Celebration of Africa Day 2022 Over a Book Discussion | ‘The Harambee Factor: India - Africa Economic and Development Partnership by Ambassador Gurjit Singh’
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Every year on May 25, the world celebrates Africa Day. On May 25 1963, 30 independent African leaders signed the founding charter of the OAU (Organization of African Unity). In 2002, to give more impetus to the organisation, many new areas were added, and it was transformed into African Union (AU). From that perspective, this year is unique as we commemorate the 20th anniversary of AU. This year, VIF decided to celebrate the event along with the rest of the world.

This year, VIF celebrated the day over a book discussion of "The Harambee Factor: India - Africa Economic and Development Partnership", authored by former Indian Ambassador to African Union Gurjit Singh. Ambassador Gurjit Singh is a former Indian diplomat with 37 years of experience. He has been the Ambassador of India to Germany, Indonesia, ASEAN, Ethiopia and the African Union.

Shri Arvind Gupta, Director of VIF, gave an introductory speech to kick off the event. The Director stressed the importance of India-Africa links in his opening remarks, which went back centuries, well before Gandhi or the colonial era. This partnership has become stronger over time, as seen by our improved relationship. In this arrangement, India's line of credit (LoCs), grants, and capacity-building programmes were critical.

He congratulated the author on his magnum opus and praised the book's genre as unique, given the scarcity of scholarly literature by Indians on Africa's most pressing challenges. The book addresses a vital knowledge void concerning India's economic relationship with Africa. He has done a great job producing this compendium of Indo-African ties as a scholar-diplomat headed the Indian embassy in Ethiopia and the African Union. He concluded by stating that the book would be a valuable addition to African studies as a textbook.

The author, Ambassador Gurjit Singh, then spoke for around 20 minutes about the evolution of India-Africa relations and his book. The author emphasised how Africa has received a lot more attention under Modi's leadership. The book chronicles 34 outgoing visits to Africa by Indian senior leaders at the President, Vice President, and Prime Minister levels between March 2015 and October 2019. India welcomed nearly 100 African leaders for bilateral and multilateral engagements during the same period. In 2018, India approved the establishment of 18 new missions in Africa to assist in implementing and closely monitoring the pledges made during IAFS III.

He cautioned that India is not the only country that has recently courted Africa. Turkey has opened 16 new missions in the previous ten years, Qatar has opened 11, and Japan has opened nine. Five new embassies have been opened by Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Venezuela. The intensity of competition among traditional and rising countries to reach out to Africa has prompted some to refer to it as the "new scramble for Africa." In response to a query about China, he stated that while China spends more in African countries than India, India is doing better.

He described how, over time, India and Africa have created a thriving collaboration centred on capacity building, development cooperation, and economic and technological efforts and fuelled by the ethos of evolving together as equals. He has authored the book in the spirit of cooperation. Harambee factor is the name of the book, and Harambee is a Swahili word for cooperation. This book is an effort to trace and analyse the trajectory of Indian development cooperation with Africa.

When India organised the India Africa Forum Summit in 2008, India's involvement with Africa took on a more structured form (IAFS). So far, three editions have been held: the first in 2008 in India, the second in 2011 in Ethiopia, and the third in 2015 in India. The participation of African countries was restricted in the first two IAFS by the Banjul Formula, which allowed just 15 countries to participate. However, no such restrictions were imposed in 2015, and delegates from all 54 countries were present in India, making it an incredible success. The IAFS IV, which has been postponed because of the COVID pandemic, is expected to take place this year, tentatively in Mauritania. The author served as the Sherpa for IAFS II, and his account of the mission is a genuine delight for readers.

From the mid-2000s onwards, the transformation of India's government-to-government loans to Lines of Credit (LoC) that were given to Africa created the foundation of the country's economic involvement with Africa. The LoCs aided in the development of infrastructure, the promotion of Indian exports, and the demonstration of Indian project execution expertise. However, he believes that the LoCs have run their course and that the government should now focus on something other than LoCs, such as grant funds. Against this backdrop, the involvement of a third-country partner like Japan or France could become increasingly essential in the coming days.

Africa has emerged as a new growth pole of the world, with its capacity for consumption (given the emergence of a middle class) as well as capital absorption, despite its reputation as a continent plagued by poverty, civil strife, starvation, and corruption. Africa's GDP has tripled in the last two decades, making it the second fastest growing area, trailing only Asia. It is a continent of young people, with a median age of 19. Whether or not the next decade will be Africa's decade will primarily depend on how the region's leaders handle its policies. He finished by stating that India will play a critical part in the country's growth story.

Next, Dr Renu Modi, Professor and Director of the University of Mumbai's Centre for African Studies, gave her thoughts. She complimented the book for being extremely well-researched, objective, critical, and self-reflective about India's African engagement. She described the book as a "ready handbook" for academics, legislators, and businesspeople. The author has not only examined all aspects of the India-Africa alliance in-depth in this book, but he has also offered several paths forward.

She appreciated the work for shunning rosy images and highlighting today's afro-realism. She also emphasised the importance of going beyond the book's nostalgic narrative of India-Africa historical links and the fight against colonialism and the non-alignment movement. She emphasised how the book highlighted other creative finance approaches, such as the Barefoot model. She also appreciated the author for documenting the contributions of many diasporic groups.

Mr Samuel Getachew, a distinguished Ethiopian journalist, gave his thoughts on the book from an African perspective. He talked about the soft Indian partnership paradigm, the emotional component of it that may be captured in a transactional relationship with feeling. He described India as "mother India" and said that almost no one in Ethiopia had not benefited from Indian professors. He also emphasised India's contributions to developing human resources in Africa, notably in Ethiopia. He expressed concern for Ethiopia's current condition. Hehoped that Ethiopia would learn from India and return to the path of progress and development with the help of India's foreign ministry.

Mr Samir Bhattacharya, Research Associate at VIF, was the final panellist, and he underlined the book's comprehensive dig into numerous aspects of cooperation. He emphasised the importance of the book, particularly for academics, because there is currently no book that adequately addresses the India-Africa development relationship. He highlighted how the author managed to uncover so many difficulties, obstacles, and potential for India-Africa development collaboration in just 12 chapters of the book.

He shared several snippets from the book, as well as some amusing tales that add to the book's appeal, despite its intellectual nature. The author devotes a special section in chapter two of the book to the changes in India's Africa policy under the Modi administration. For African studies academics, the careful details of the changes that occurred at the Ministry of External Affairs and how this contributed to increased attention to Africa is incredibly essential information.

The author's detailed explanation of the 10 guiding principles for India's Africa engagement, which Prime Minister Modi unveiled in his speech to the Ugandan parliament in 2018, is commendable. Despite the periodic doses of reality, he said, the spirit of partnership never faded, and it is in this spirit of cooperation that the book's title is justified. He offered the example of how, despite domestic demands, India delivered medications to over 40 African countries during the pandemic, demonstrating the centrality of Africa in India's foreign policy. This happened recently when, in the midst of the Ukraine crisis, India decided to waive the export prohibition on wheat for Africa and treat it on a case-by-case basis, notwithstanding domestic demands.

Even though the book is already 500 pages long, he indicated his desire for the author to devote a few extra chapters to discussing the prospects and substance of bilateral cooperation in the military, maritime, energy, and institutional sectors, along with recommendations. Another intriguing inclusion would have been the relevance of the "China factor" in influencing the Indo-African cooperation.
He expressed the hope that the author will consider these concerns when writing his future book about India and Africa. He concluded by stating that students interested in learning about India-Africa ties will benefit much from this book. Students interested in the role of growing South Asian powers, international development, foreign policy, and global political economy would benefit significantly from this book.

Event Date 
May 27, 2022

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