa ties have witnessed a significant transformation thanks to the increasing economic synergies between both. This point is strongly reinforced by the fact that trade was estimated at USD 72 Billion as of 2015, up from 30 Billion in 2008. At the political level too, engagement has witnessed a steady rise.
In June 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee toured Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Namibia, while in May 2016, Vice President Hamid Ansari visited Morocco and Tunisia. Modi began his Africa tour with Mozambique (July 7) and then traveled to South Africa (July 8-9), Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania (July 10) with his last stop in Kenya (July 11). In October 2015, India hosted the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, where representatives from all 54 African countries and 40 heads of state and government attended this mega event-cum-interaction.
While the India-Africa relationship has witnessed significant positives, there have been a number of hiccups. There were strong reactions from a number of African envoys in the aftermath of the murder of a Congolese citizen, Masonda Ketada Oliver who was bludgeoned to death in New Delhi. This was followed by attacks on a Nigerian student in Hyderabad.
‘Soft power’ has played an important role in ties between India and the outside world, especially with Africa, and one aspect of this soft power has been the African students in India.
It is estimated that there are 25,000 African students in private and government universities in India. Notably, one of the important decisions taken during the India-Africa Forum Summit in October 2015 was to increase the number of scholarships provided to African students. The murder and attacks on Africans residing in India caused immense damage to the relationship, with most African envoys even threatening to boycott the Africa day celebrations.
It required deft handling from the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj to defuse the tensions, though some Ministers, including the Culture and Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma, made some unnecessary statements.
If one were to look at the thrust of the visit that will be undertaken by the Prime Minister, there is likely to be an emphasis on accelerating development assistance, working together on multilateral forums on issues pertaining to terrorism and the environment, enhancing cooperation in the spheres of energy and agriculture as well as greater maritime cooperation.
The Indian Prime Minister discussed the progress of current projects being funded by India, and deepen cooperation in areas like Information Technology (IT) and medicine where India has an advantage, and which can immensely benefit Africa.
If one were to look at energy cooperation, this was high on the agenda during the PM’s Mozambique visit. Mozambique President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi had signed an MOU for expanding cooperation during his visit to India in August 2015, this was taken forward subsequently during the India-Africa Forum Summit and by Minister of state for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan during his visit to Mozambique in April 2016.
During the PM’s Tanzania and Kenya visit greater Agricultural Cooperation was on the agenda since India and Africa have been exploring ways of cooperation for food security and strengthening agricultural synergies. India can address its own food shortages by assisting in increasing the level of agricultural production of pulses and edible oils. Agriculture Minister, Radha Mohan Singh while addressing the India-Africa Agribusiness Forum had stated:
“Can we think of a dispensation that where Indian companies can consider investing in Africa for growing pulses and edible oils, which are in short in supply in India. Similarly, African businesses can think of engaging mutually beneficial collaborators in India”.
The issue of greater maritime cooperation and enhancing linkages through the Blue Economy was also of importance. During the Indo-African Summit in October 2015, the Prime Minister had referred to both aspects. With Mozambique there is immense potential for cooperation since both India and Mozambique have vast coastlines and are connected by the Indian Ocean.
Finally, both sides explored possible cooperation in the sphere of counter-terrorism. The Al Shabab Group was responsible for the dastardly attack on Westgate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya 2013.
In Johannesburg, South Africa and Nairobi Kenya, Modi addressed the Indian Diaspora. Modi also met members of the Diaspora in Maputo (Mozambique) and Tanzania.
It is tough to talk about India’s approach towards Africa without comparisons with China. While it is true that there are a number of advantages which India has, not just in the context of strong historical ties, but also the fact that Indian businesses are relatively popular since they generate local employment and benefit local economies more, India’s financial assistance has been witnessing an increase. India has implemented 137 projects in 41 countries without seeming to be obtrusive or patronizing; the same cannot be said about China though.
Yet, there is no doubt that India needs to pull up its socks. Firstly, India’s engagement with Africa has fallen behind China with India-Africa bilateral trade estimated at 70 Billion USD, while China’s trade with Africa is estimated at 200 Billion USD.
Second, while there is no doubt that India’s financial assistance for Africa has less conditionalities. The LOC’s are not utilized because of turf wars between Ministries and a convoluted process for getting approvals. India has extended concessional credit lines worth USD 7.4 billion, less than 6.8 Billion were approved and 3.5 Billion disbursed as of October 2015, this issue was raised by a number of leaders during last year’s India-Africa Summit.
Third, India needs to expand its outreach to Africa and not restrict it to Southern and Eastern African shores alone. This has been the tendency thus far, due to historic ties, a substantial Diaspora population and the fact that India works jointly with South Africa in multilateral setting. In the recent years, ties with other parts of Africa have also intensified and there is a desire to broaden engagement with the continent as is evident from the India-Africa Summit in October 2015. Yet, a number of African countries complain of neglect and of India’s policy being centered around a few African countries.
It is important to address this issue if India needs to strengthen economic ties with the region. One possible way could be involving state governments especially those such as Andhra Pradesh, whose economic ties with Africa are strengthening, apart from this states such as Gujarat and Punjab which have sizeable diasporas in Africa should also work jointly with New Delhi. Greater interactions with state governments are also important to increase awareness about Africa, since a number of students study in private universities outside Delhi. A number of African envoys have been pro-active in reaching out to state governments and universities beyond the national capital.
In conclusion, India needs to improve its implementation of projects and use its soft power effectively in Africa, mere goodwill by itself is not enough. Promises need to be backed by action.
*Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based policy analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat. He can be reached at: [email protected]