Navigating India-Africa relations in a post-pandemic world
The article has been authored by Samir Bhattacharya, research associate, Vivekananda International Foundation and doctoral scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University
India has traditionally prioritised Africa in its foreign policy. However, the current administration of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has shown an extraordinary determination to strengthen India's longstanding ties to the African continent. More than 35 trips by the President, vice president, and PM to various African nations attest to the country's rejuvenated engagement with the continent of Africa.
During the last seven-and-a-half years that PM Modi has been in power, every African country has witnessed at least one Union minister level visit from India. During the same period, India received over a 100 African leaders, including 41, at the last India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015. In the last few decades, both India and Africa have experienced several changes in their political leadership, particularly in Africa, where these changes are frequently enacted through force. The relationship, however, continued unabated. In reality, far from fading away, the spirit of cooperation has only intensified.
India's relationship with Africa has progressed by utilising consultative and responsive processes, principally under the umbrella of the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS). Since the inception of IAFS in 2008, it has grown to rank among the biggest regular diplomatic gatherings of African leaders. There have previously been three editions: India in 2008, Ethiopia in 2011, and India again in 2015. All 54 African nations participated in the Summit of 2015, which was a remarkable milestone. The IAFS 4 should still happen later this year, possibly in Mauritania, despite the delay caused by the pandemic.
To summarise, the key pillars of India's development partnership with Africa have been capacity-building initiatives, lines of credit, grant support, small development projects, technical consultation, disaster relief and humanitarian help, and military cooperation.
Capacity building and skill development have been the most significant mode of India's development partnership with Africa. Over the years, the India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) initiative has played an essential role in skilling Africa. Launched in 1964, ITEC has been a crucial component of India-Africa cooperation. As a matter of fact, the African continent now receives the most funding from the ITEC programme. India launched the first e-ITEC pilot course for two African nations in 2019. The e-ITEC has taken on a new significance as the new standard since the pandemic's onset. New and innovative courses, including big data analytics, urban infrastructure management, World Trade Organization (WTO)-related themes, and solar technology, were introduced organically to meet the demands of a changing time.
The late Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam initiated the Pan African e-Network (PAeN) in 2004. Over the years, PAeN has significantly contributed to the advancement of tele-education and telemedicine in Africa. So far, 19 nations have signed memorandums of understanding in order to work together on telemedicine and tele education networks. Building on the success of PANEP, India also launched EVAB (e-Vidyabharati and e-Arogya Bharati) in 2019.
India is still one of the top five countries for African students seeking higher education abroad. More than 25,000 African students are currently enrolled in various universities all around India, as per the Association for African Students in India. Going forward, India's knowledge diplomacy with Africa has a lot of potential.
Another emerging area of collaboration between India and Africa is security. India has trained military troops from the Central African Republic and numerous other African countries. The Indian training programmes are well known for their professional content and apolitical nature. Hydrographic assessments to increase the navigability of coastal waters and maritime equipment towards that goal are now being arranged for Tanzania, Kenya, and Mozambique. White Shipping agreements have been signed with Kenya and Nigeria.
India's maritime cooperation with African nations, particularly those in the East & Southern African region, is also growing. The Indian Navy took part in Exercise IBSAMAR-VI in South Africa in 2018 alongside the navies of Brazil and South Africa. Indian ships visited Mombasa, Kenya; Maputo, Mozambique; Simon's Town, South Africa; and Toamasina, Madagascar, during the above exercise.
Additionally, Indian ships were stationed in the countries of the southern Indian Ocean region: Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar, and Comoros.
India held the inaugural multi-nation exercise for African countries in Pune in March 2019. Three African governments sent observers along with 17 African nations who participated in the exercise with troops. India recently sent a tri-service training team to Tanzania, a team from the Indian Coast Guard to Mozambique, and Indian defence training teams to Namibia and Uganda. A Navy training squad will also soon be dispatched to Madagascar.
Every two years, the Indian Navy also holds the Milan Exercise. Though postponed due to the pandemic, the Milan 2020 is expected to bring participants from 41 countries, including many African nations like Mozambique, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Comoros, Mauritius, South Africa, Madagascar, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Seychelles.
India actively supports cybersecurity, peacekeeping, and anti-terrorism efforts in Africa. In fact, the Imperial Military Academy in Harar, Ethiopia, founded as early as 1958, was India's first-ever training institute in Africa. India has also been involved in peacekeeping since the first UN Mission in Congo in 1964. India participated in almost all UN peace keeping operations (PKOs) in Africa. With 200,000 soldiers and police officers joining the blue helmets since independence, India is today Africa's fourth-largest contributor of troops to PKO; 4,483 Indians are now deployed in five peacekeeping missions in the Congo, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia.
Over the last eight years, under PM Narendra Modi's leadership, India has placed a strong emphasis on defence manufacturing. As these new defence collaborations constitute a significant investment in the future of Indian diplomacy, Africa has a lot to gain from this indigenous Indian defence technology, which might also promote India's defence manufacturing.
India's concern for humanitarian issues was witnessed when a cyclone hit Mozambique on March 15, 2019. After the disaster, the Indian Navy was the first to respond, coordinating with local authorities to evacuate people and drop food and water packs in cyclone-affected areas. Madagascar, Zimbabwe, and Malawi were among the other cyclone-affected nations that received aid from India.
In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, India provided medical assistance to 25 African nations. Additionally, India provided healthcare professionals in Africa with an e-ITEC training on the pandemic.
Today, two of the world's most rapid economic growth stories are those of the economies of India and Africa. Africa has many of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and the continent as a whole has a Gross Domestic Product of $ 2.4 trillion. Africa will account for roughly a quarter of the global workforce and consumer market by 2030.
Indeed, the India-Africa relationship in the post-Covid world will represent a vibrant partnership between the two continents, driven by the idea of growing together as equals and concentrating on capacity building, development cooperation and economic and technological initiatives. As the world transitions to post-pandemic optimism, India and Africa will emerge as twin growth centres, transcending their multi-faceted partnership to a new level.
(The article has been authored by Samir Bhattacharya, research associate, Vivekananda International Foundation and doctoral scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University.)