Engaging with Africa calls for new thinking - Hindustan Times
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Engaging with Africa calls for new thinking

May 24, 2024 11:19 PM IST

The Union government has done a lot to bring Africa into focus. It is time for more autonomous participation by Indian businesses, institutions and hospitals.

The new government will have its own foreign policy priorities, within which Africa must get due attention. Here are five suggestions for pursuing a “Priority Africa” agenda.

(FILES) General view of the Dantokpa market, one of the largest open-air market in West Africa, in Cotonou on February 29, 2024. (Photo by Abadjaye Justin SODOGANDJI / AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
(FILES) General view of the Dantokpa market, one of the largest open-air market in West Africa, in Cotonou on February 29, 2024. (Photo by Abadjaye Justin SODOGANDJI / AFP)(AFP)

First, establish an India-African Union track 1.5 dialogue to engage on all issues of importance, including on the points regarding the Global South in the G20 communique released by the Indian presidency of the G20, which saw the African Union (AU) inducted into the grouping. This should be at the macro level, ending the pursuit of bilateral talks with African countries.

Through this, the capacity of the AU Commission (AUC) to effectively participate in G20 meetings could be augmented. As African priorities are identified through the India-Africa dialogue, experts should be deputed with Indian funding to partner with the AUC in the pursuit of its own developmental agenda, including Agenda 2063.

Second, with the fourth India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS IV) delayed, it is time now to reformulate the tenets of this partnership in view of the post-pandemic situation and the impact of the Ukraine and West Asian crisis.

The AUC is up for electing a new chairman and commissioners in February 2025 for a four-year term and would thus be hamstrung by campaigning and election processes. Since IAFS IV is already delayed, it is better to engage with the AUC after February 2025. The IAFS IV should revert to the Banjul format of 15 countries plus the AUC. This makes it manageable and practical. India’s successful Africa policy does not need a massive show of strength or geographical spread. Since it is Africa’s turn to host the IAFS IV, it is best to hold it in Addis Ababa, the seat of the AUC rather than seek a partner country that shares the burden of hosting the summit.

Third, the functioning regional economic communities (RECs) need to be consulted through a meeting — this was done before earlier summits — to map African priorities against Indian capabilities. A joint REC-AUC tour of India’s development successes must be conducted.

Fourth, India should adopt a private sector investment-led approach towards Africa, targeting strategically important countries and those to which Indian businesses wish to go.

India should support its entrepreneurs and banks by providing them low-cost credit, through a revolving fund. This can be lent locally to reduce the costs of expensive borrowing. India can help with feasibility studies and detailed project reports to create bankable projects that seek funding from a variety of sources rather than just India.

India’s support for grant projects should be meshed with its strategic and business interests. The lines of credit (LOCs) played a useful role earlier, but with many countries seeking debt relief and restructuring now, this has to be reconsidered. Last year, most of the LOCs approved by EXIM bank were rollovers of unpaid interest rather than new projects.

Fifth, rupee-based LOCs must replace dollar-based ones to reduce forex risk. It is important to strengthen Indian banks in Africa; allowing them to implement LOCs will strengthen their position in the African markets.

The Union government has done a lot to bring Africa into focus. It is time for more autonomous participation by Indian businesses, academic institutions and hospitals. The first Indian Institute of Technology in Africa (in Zanzibar) shows that there is a demand for high-quality Indian education, and some African countries are ready to pay for this, with Indian management. This won’t cost the Union government much but will go a long way towards bringing cost-effective engagement with Africa.

Gurjit Singh is former Indian ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union and honorary professor, IIT Indore. The views expressed are personal

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