Indian Prime Minister Narendra was the host of the third India Africa Summit in Delhi 2015

Siva Parameswaran World News Editor

India has reiterated –‘Africa’s rise is fundamental to India’s foreign policy thinking’ and it makes sense.

The relationship between the two continents and their people is historical. They share a common ethos, heritage, and cultural values in many aspects. And, the colonial oppression made them even come closer. More than three and half a million people of Indian origin live in Africa and it matters on policy matters.

In the past two decades, the Indo-African relationship has taken pace and is trying to catch up with China fast albeit being a challenging one. Aware of the ‘dragon power’ India leaves no stone unturned in convincing African nations that ‘It’s their natural partner’.

The Indian government is very open about it and its Foreign Minister S.Jayashankar said “For India, the rising, facilitating, contributing and partnering for the rise of Africa is in our strategic interest. For Africa, if it becomes one of the poles of global polity it’s better for us. We have deep solidarity with Africa which came out of the anti-colonial movement. So, there is a moral obligation of that struggle”.

Apart from asserting the rise of Africa is in India’s strategic interest, the Indian Foreign Minister also says India and Africa have a critical stake in global affairs.

Global politics cannot move forward ignoring Africa and India is well aware of it in particular when it comes to voting as a bloc in any forum it matters.

“Africa’s rise as one of the global system poles is just not desirable but it’s absolutely necessary. In fact it is fundamental to our foreign policy thinking”.

Current African Union Chairman Cyril Ramaphosa is greeted by Narendra Modi at India’s Republic day event in Delhi on 26 January 2019

While India claims people in Africa look upon them as a capable partner and will do something for them, China has been working overboard for many decades now.

Apart from a diplomatic point of view, India looks upon Africa to be its solid backer at international fora, particularly in the UN.

India believes its historical connection is a vital link in taking forward the Indo-African relationship to great heights. Citing its response when a distress call comes from Africa, India says it has come to Africa’s rescue at all times and almost immediately.

But historical ties and responding during a crisis is all but natural in the relationship between nations.  Political analysts say China’s primary interest in Africa is commercial while India’s interest is more people to people and empowering Africa.

“Broader global rebalancing is incomplete without the genuine emergence of Africa. Only then the World’s strategic diversity comes into full play. India welcomes the evolution and the rise of Africa as a key factor in the contemporary world. We are committed to supporting African countries in this endeavor”

“Indo-African relations for long has been based on the “soft-power” approach, which has paid negligible rewards” according to Dr. Parvathi Vasudevan former Head of African Studies at the University of Bombay (Mumbai) and a regular contributor to Chatham House publications on Africa.

“In fact, we have several first generations of African leaders who had India in their hearts and minds and were determined to strengthen their ties. Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, India needs to deepen and widen these ties if it does not want to lose its pace and place in Africa”.

In the last five years, over 100 African leaders have visited India for bilateral or multilateral meetings. India is already playing a vital role in the areas of trade, technology transfer, and manpower training.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today held talks with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on a wide range of issues aimed at boosting ties in the African continent ( Nairobi 2016).

Several of the 54 African nations are home to investments from China and Japan too as also other developed economies. All of them aim at improving the living conditions of Africa in a fast-changing and challenging global world.

Most observers agree that China unlike many nations is in Africa for its own benefits and is guilty of fast depleting a resource-rich continent. Critics argue that the Chinese approach in this regard is not much different from what the earlier colonial powers sought to indulge in.

Besides, China is also guilty of violating human rights when it uses its prison labor to complete infrastructural projects.

“Undoubtedly, India too is interested in Africa’s natural resources,” says Dr.Vasudevan.

Trade matters

India is Africa’s third-largest export destination. The Indian capital has created jobs and opportunities in various African countries in energy, mining, banking, textiles, and other sectors.

On top of the import, the basket is the continent’s hydrocarbon reserves which is of prime importance for India’s development goals. This is particularly important for the government’s “make in India” emphasis. Nigeria has replaced Saudi Arabia as the largest crude supplier to India. Angola is not far behind.

Although China’s trading volume with African countries is at least three times higher, India is climbing the ladder fast. According to UN data Indo-African trade has grown at an average annual rate of over 17% in the last two decades.

“With this rapid growth, India has overtaken even the former colonial powers of Great Britain and France” observes Prof. Philipp Gieg Political scientist and India expert at the University of Wurzburg in Germany.

India has extended billions of dollars of credit particularly since 2003. While this credit extension pales when compared to what China and the United States have in their aid pipelines for the continent it is not something to be dismissed.

Last June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured Rwandan President Paul Kagame of India’s steadfast support, including medical assistance, to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the African nation. Both leaders are seen here in Kigali in 2016.

At present India’s engagement with Africa is at three levels; Bilateral, Regional, and Multilateral.

Africa has at least half a dozen of the fastest growing countries making it one of the growth poles of the world.  A combined GDP of 2.5 trillion dollars makes Africa a huge potential market. And, that’s what is attracting nations politically, economically, culturally et al.

It is clearly evident that India is seriously looking at alternate sources for its energy requirement and wants to reduce its dependence on the Middle East. In that way, Africa is a natural choice.

While China has been making inroads into Africa in infrastructure development, India has invested over $100 million in the Pan-African E-Network to bridge the digital divide in Africa and is committed to enhancing the economy of over a billion Africans ‘knowledge-based’.

Triangular love

Apart from Politics, one stronger bond between India and Africa is Cinema. Bollywood is very popular in Africa and Nollywood technicians come to India to hone their skills.

Even in the stories, triangular love is a common aspect to both Bollywood and Nollywood. Two heroes vying for the heroine’s hand in an action-packed environment has proved to be a successful formula. Money and muscle power form vital ingredients in these stories which apply to politics as well.

While both India and China and India investing heavily in Africa, the objectives and vision largely vary according to political pundits. They say while China is adopting a ‘Neo-colonist’ approach by providing soft loans and making African nations subservient to them, India is empowering Africa and seeks to expand trade and reap benefits.

But in the end, all it matters is who takes the bride. Not to forget the final decision of the bride to choose her suitor.

Can India win the African bride?