Continental ties – India’s outreach to Africa

India begins the heavy-lifting needed to transform economic partnerships in Africa

The African Development Bank’s decision to hold its annual general meeting in India this month is a signal of the importance African countries attach to New Delhi’s growing role in its development. It was nearly a decade ago, in 2008, that India made a serious attempt for a strategic partnership with all of Africa, instead of just the nations it traded with, at the first India-Africa Forum Summit. At that time, India’s efforts seemed minimal, a token attempt at keeping a foothold in a continent that was fast falling into China’s sphere of influence. New Delhi had its work cut out, building a place for India as a partner in low-cost technology transfers, a supplier of much-needed, affordable generic pharmaceuticals, and a dependable donor of aid that did not come with strings attached. Over the past few years the outreach to Africa has also been driven by visits of President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As Mr. Modi pointed out in his speech to the AfDB in Gandhinagar on Tuesday, every country in Africa has by now been visited by an Indian Minister, highlighting the personal bonds India shares. During the India-Africa summit held in Delhi in 2015, the Centre announced a further $10 billion export credit and a $600 million grant which, despite being a fraction of the aid Africa received from China and blocs such as the European Union, was a significant sum for India.

Having established its credentials and commitment over time, the Centre is now taking its partnership beyond dollars and cents to a new strategic level. To begin with, India is working on a maritime outreach to extend its Sagarmala programme to the southern coastal African countries with ‘blue economies’; it is also building its International Solar Alliance, which Djibouti, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Ghana signed on to on the sidelines of the AfDB project. In its efforts, India has tapped other development partners of Africa, including Japan, which sent a major delegation to the AfDB meeting. It has also turned to the United States, with which it has developed dialogues in fields such as peacekeeping training and agricultural support, to work with African countries. It is significant that during the recent inter-governmental consultations between India and Germany, both countries brought in their Africa experts to discuss possible cooperation in developmental programmes in that continent. It will take more heavy-lifting to elevate India’s historical anti-colonial ties with Africa to productive economic partnerships. But it is clear that at a time when China is showcasing its Belt and Road Initiative as the “project of the century” and also bolstering its position as Africa’s largest donor, a coalition of like-minded countries such as the one India is putting together could provide an effective way to ensure more equitable and transparent development aid to Africa.

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