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The highest point in Indo-African relations

Shankar analyses the wide ranging issues that were discussed during the 3rd India-Africa Summit held in New Delhi between Oct. 26-29

Publish Date: Nov 12 2015 6:15PM | Updated Date: Nov 23 2015 12:53PM

The highest point in Indo-African relations


It was India’s biggest ever diplomatic show on its soil. The third India-Africa Forum Summit, as commented by Ministry of External Affairs’ Secretary (West), Navtej Sarna, was the “first of its kind” in India as leaders from all 54 African countries, including 41 heads of state and the government landed in Delhi to attend the summit.


With this, the robustness of India’s engagement with Africa was on display. Mutual understanding and abiding partnership between the two sides were on the roll. Smooth and friendly words of agreements, rather than cacophonic sounds of disagreements, resonated the conference halls when leaders of India and Africa talked about challenges that they faced in terms of rise in terrorism, climate change, piracy, poverty and others.


In all, participants were happy to note that for mutual benefits and development, India required Africa as much as the latter required the former. If their colonial past and commitment to democracy served as common grounds for their coming together, their adherence to the principle of south-south cooperation gave them a wider platform to serve their political, social, economic, cultural, educational and technological goals.  


Actions matched words. India provided $10.6 billion worth of credit and grants for Africa over the next five years. This was in addition to India’s ongoing credit programme under which, according to Navtej Sarna, $7.4 billion was provided to Africa and “it has led to the creation of about 137 projects in 41 countries.” 


Yet in comparison to China, extension of such grants and aids by India is very small. Between 2000 and 2012, China provided $84 billion worth of aid to Africa. In 2014, China promised another $12 billion aid to the continent - $10 billion under Line of Credit programme and $2 billion for development programme. China looms large in Africa in terms of trade and commerce.


China-Africa bilateral trade stands at over $222 billion, while that of India-Africa commerce is $72 billion – one third ess than that of China-Africa.  Despite not having as big a purse as China, India wields significant influence on the continent which is a home to 2.7 million Indian diaspora. 


African leaders like South African President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe’s President and co-chair of the summit, Robert Mugabe, spoke warmly about the role played by Mahatma Gandhi, India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and his daughter, and former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in consolidating historical ties between the two sides. A known supporter of China, the South African President particularly appeared very liberal in lavishing praise on the two founding fathers of India.


“Actions of these two Indian visionaries (Nehru and Indira Gandhi) have crafted the base for strong solidarity between African republican states and Republic of India,” Jacob Zuma said while addressing the summit.


In all, the summit held in New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium reverberated with the participating members’ agreement over south-south solidarity and its all encompassing role in stimulating India-Africa engagement.  In this context, some participants strolled down memory lane in recalling the 1955 Bandung Conference of Indonesia. However, the applause was even louder when Prime Minister Narendra Modi called India and Africa “the two bright spots of hope and opportunities in the global economy.” 


While India’s Gross Domestic Product, according to a data from the World Bank, is over 2 trillion, Africa’s combined GDP is more than $2.8 trillion. By 2050, the GDP of Africa is projected to be around $29 trillion. According to an estimate, the resource-rich continent which is economically growing by 5 per cent annually, accounts for over 23 per cent of India’s trade. In fact, in the last 15 years, according to a data from the Ministry of Commerce, the two-way trade has multiplied 20 times and doubled in the last five years to reach $72 billion in 2014-15. It is projected to grow beyond $90 billion in 2015-16. 


To fast track business and commerce, as well as expand trade and investment linkages between India and Africa, both sides agreed to work closely within the framework of the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement for the. Earlier, on June 10, TFTA was signed between three of Africa’s major regional economic communities - the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).


Available data suggests that exports between these three regional blocks increased from $2.3 billion to $36 billion between 1994 and 2014—more than a 12-fold increase in 20 years. After the launch of TFTA, a feeling common across the African continent is that intra-regional trade would get further stimulated. In view of this, India and Africa’s decision to work together within the frame work of TFTA assumes significance. Also, in order to expand the volume of trade and business with Africa, India agreed to grant Duty Free Tariff Preference to Least Developed Countries (LDCs). India has been one of the first countries to provide a services package for LDCs and has also waived visa fees for businessmen from LDC countries travelling to India.


However, what’s significant was New Delhi’s announcement for setting up a monitoring mechanism to ensure that all those projects which got green signals from India and Africa are implemented in a time-bound manner. Several African leaders during their bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Modi complained of delay in implementation of projects announced during the 2008 and the 2011 India-Africa summits. 


Zimbabwean President Mugabe while thanking India for its development work in Africa, made it clear that there should be a “robust evaluation and follow up mechanism as some of the projects have been delayed.” It should be noted that India had announced  the launch of several projects in Africa. These included information technology centres, agriculture and polytechnic and diamond cutting and polishing institutes and setting up of ITI like vocational training institutes. But due to bureaucratic red-tapism and delay in funding, many of these projects lag behind in their scheduled operationalisation.


For example, Ghana, a city-state which is located in West Africa is not able to implement India-funded institutes for information technology, agriculture, polytechnic and ITI-like vocational training centres. Botswana, a landlocked country, located in Southern Africa, has expressed its inability to finance additional costs required for full-fledged operation of the proposed diamond institute. The first of its kind in the African continent, the Surat-based Indian Diamond Institute (IDI) has been selected to help Botswana set up the institute where training in diamond cutting, polishing and grading along with jewellery manufacturing will be given. 


India has already started working on setting up the diamond institute, but Botswana, it is said, wants New Delhi to finance even the cost of running faculties for the institute. Then lack of funds is cited as the reason behind delays in setting up infrastructure for India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade (IAIFT) in Kampala in Uganda. Currently, the institute is being run from a rented premise.  


Another flagship institute-the India-Africa Institute of Education, Planning and Administration (IAIEPA) to be set up in Burundi is facing problem in meeting its date. Besides, North African nations like Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan have yet to see coming up of India-funded technical institutions on their land. Largely lost on account of bureaucratic red tapism and fund delays, non-implementation of such plans and projects have dented New Delhi’s efforts for capacity building and human resources development in Africa. However, with India declaring that it would set up joint monitoring mechanism with African Union, it is felt that the implementation process would get activated.


“We are conscious of the shadow that falls between an idea and action, between intention and implementation. So, implementation will be as important as starting projects,” Modi observed in his address to the summit which, instead of being held in three years would now be held once in five years.


Nonetheless, the summit was a departure from the past in many ways: from the selection of venue to the arrival of such a large number of leaders to the adoption of documents. For the first time the Delhi Declaration said that Africa took note of India’s position and its aspirations to become a permanent member with full rights in an expanded UN Security Council. The document called for a decisive push in achieving “concrete outcomes” in reforming the top decision-making body. But it was a case that glared more from the paper than at the summit’s table. Many African countries failed to give unilateral support to India in its quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.


It is said that within Africa itself, there are several lobbies which work at cross-purposes with others on the issue of Security Council reforms. South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt want to have seats in the world body’s veto-wielding club. On the other hand, some African leaders are said to be under the heavy influence of China which is working overtime to stop India from entering the UN’s highest decision making body. It was in this background that India failed to get a unanimous backing from all African countries on its candidature for the Security Council’s permanent seat.


Incidentally, the summit was held ahead of the world climate summit in Paris. Given this, the Delhi Declaration said that India and Africa looked forward to finalizing negotiations on an ambitious and comprehensive agreement based on the principles of equity and common interests but differentiated responsibility.


Earlier on the sidelines of the four-day long summit, African leaders  from Cameroon to Nigeria, Gabon, Chad and Zimbabwe sought help from India in tackling the menace of Boko Haram, a banned terrorist outfit which has so far killed 17,000 people. In 2014, it abducted 219 girls from a school in Nigeria. After more than a year, the school girls’ whereabouts are still unknown. India which is regularly providing training to Nigerian armed forces in counter-terrorism operations, promised African countries help in fighting Boko Haram and Al-Shabab, the jihadi group which made international headlines in April when it killed 152 people, mostly Christian students, in an attack on a university in Kenya. Both these groups owe allegiance to ISIS. To fight them, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called on African countries during the foreign ministers’ meeting at the 3rd IAFS, to join hands in intelligence sharing, training programmes and capacity-building. Strengthening of the UN counter-terrorism mechanism and enhancing cooperation and coordination to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations was put in Delhi Declaration to make the fight against terrorism a resolute affair. In fact, both India and Africa called for an elaborate road map to tackle the menace of terrorism in the world. 


“Tackling this challenge (terrorism) requires global strategy and cooperation. We emphasise that no cause or grievance can justify acts of terror and resolve to maintain zero tolerance against terrorism,” the Delhi Declaration said.


Agriculture was another area where both sides showed interest in sharing expertise and technology to increase agricultural produce. In spite of having huge arable land, Africa’s agricultural output is merely 10 per cent of world output. Lack of farm technology, irrigation facility and absence of skills have impacted the growth of agriculture in Africa, which according to a data, imports more than 80 per cent of agricultural products. During the summit, one after another African country sought India’s help in replicating its experience in green revolution on the continental land. Also, in the course of discussion during the ministerial level meeting, African leaders talked about getting people from outside to farm agricultural land in Africa. Seeing the gravity of the situation, India, however, assured African leaders of its help in developing Africa’s agriculture sector.


On energy, especially on renewable energy, India and Africa pledged to intensify their co-operation in generating solar, wind, hydro, geo-thermal and bio-mass along with building transmission systems. In the background of the forthcoming climate talks, India has invited African countries to join a solar power alliance, an initiative which has been designed to help drive $100 billion worth of solar projects across India and Africa by 2020.


Health was yet another significant area where India and Africa were  seen reaffirming their commitment to enhance collaboration and share experience in the application of advance technology, science, research and training in the areas of HIV, TB, Malaria, Ebola and Polio. India has extended its support for Africa’s campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) and facilitate its implementation by providing training and education to health professionals.


However, under India-Africa Framework for Strategic Cooperation, another document adopted at the summit, both sides emphasized the need to harness the potential of the blue economy.  Several African countries like Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros and Kenya are keen to see that they derive the benefits of a blue economy in close cooperation with India. Sharing an astounding 26,000 km long coastline, African countries are bequeathed with vast resources in terms of energy, sustainable fisheries and biodiversity. It is felt that if these resources are efficiently utilised, it would help in mitigating the problem of unemployment besides, ensuring sustainability in business and economic models. 


“Exploring closer collaboration through training, capacity building and joint projects in developing sustainable fisheries, maritime connectivity, managing marine resources,” was highlighted prominently in the India-Africa Framework for Strategic Cooperation. 


However, while pursuing blue economy, India showed that it has a larger game plan in store for the security of the Indian Ocean and it was reflected clearly when India and Africa called for close cooperation in “port operations and marine transport, while addressing illegal and unregulated fishing and hydrography surveys.” Significantly, the issue of maritime security figured prominently in the Delhi Declaration too. 


“India would work to support Africa, as appropriate, in the implementation of AU 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime (AIM) Strategy in accordance with International Maritime Law.


With regard to peace and security, India’s support involving such initiatives within the African peace and security architecture, was appreciated by all participants at the summit. India is one of the countries that support various African Union missions such as those in Mali and Somalia. It backs programmes on conflict prevention, management and resolution. 


The summit brought together the biggest ever gathering of African countries on Indian soil. Perhaps, China will be bemused; it failed to   see the attendance of more than 30 leaders on its land when it called an African summit in 2012. For this, Prime Minister Modi was praised by President Pranab Mukherjee too. While hosting the banquet for African leaders, the President said that it was the Prime Minister’s drive which “brought us together for this event.”