Why the India-Africa bond is important: analysis
Two words, continuity and change, summarize India’s historical and current commitment to Africa.
I have always felt that an Indian diplomat must have practical experience in Africa. I set out to look for a position in Africa; One of my most enriching experiences was my stay in South Africa. My direct association with Malawi and Mozambique gave me a valuable insight into our extraordinarily diverse and mutually beneficial relationship with these countries.
While political exchanges, and more recently, economic and development have often been discussed, the cultural aspects of our relationship are surprising. In fact, there is a little of Africa in every Indian and a little of India in every part of Africa.
In the many nations and regions of Africa, or in the many states and regions of India, there is a permanent faith in the power of the communities and the strength of the union. This suggests a common embrace of cooperation and harmony, with other human beings and with nature. This is the African way, and this is the Indian way.
In the twentieth century, the Indian and African experience was a struggle for liberation, for the freedom of colonialism and racial prejudice, and for the rights of every man and woman. The struggle for freedom in Africa was our own struggle.
Even as a poor and recently independent nation, we don’t think twice before imposing a trade embargo on South Africa in the era of apartheid. This happened when South Africa’s share was close to 10% of India’s international trade.
Our most emotional link with Africa is, of course, that of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked and struggled in South Africa for so many years. As he once commented: “I may have been born in India but I was made in South Africa.” For this “creation” of Mahatma, India owes Africa an eternal debt. More recently, the magnificent life and legacy of Nelson Mandela have united us in a spirit of inspiration and purpose.
As the waves of freedom and democracy spread across Africa, India was always present to secure gains made with effort and help keep the peace. India came forward to participate in the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Congo, Somalia, Liberia, Burundi and Sudan. India also supported the initiatives of the African Union to bring peace to Somalia and Mali, among others. We have a long tradition of training African military officers in Indian institutions. India has helped establish defense academies in countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
However, in the midst of this continuity, there is also change. There is new energy and new electricity in the India-Africa equation in recent years.
The Indian and African economies represent two of the most dynamic economic growth stories in the world. Many of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa and the combined GDP of the continent is $ 2.4 trillion. By 2030, Africa will represent almost a quarter of the world’s workforce and consumers. With 54 countries, one billion people, a youth demographic and an abundance of resources, Africa will carry the hopes and responsibilities of our planet.
By reaping the benefits of democracy and political stability, the countries of Africa have made great strides towards economic integration through initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). When in force, AfCFTA will increase intra-African trade levels by 52% and create one of the largest and most ambitious economic spaces in the world. India wants to be part of that exciting space.
India’s relationship with Africa has been advanced using consultation and response mechanisms under the heading of the India-Africa Forum Summit. The 2015 summit was a remarkable event that was attended by the 54 countries of the African continent.
Under the specific guidance of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, in the last five years, our political commitment has intensified as never before. There have been 34 outbound visits to African countries at the level of president, vice president and prime minister. There is not a single country on the continent that has not been visited by at least one minister of the Union. To improve diplomatic engagement, India is opening 18 new embassies in Africa, to bring the total number of Indian missions to 47 of a total of 54 countries in Africa. Nine of the 18 new missions have already been opened.
The image of trade and investment is encouraging. Trade between India and Africa in the previous year was valued at $ 69 billion, an annual increase of 12%. The tax-free tariff preference scheme (DFTP) announced by India has benefited African nations by extending duty-free access to 98.2% of India’s total tariff lines. Thirty-eight African countries benefit from the DFTP scheme. India has become the fifth largest investor in Africa with accumulated investments of $ 54 billion. Indian investment has created thousands of jobs for local citizens.
Our cooperation incorporates energy projects and dams in Sudan and Rwanda; water treatment in Tanzania; sugar factories in Ethiopia; and technology parks in Mozambique and Swaziland. We have built the presidential palace in Ghana, the National Assembly building in the Gambia and, very recently, the Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Center in Niger, completed in just 14 months.
More than digital roads and brick and mortar projects, India’s partnership with Africa is about the human touch, of facilitating the capabilities of the peoples of Africa, particularly young people. There are thousands of African students in India at any given time, and we are immensely proud of the fact that 13 current or former presidents, vice presidents and prime ministers in Africa have studied in institutions in India. Every African student arrives as a scholar, stays as a friend and returns as an ambassador to India.
The goodwill that our country obtains from such links is unimaginable. Our partnership with Africa is beyond strategic concerns and economic benefits. It is based on the emotional ties we share and the solidarity we feel. PM Modi, in his speech to the Ugandan Parliament in 2019, said that India’s priority is not just Africa; The priority of India is the Africans: every man, woman and child in Africa. Our shared values and our friendship represent a constant and continuity.
Harsh Vardhan Shringla is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of India. This is a summary version of a speech he delivered at a conference on Africa in New Delhi on February 12.
The opinions expressed are personal.