Africa, the indispensable continent for India

The third India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in New Delhi this week, with over 40 African heads of governments and states attending, will be the biggest foreign policy event hosted by India in more than three decades. While this process was partly in response to initiatives by other emerging powers, particularly the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation launched in 2000, it was also a belated recognition that Africa was becoming an indispensable continent for India’s future—one that New Delhi can ignore at its own detriment.

Today, India and Africa matter to each other in at least four ways: First is the common historical experience of colonization and decolonization. Derived from that is the normative notion and principle of independent, sovereign states committed—at least in theory—to the liberal peace paradigm. This was evident in the historic soft power approach that promoted sovereignty, independence and support for the liberal model of development.

Second, following India’s economic liberalization from 1991 onwards, Africa has emerged and is likely to remain crucial for natural resources and developing markets. This is evident in the increasing trade, which in the past five years has grown six-fold to nearly $70 billion. India is now Africa’s fourth largest trading partner, though raw materials make up over 80% of Africa’s exports to India. Crude oil and gas have emerged as the leading exports to India, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all exports. The increase in India-Africa trade has also been a principal driver behind India’s evolving concept of development partnership cooperation and has been the key approach for engagement with Africa since 2003.

Third, Africa remains vital for India’s emergence as a global actor in the international institutional arena. Both India and Africa are keen to reform the existing global governance structures, especially the UN Security Council (UNSC), and shape the emerging global regimes, particularly those related to food, energy, climate, water, cyber and space. However, there are two challenges: first, neither India nor African nations have the capacity to shape these regimes on their own; they will have to work together. Second, on many issues, such as climate change, UNSC reform and UN peacekeeping, there are significant differences.

In case of UNSC reforms, for instance, the Ezulwini consensus adopted by African nations at the prodding of China effectively preserves the status quo and benefits only the existing five permanent members of the UNSC rather than either India or Africa’s interests.

Finally, there are security threats emerging from Africa that not only impact the African nations but also have a strong bearing on India. Terrorism and organized crime (including piracy) are of increasing concern to India and Africa. International terrorism has been on the rise in Africa in recent years extending from Nigeria in West Africa to Somalia in the Horn of Africa. Reports also claim that terrorist groups with linkages in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have been using Africa as recruiting grounds for jihad. While India is not directly affected by the localized terrorist organizations in Africa, the troubling links between Somali and other groups such as the al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabab, and militant groups in the Af-Pak region could significantly affect India’s future security.

While the IAFS process is crucial to sustain the complex and multifaceted India-Africa relationship, this process alone may not be enough to strengthen the burgeoning relationship. That may require multiple and more frequent processes of engagement involving not only government-to-government interaction but also the private sector, state governments as well as civil society.

This article was originally published by LiveMint on October 26, 2015

Vertical Tabs

Oct 26, 2015
WPS Sidhu
India, South Asia