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Editorial Today – Towards a continental shift

editorial-78Issue India’s sustained and systematic outreach to all parts of Africa is a welcome move.

Background India is making a renewed push to regain relevance in a rapidly evolving African strategic landscape.

Challenges in Africa Though India shares old historical ties with Africa but history is no longer enough to entice Africa to take India seriously.

Positive steps taken by India India hosted the third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015.

Strength of India India’s democratic traditions make it a much more comfortable partner for the West compared to China in cooperating on Africa-related issues.

Areas of cooperation In this visit PM outlined his focus areas: energy, food and maritime security.

What India needs to do Though India has committed considerable resources to Africa, actual delivery on the ground and implementation of projects have been far from satisfactory.

Issue

  • India’s sustained and systematic outreach to all parts of Africa is a welcome move after years of only intermittent attention

 

Background

  • India is making a renewed push to regain relevance in a rapidly evolving African strategic landscape. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious outreach to the continent came soon after President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Ghana, Ivory Coast and Namibia in West Africa in June, and Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Morocco and Tunisia in North Africa in May.
  • During his trip, Mr. Modi visited key states in South and East Africa: Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.

 

Challenges in Africa

  • Though India shares old historical ties with Africa but history is no longer enough to entice Africa to take India seriously.
  • China’s sustained overtures to the region have led it to emerge as Africa’s largest trading partner. China’s trade and investment ties with the continent are one reason why parts of Africa are growing so rapidly, though this is also a very controversial relationship.
  • China’s current hold in trade and investment in Africa is three times India’s, and South Africa, for instance, has a key role in promoting the Maritime Silk Route programme as part of the One Belt One Road initiative.
  • Africa today has no dearth of friends and its engagement with global powers is more pragmatic, devoid of the ideological trappings of the Cold War period. Thus India has to find a way to raise its profile and ensure that its age-old ties with Africa get a modern imprimatur.
  • Recent attacks on African nationals have maligned India’s image with some in the region questioning India’s openness to outsiders.

 

Positive steps taken by India

  • India hosted the third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015.
  • More than a thousand delegates from all 54 African countries attended the summit, with more than 40 countries represented at the level of President, Vice President, Prime Minister and Monarch. This was the largest ever gathering of African nations in India.
  • With this mega event, India was signalling its readiness to step up its engagement with Africa, a relationship which is centuries old, bolstered by trade across the Indian Ocean and a million-strong diaspora across Africa.
  • Africa continuing to get adequate attention with high-profile visits from India this year. Such engagements are the only way to allay the concerns of a continent with which India has enjoyed substantive ties since Independence, but which now no longer views India as a priority nation and often complains of indifference on the part of India.
  • India’s focus over the last few decades has largely been on capacity-building on the continent, providing more than $1 billion in technical assistance and training to personnel under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.
  • India has committed $7.5 billion to African infrastructure, covering 137 projects in more than 40 countries.
  • It has also offered duty-free market access to Africa’s least developed countries.
  • In this visit also India has quite rightly offered billions of dollars in credit, and development financing, to build a “partnership for prosperity” for Africa, underscoring that India’s focus remains on human development through trade, rather than the extraction of resources.

 

Strength of India

  • India’s democratic traditions make it a much more comfortable partner for the West compared to China in cooperating on Africa-related issues.
  • India is viewed as a more productive partner by many in Africa because Indian companies are much better integrated into African society and encourage technology transfers to their African partners. Thus India will have to leverage its own strengths in making a lasting compact with Africa and regain its lost presence on the continent.

 

Areas of cooperation

  • In this visit PM outlined his focus areas: energy, food and maritime security.
  • His stops at Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya were accompanied by discussions on securing lines of coal and natural gas and funding capacity-building in energy production.
  • In Tanzania and Mozambique, in particular, there were discussions on enhancing the export of pulses to India to meet a demand shortfall.
  • PM spoke to his hosts in detail about shoring up maritime ties as part of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), and linking India’s own “Sagar-Mala” outreach for Indian Ocean islands with the South Africa-authored “Operation Phakisa”, that focusses on Africa’s combined strengths in blue economies and ocean governance.
  • (Sagar Mala project is a strategic and customer-oriented initiative of the Government of India to modernize India’s Ports so that port-led development can be augmented and coastlines can be developed to contribute in India’s growth. It looks towards “transforming the existing Ports into modern world class Ports and integrate the development of the Ports, the Industrial clusters and hinterland and efficient evacuation systems through road, rail, inland and coastal waterways resulting in Ports becoming the drivers of economic activity in coastal areas)
  • There was a strategic dynamic to PM’s tour as well, with all four countries on his itinerary connected to India via the Indian Ocean.
  • With the Indian Ocean acquiring new salience in global politics, India is keen to regain its regional strategic space.
  • The Indian Navy has been tackling piracy to protect the sea lanes of communication in the Eastern African coast and India is ready to explore joint defence manufacturing with key African states.
  • India’s role as a regional security provider is an important one that India is keen to leverage.

 

What India needs to do

  • Though India has committed considerable resources to Africa, actual delivery on the ground and implementation of projects have been far from satisfactory.
  • That’s the area India will have to work on if it is serious about gaining the trust of its African interlocutors.
  • Unless the larger populace and the Indian private sector decide to take Africa seriously, the government’s outreach is unlikely to yield the results it is perhaps hoping for. And Indo-Africa relations will struggle to reach their full potential.
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