Why the India-Africa bond matters

ByHarsh Shringla
Feb 13, 2020 07:43 PM IST

India’s priority is not just Africa; India’s priority is Africans — every man, woman and child in Africa

Two words — continuity and change — sum up the historical and current engagement of India with Africa.

Under Modi, there is both continuity and change in the India-Africa relationship(PTI)
Under Modi, there is both continuity and change in the India-Africa relationship(PTI)

I have always felt that an Indian diplomat must have hands-on experience of Africa. I made it a point to seek a posting in Africa – one of my most enriching experiences was my stay in South Africa. My direct association with Malawi and Mozambique gave me a valuable insight into our extraordinarily diverse and mutually beneficial relationship with these countries.

While the political, and more recently, economic and developmental exchanges have often been commented on, the cultural aspects to our relationship are striking. In fact, there is a little bit of Africa in every Indian and a little bit of India in every part of Africa.

In the many nations and regions of Africa, or in the many states and regions of India, there is abiding faith in the power of communities and the strength of togetherness. This suggests a common embrace of cooperation and harmony — with fellow human beings and as well as nature. This is the African way, and this is the Indian way.

In the 20th century, the Indian and African experience was one of struggle for liberation, for freedom from colonialism and racial prejudice, and for the rights of every man and woman. The struggle for Africa’s liberty was our own struggle.

Even as a poor, newly-independent nation, we didn’t think twice before imposing a trade embargo on apartheid-era South Africa. This happened when South Africa’s share was close to 10% of India’s international trade.

Our most emotional link with Africa is of course that of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked and strived in South Africa for so many years. As he once remarked, “I may have been born in India but I was made in South Africa.” For this “making” of the Mahatma, India owes Africa an eternal debt. More recently, the magnificent life and legacy of Nelson Mandela have united us in a spirit of inspiration and purpose.

As the waves of freedom and democracy swept across Africa, India was always around to secure hard-won gains and help maintain peace. India came forward to participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Congo, Somalia, Liberia, Burundi and Sudan. India also provided support for African Union initiatives to bring peace to Somalia and Mali, among others. We have a long tradition of training African military officers in Indian institutions. India has helped set up defence academies in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Yet, amid this continuity, there is also change. There is a new energy and new electricity to the India-Africa equation in recent years.

The Indian and African economies represent two of the world’s most dynamic economic growth stories. Many of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa and the combined GDP of the continent is $2.4 trillion. By 2030, Africa will represent almost a quarter of the world’s workforce and consumers. With 54 countries, a billion people, a youthful demographic and an abundance of resources, Africa will carry our planet’s hopes and responsibilities.

Reaping the benefits of democracy and political stability, countries in Africa have taken major strides towards economic integration through initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). When in force, AfCFTA will raise intra-Africa trade levels by 52% and create one of the largest and most ambitious economic spaces in the world. India wants to be a part of that exciting space.

India’s relationship with Africa has been advanced using consultative and responsive mechanisms under the rubric of India-Africa Forum Summit. The 2015 summit was a remarkable event that saw participation from all 54 countries of the African continent.

Under the specific guidance of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, in the past five years, our political engagement has intensified as never before. There have been 34 outgoing visits to African countries at the level of President, vice president and prime minister. There is not a single country in the continent that has not been visited by at least a Union minister. To enhance diplomatic engagement, India is opening 18 new embassies in Africa, to take the total number of Indian missions to 47 out of a total of 54 countries in Africa. Nine of the 18 new missions have already opened.

The picture on trade and investment is encouraging. India-Africa trade in the previous year was valued at $69 billion, a 12% annual increase. The Duty Free Tariff Preference (DFTP) Scheme announced by India has benefited African nations by extending duty free access to 98.2% of India’s total tariff lines. Thirty-eight African countries benefit from the DFTP Scheme. India has become the fifth largest investor in Africa with cumulative investments of $ 54 billion. Indian investment has created thousands of jobs for local citizens.

Our cooperation incorporates power projects and dams in Sudan and Rwanda; water treatment in Tanzania; sugar factories in Ethiopia; and technology parks in Mozambique and Swaziland. We have built the presidential palace in Ghana, the National Assembly building in the Gambia, and very recently the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre in Niger, completed in just 14 months.

More than digital pathways and brick and mortar projects, India’s association with Africa is about the human touch — about facilitating the capacities of the people of Africa, particularly youth. There are thousands of African students in India at any given point, and we are immensely proud of the fact that 13 current or former presidents, vice presidents and prime ministers in Africa have studied at institutions in India. Each African student arrives as a scholar, stays as a friend and returns as an ambassador of India.

The goodwill that our country draws from such linkages is unimaginable. Our partnership with Africa is beyond strategic concerns and economic benefits. It is based on the emotional bonds we share and the solidarity we feel.PM Modi, in his speech to Ugandan Parliament in 2019 has said that India’s priority is not just Africa; India’s priority is Africans — every man, woman and child in Africa. Our shared values and our friendship represent a constant as well as ignite a continuity.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla is the Foreign Secretary of India. This is an abridged version of a speech he delivered at a conference on Africa in New Delhi on February 12
The views expressed are personal
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