An anti-colonial and anti-Western outlook used to bring African and Indian leaders together during the Cold War. As India developed its industrial and educational capacity, moved towards to the IT-enabled services revolution and drew closer to the West while Africa experienced uncertain political transitions, New Delhi’s attention largely stayed on the great power relationships. Convergences with Africa thinned and the continent continued to be seen mainly through the lens of resource exploitation. But now a rising Africa making strides in education, business and health care compels global attention for both economic opportunity and strategic purpose.
It is to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s credit that he has signalled New Delhi’s renewed interest by hosting the India-Africa Forum Summit, securing the attendance of 54 nations, modestly higher than similar summits hosted by the US, China and Japan. The PM’s address yesterday spelled out India’s rationale for the new vigorous outreach. India and Africa have shared global perspectives and similar demographics — and both sides have much to offer each other in their pursuit of economic development. Mr Modi spoke of 400,000 new businesses that were registered in Africa in 2013 and the innovations seen in agriculture, education and health care. He mentioned that in addition to $7.4 billion concessional credit in the past, India will offer another $10 billion over the next five years. This will enable a greater participation of Indian industry in Africa’s infrastructure development. There is clearly demand for Indian investment in a range of areas including roads, highways, energy, water conservation, hospitals, post-disaster reconstruction and mining. The PM also offered a grant assistance of $600 million, which will, crucially, include 50,000 scholarships in India over the next five years. India is valued as a source of training and technology, and as the experience with Afghanistan shows, support for students and professionals is a vital instrument of soft power — particularly when China is also competing for Africa’s attention. Mr Modi also pointed to the importance of cooperating on maritime security and extremism, coordinating positions on climate change and UN reform.
Mr Modi also struck a contrite note that will appeal to African leaders and embassy officials here. He said, “There are times when we have not done as well as you have wanted us to. There have been occasions when we have not been as attentive as we should be. There are commitments we have not fulfilled as quickly as we should have.” The PM clearly wants a new start. It is now up to the bureaucracy to follow through.