World politics has lately been marked by big policy decisions. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative is a huge project that aims to build its linkages with Central Asia, West Asia and Europe by land and develop similar connections with South-East Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean.
The US has also recently negotiated the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), involving 12 countries that account for 40% of global trade. In view of such structural shifts, it is only appropriate that India attempts to invigorate ties with Africa via a summit in New Delhi, starting on October 26, to be attended by representatives from all 54 countries of the continent.
India’s footprint in Africa is still relatively modest, with trade at $70 billion as compared to China-Africa trade, which is around $220 billion, but a much-scaled up India-Africa summit can be useful to address the deficits in New Delhi’s attention that have hindered growth in the past. The opportunities are, of course, immense.
Africa is a resource-rich fast-growing continent and somewhat like India in its diversity, teeming with aspiring educated youth in prospering cities; it has regions where manufacturing and services thrive, the mobile phone reach is impressive — and all these coexist alongside varying qualities of governance that include well-run States and nations wracked by corruption or insurgency.
The positives have attracted investors from China, Europe, America and indeed even India, whose private sector has been particularly enterprising in scoping out opportunities. The summit occurs at a time when African nations are perhaps looking to other countries while coming to terms with China’s slowdown, which affects their resource exports.
The summit will be a striking spectacle with India lavishing attention on the leaders during the three-day event.
But success will depend on reconciling competing priorities of African countries and its different regions. Calibrating policy for 54 countries that are different from each other depends on the amount of bureaucratic and policy expertise that New Delhi is prepared to nurture and allocate to Africa.
India has the advantage of being an English-speaking resource for technical expertise and training, and is arguably a less extractive investor than China. Serious thought must also be given to cultural ties, particularly in view of unpleasant incidents that betray racial biases.
The Indian public will be well-served by an extensive, nuanced acquaintance with the cultures, politics and transitions of Africa through various platforms including film, television, and literary festivals.