Key Developments and Changes in India’s Approach towards Africa (2014 - 2024)
Amb Rajiv Bhatia
Introduction

Foreign policy, as an instrument to promote national interest, is a continuing and dynamic – not static – phenomenon, displaying a subtle blend of continuity and change. While the principal interests of a nation such as the imperatives for territorial integrity, sovereignty and security remain unchanged, other interests could change on re-interpretation and change in leadership. That, in turn, alters the direction and tempo of diplomacy. Hence, ‘continuity with change’ is often considered a useful adage to depict the evolution of India's foreign policy since its independence. However, with regards to the country’s Africa policy, it may be right to argue that during the decade under discussion i.e. 2014 to 2024, ‘change’ emerged as a more dominant trend as compared to ‘continuity.’ This is not to suggest that India’s Africa policy changed in its fundamental character, but to maintain that after reading the national and international situation, policymakers in New Delhi took deliberate decisions since mid-2014 to accord a higher priority to Africa; to tweak policy where necessary; and to allocate more resources for its implementation. From that perspective, the 2014 to 2024 represents a significant chapter in the history of India-Africa relations.

Backdrop

India’s active role in assisting Africa secure its liberation from colonialism and racial discrimination, helping it to navigate the Cold War era through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and partnering with the continent to accelerate its socio-economic development has moulded the trajectory of India-Africa relations in the 20th century. In its last decade, Africa was seen embarking on a renewed journey of Pan-African integration as it worked to replace the Organization for African Unity (OAU) with the African Union (AU), and to re-define its vision of a new Africa as delineated, a little later, in its ‘Agenda 2063’ document. This trend, coupled with India’s economic imperatives and “a new scramble” for Africa's resources and friendship led by China, drove India to step up its Africa diplomacy.

Against this backdrop, the first seven years of the 21st century (2000 to 2007) witnessed the beginning of a series of new economic and diplomatic initiatives. One of them was the start of negotiations with the AU for the commencement of a Pan-African dialogue that could well complement India’s bilateral and regional diplomacy in the African continent. The suggestion to begin a dialogue with Africa found ready acceptance in New Delhi and it resulted in two editions of the India-Africa Forum Summit in April 2008 and May 2011 respectively. These summits were undoubtedly path-breaking initiatives that allowed India to increase its political attention as well as concessional finance and grant assistance to Africa. However, the limitation of this approach was that the two summits involved the participation of only a handful of African countries based on the Banjul Formula. Besides, after the second summit, the pace of implementation of decisions slackened, causing unhappiness all around.

The Modi Decade
2014 to 2019

The first decade of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be divided into two segments: the pre-Covid years, and the Covid and post-Covid period, with the end of 2019 as the dividing line. In the first segment, 2014 to 2019, several significant developments took place that demonstrated a new momentum in the growth and consolidation of cooperation between India and Africa.

First, there was the third India-Africa Forum Summit that was hosted by India in October 2015. Abandoning the restrictive Banjul Formula of the past two summits, the Indian government invited all 54 African states. That was widely welcomed by the continent. The numbers about participation tell their story. All countries were represented at the third summit in Delhi, 41 of them at the level of the head of state or head of government. That turned out to be the largest ever physical gathering of African leaders in India. The summit was a message of renewed and increased mutual interest by the two sides. Referring to their ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “It is a partnership beyond strategic concerns and economic benefits. It is formed from the emotional bonds we share and the solidarity we feel for each other.” [1] A galaxy of African leaders spoke during the summit, shedding light on various important facets of the India-Africa relationship and voicing their resolve that it should be further strengthened and taken to a new level. The package of measures announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was substantial. It included a new concessional credit of USD 10 billion for the period 2016–2020 and an assistance grant of USD 600 million. The assistance grant comprised of the following: USD 100 million for the India-Africa Development Fund, USD 10 million for India-Africa Health Fund, the funding of 50,000 scholarships in India for the next five years, funds for the expansion of the Pan-Africa e-network, and institutions of skilling and training across Africa. As a result, India’s footprint in Africa was set to become bigger and better than what was planned at the previous two summits.

Second, Africa emerged as a major destination for Indian VVIPs’ visits, in a marked departure from the past. Between March 2015 and October 2019, 34 outgoing visits by the President, Vice President, and Prime Minister were arranged covering such diverse countries as Ghana, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, and Sierra Leone. [2] They resulted in top-level interactions, the signing of new agreements, the launching of development projects, and meetings with business communities and the Indian diaspora. In short, these visits projected the notion that Africa was now at the centre of India's diplomatic focus. At the same time, New Delhi remained a popular destination for African leaders. During 2014–2019, nearly 100 African leaders visited India on various missions.

Third, the Indian government refined and sharpened its Africa policy and it utilised the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Uganda to articulate it, with much effect. On 25 July 2018, while addressing the Parliament in Kampala, Prime Minister Modi laid out ten principles that would continue to guide India's engagement with Africa. The first two principles were particularly significant - “Africa will be at the top of our priorities” Prime Minister Modi stressed. [3] Besides, he also made it clear to his African audience that the development partnership between India and Africa “will be guided by your priorities.” [4] An oft-cited speech, it served the useful purpose of accelerating the implementation of decisions relating to cooperation with Africa.

Fourth, India chose to increase its diplomatic coverage of African nations by opening 18 new Embassies and High Commissions in the continent during 2018–2022. That helped the cause of expanding dialogue and cooperation in multiple ways. Further, a recent decision was to rationalise the distribution of the posts of defence attaches by shifting them from elsewhere and locating some of them in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Côte d’Ivoire.

2020 to 2024

In the second segment from 2020 to 2024, the Indian government was initially pre-occupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating tensions along the India-China border. But it turned the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic into an opportunity and utilised it to respond to the urgent needs of Africa, even as India itself battled the pandemic. Dispatch of medicines and medical supplies as a gift was arranged to 31 African countries. Further, gifting and export of pharmaceutical products including COVID-19 vaccines were promptly facilitated, thus vindicating the nation’s role as “the pharmacy of the world.” However, other diplomatic pre-occupations and developments including the border standoff with China contributed to the indefinite postponement of the fourth India-Africa Forum Summit that was scheduled to take place in 2020. In the later phase of this period, India was optimally engaged in handling its responsibilities relating to the G20 Presidency. The important opportunity of leading G20, the world’s “premier economic forum,” was amply leveraged to promote Africa’s interests in three identifiable ways, as below:

  1. Through creative and quiet diplomacy, New Delhi built up an ambience in which consensus was forged on the vital issue of admitting the AU as a permanent member of G20. This was a historic gain for Africa and it won India much appreciation.
  2. The Indian government hosted two “Voice of Global South Summits” (VOGSS) in digital format in January and November 2023. The first summit aimed to consult developing countries about their needs and expectations from G20. The inputs received largely moulded the agenda for G20 deliberations throughout the year.
  3. The second summit was the occasion for India to report to the Global South countries about the tangible progress achieved in this regard. The Chair’s summary of the second VOGSS highlighted the ten areas for “collective global actions in order to realise the vision for an inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future for all.” [5] These included innovative measures aimed at financing for development, human-centric climate action, affordable energy transitions, and women-led development for achieving SDGs.
Roadmap 2030

The foregoing stock take of the past ten years is a story of a string of consequential achievements. But there is also a need to mention the gaps and future challenges and to set realistic goals to elevate the India-Africa partnership to a higher level. This task was successfully addressed by the “Africa Experts Group” established by the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), under this author’s leadership. The group presented its report in June 2023. [6] It contains the “Roadmap 2030” which remains entirely valid today. It needs thoughtful consideration by the new government as the latter begins its 5-year term in June 2024 as well as by other key stakeholders. In essence, the report recommended focussed attention and action “to strengthen, deepen and diversify the India-Africa partnership” in four domains namely political and diplomatic; defence and security; economic; and socio-cultural. Some of its main recommendations are listed below: -

  1. The India-Africa Forum Summit may be held once every three years. The next summit should be held as early as possible.
  2. An Annual Strategic Dialogue involving the Chairperson of the AU Commission and India’s External Affairs Minister should be instituted.
  3. Greater maritime collaboration with African regional mechanisms should be forged.
  4. Dialogue at the level of the National Security Adviser/Deputy National Security Adviser may be arranged with as many African countries as necessary.
  5. The potential for establishing a formal mechanism of cooperation between India and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) may be explored actively.
  6. The proposal to create an Africa Growth Fund to remedy the lack of access to finance for Indian businesses should be accepted.
  7. Indian enterprises should be encouraged to assist African countries by setting up container shipping companies in joint ventures in the mode of public and private partnerships.
  8. Given the growing importance of the mineral sector, there is a need for concerned governments to cooperate by creating a joint fund or bringing together multiple private parties that ensure economies of scale.
  9. Adequate funds should be allocated for African studies in India.
  10. Opening new educational institutions in Africa should be pursued, instead of giving scholarships to African students in India.
  11. A network of India-Africa Think Tanks should be created.
Conclusion

In terms of demography, market size, regional integration, prospects of peace and conflict, international competition, and strategic importance, Africa’s significance and relevance for India will grow in the coming years. Therefore, the Indian government, the business world and the “Third Space” entities must accord a high priority to developing multi-dimensional cooperation with African states in a sustained manner. The next decade will be of crucial importance in this respect. As South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, then Deputy President and later President, famously observed, “Yesterday is a foreign country – tomorrow belongs to us!” [7]

Endnotes

[1] “Speech by Prime Minister at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi (October 29, 2015).” Speeches & Statements. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Government of India. October 29, 2015 https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/25977/Speech_by_Prime_Minister_
[2]For details, see: Rajiv Bhatia, India–Africa Relations: Changing Horizons, Routledge, Oxon, UK (2022), p. 81.
[3] “Prime Minister’s address at Parliament of Uganda during his State Visit to Uganda.” Speeches & Statements. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Government of India. July 25, 2018.
https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/30152/Prime_Ministers_address_at_Parliament_of_Uganda_during_his_State_Visit_to_Uganda
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Chair’s summary: 2nd Voice of the Global South Summit (November 17, 2023).” Bilateral/Multilateral Documents. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Government of India. November 21, 2023.
https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/37278/Chairs_summary_2nd_Voice_of_the_Global_South_Summit_November_17_2023
[6] Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). 2023. “India-Africa Partnership Achievements, Challenges and Roadmap 2030.” VIF Report. Report by Africa Expert Group.
https://www.vifindia.org/sites/default/files/India-Africa-Partnership-Achievements-Challenges-and-Roadmap-2030.pdf
[7] “Statement by Deputy President Mbeki at the African Renaissance Conference, Johannesburg, 28 September 1998.” International Relations & Cooperation. Republic of South Africa. He observed that he heard this particular sentence from “a section of the leadership of the Afrikaner youth of our country to hear their views about the future of our country….” http://www.dirco.gov.za/docs/speeches/1998/mbek0928.htm

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