The third Indo-Africa summit held in India from October 26 to 30 was an unprecedented diplomatic manoeuver. Representatives of all of the 54 countries in Africa attended this event, extremely significant for both sides. That the representatives included the Heads of State or Government of 40 countries is emblematic of the importance African leaders are giving to this summit.
But why is India so keen in gaining such a diplomatic high-ground in the continent where evolution began?
The answer would be a mix of economics, strategy and China.
India needs to invest in Africa to grow itself and counter China
You know that China is the investment leader in Africa. In case you didn’t, China’s trade with Africa was over $200 billion in 2014. Comparatively, India’s was just around $70 billion (short from its targeted $100 billion). By 2025, China will be pumping in $1 trillion into the continent. Beijing has already built roads, railways, and critical infrastructure in African countries.
Currently, India’s investment stands between $30-35 billion. For the next 35 years, Africa will continue to grow at a phenomenal pace. At the same time India wants to grow at the rate of 8-10 per cent every year to eradicate poverty.
It is because of this tremendous potential in the continent and India’s own needs that Modi government decided to double its assistance to African nations from what it was in 2011.
Modi declared that New Delhi will give $10 billion in concessional loans over the next five years to Africa. This is other than the $600 million in grants.
More investments will translate into more trade.
Oil and gas (66 per cent), ores and gold (16 per cent) are the main exports from Africa to India. Six African countries – Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco – account for 89 per cent of the total exports.
More oil imports from Africa will help meet India’s growing energy demand and, therefore, contribute to its development.
India can secure its strategic interests by assisting Africa
India is closer to Africa geopolitically than China. The Indian Navy needs to maintain a constant presence in the Arabian Sea to guard its sea routes from Somalian pirates and any other geopolitical threat such as the Yemen crisis in Middle East just off the Horn of Africa.
Djibouti served as the centre of evacuation by sea and air during Operation Raahat. Startegic ties with African countries will assist India’s humanitarian operations greatly.
Terrorism has been on the rise in North Africa especially after the Arab Spring, which led to many political upheavals in the continent.
An unchecked Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya, and Al Qaeda in Maghreb region, besides the politically volatile countries such as Congo and South Sudan, can hinder Africa’s diplomatic initiatives with other countries.
This is why 12 countries facing such crises talked terror and defence with India.
India’s own military experience in Africa dates back to the early 60s. Eighty per cent of India’s UN peacekeepers are presently serving in Africa, and 70 per cent of all casualties have been sustained there, including PVC winner Gurbachan Singh Salaria.
India will now increase its cooperation with Africa on maritime security and hydrography to counter “terrorism and extremism”.
Ensuring that the world listens to India’s climate change worries
Climate change is devastating to agriculture. Since both Africa and India are primarily dependent on agriculture, their economies stand to be greatly impacted in an adverse climate scenario.
But most developed countries continue to push the onus of reducing emissions (a primary factor in climate change) on developing economies. This is what India objects to though New Delhi has committed to reduce emissions by 33 per cent in the next 15 years.
India is also planning to become a solar energy powerhouse in the years to come. By 2022, India aims to install 100GW worth of panels plus 75GW of other renewable technologies.
Meeting emissions targets is also a key concern for both India and Africa. Improving and sharing of clean technology knowledge is aimed at helping both in attaining emissions targets while keeping pace with progress.
Achieving such targets can be possible by shared R&D for cleaner technologies. In this context, Modi’s call that India aims to light “tens of millions of homes in India and Africa” after sunset shows the extent to which New Delhi is giving importance to Africa.
UNSC reforms are a key concern
The UNSC reforms is what both India and Africa nations are pushing for.
India and Africa together account for around 28 per cent of the world’s population. All African countries are members of the UN, yet their voices go largely ignored.
In spite of the fact that 75 per cent of everything UNSC does is focused on Africa, there is yet to be a permanent member from the continent.
Becoming a permanent member of the United Nations is one of India’s top priorities. This is why Modi has been discussing UN with almost every country he visits, especially the G-4.
Substantial support from African countries will help India’s case of permanent membership at the UN.
Expanding India’s presence in a continent’s socio-cultural sphere
A part of the economic assistance includes 50,000 scholarships for African students in India over the next five years. There will be expansion of institutions for enhancing skills, training and learning in the 54 African countries.
Exchange of skills and knowledge help in building trust between countries, and will greatly assist India in becoming an influential force in the world. China has never done this exchange with Africa, so India will have an upper hand.
India has over 3 million strong diaspora in Africa. Tapping this untapped resource is in itself a vital boost for the growth of any country.