Staging a comeback, re-energising India’s Africa policy
NEWS New Delhi needs to make new commitments, developing and deepening links in health, space and digital technologies.
- Africa is considered a foreign policy priority by India.
- The current Prime Minister designed a forward-looking strategy to deepen relations with African countries.
- Even as the COVID-19 era began in March 2020, New Delhi took new initiatives to assist Africa through prompt despatch of medicines and later vaccines.
- But now the policy implementation needs a critical review.
INDO-AFRICAN ECONOMIC RELATION
- The latest economic data confirms what was apprehended by experts: India-Africa trade is on a decline.
- According to the Confederation of Indian Industry, in 2020-21, India’s exports to and imports from Africa had a reduction of 4.4% and 25% respectively over the previous year.
- Thus, bilateral trade fell by $10.8 billion in 2020-21, compared to 2019-20, and $15.5 billion compared to the peak year of 2014-15.
- India’s investments in Africa too saw a decrease from $3.2 billion in 2019-20 to $2.9 billion in 2020-21.
- Total investments of India over 25 years are just about one-third of China’s investment in Africa.
- Further COVID-19 has caused an adverse impact on the Indian and African economies.
SIGNIFICANCE OF AFRICA TO INDIA
- India’s top five markets today are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and Togo.
- The countries from which India imports the most are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Angola and Guinea.
- India’s top three exports to Africa are mineral fuels and oils (processed petroleum products), pharmaceutical products and vehicles.
- While, mineral fuels and oils, (essentially crude oil) and pearls, precious or semi-precious stones are the top two imports accounting for over 77% of our imports from Africa.
- The composition of the India-Africa trade has not changed much over the two decades.
GLOBAL COMPETITION IN AFRICA
The latest trends in bilateral economic relations should be assessed against two broad developments:
First, COVID-19 has brought misery to Africa
- Recent pandemics have affected Africa deeply and the continent still remains ill-equipped.
- A recent World Health Organization survey revealed that 41 African countries had fewer than 2,000 working ventilators among them.
- With much of the world caught up in coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic’s ill effects, flows of assistance and investment to Africa have decreased.
Second, as a recent Gateway House study, Engagement of External Powers in Africa; Takeaways for India
- The study showed that Africa experienced a sharpened international competition, known as ‘the third scramble’, in the first two decades of the 21st century.
- A dozen nations from the Americas, Europe and Asia have striven to assist Africa in resolving the continent’s political and social challenges and, in turn, to benefit from Africa’s markets, minerals, hydrocarbons and oceanic resources, and thereby to expand their geopolitical influence.
- A mix of competition and contestation involving traditional and new players, especially the United States, the European Union (EU), China, Japan and India, has attracted much attention from governments, media and academia.
INDIA’S ATTENTION TO AFRICA IS SHADOWED
- While China has successfully used the pandemic to expand its footprint by increasing the outflow of its vaccines, India’s ‘vax diplomacy’ has suffered a setback during the second wave of COVID-19 in the country.
- The setback can be attributed to the shortage of vaccine raw materials from the U.S.
- Also the geopolitical tensions in Asia and the imperative to consolidate its position in the Indo-Pacific region have compelled New Delhi to concentrate on its ties with the United Kingdom, the EU, and the Quad powers, particularly the U.S.
- Consequently, the attention normally paid to Africa lost out.
OVERCOME CHINESE CHALLENGE
- To overcome the China challenge in Africa, increased cooperation between India and its international allies, rates priority.
- The recent India-EU Summit has identified Africa as a region where a partnership-based approach will be followed.
- Similarly, when the first in-person summit of the Quad powers is held in Washington, a robust partnership plan for Africa should be announced.
EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN INDIA-AFRICA ENGAGEMENT
- For mutual benefit, Africa and India should remain optimally engaged.
- Working towards this direction, the External Affairs Minister of India, recently opened a debate on conflict and post-pandemic recovery in Africa, in the UN Security Council.
- Touching on politico-diplomatic dimensions, he raised the issue that “the voice of Africa is not given its proper due” in the Security Council.
- He also highlighted India’s role in peacekeeping in Africa, in lending support to African counter-terrorism operations, and contributing to African institutions through training and capacity-enhancing assistance.
- Further, he assured the continuance of Indian aid for economic development in the African continent.
- Also his recent visit to Kenya has helped to re-establish communication with Africa at a political level.
- It is time to seize the opportunity and restore Africa to its primary position in India’s diplomacy and economic engagement.
- The third India-Africa Forum Summit was held in 2015, and the fourth summit, pending since last year, should be held as soon as possible, even if in a virtual format.
- It is essential “to impart a 21st century complexion to the partnership with Africa”. For this developing and deepening collaborations in health, space and digital technologies is must.
- Fresh financial resources for grants and concessional loans to Africa must be allocated, as previous allocations stand almost fully exhausted.
- Without new commitments, India’s Africa policy would be like a car running on a near-empty fuel tank.
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