For the economic growth in Africa to remain sustainable, greater emphasis is needed in the manufacturing sector and Bharat could emerge as a trusted partner of Africa for achieving that goal partly because of availability of suitable technologies in Bharat.
The just concluded India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in New Delhi was without doubt an enormous diplomatic success. From the logistics standpoint alone, hosting of over forty Heads of State/ Government and large accompanying official and trade delegations was a complicated exercise and the MEA deserves credit for putting up a grand show. Opening ceremony was certainly elegant. The personal attention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to some finer details such as kurtas and Bharateeya jackets for all the visiting leaders, of course, added the much appreciated dose of colour and splendour to the event. While content is no doubt important at such conferences, striking the right note in atmospherics is equally important. This is a welcome change under the new government and we would do well to remember this important lesson in diplomacy for our future endeavours.
High level of participation in the Summit, including the presence of South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt, the three most important countries on the continent, is in itself a measure of Bharat’s growing clout on the international stage. Indeed it demonstrates the importance attached by the African countries to Bharat. Banjul formula includes founding members of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). It covers most of the large African countries apart from regional representatives but leaves out several smaller African countries. As such, the decision to extend the invitation to all the African countries helped us to considerably broaden our outreach and to earn valuable goodwill across the
Highlights of the Summit
The summit declaration takes note of the aspirations of Bharat as well as the African countries for inclusion as permanent members in the revamped UNSC and demands urgent action. African countries may still be undecided on the modalities of UNSC expansion and the question of who would represent Africa as permanent member in the UNSC could prove quite contentious. But in so far as Bharat’s candidature is concerned there would appear to be a general all round support. It however remains to be seen as to how the African role would play out in the text based negotiations in New York over the next few months.
The summit also strongly condemned all forms of terrorism and underscored the need for global strategy in tackling this menace. Cooperation with Africa in this area is important for us since the extremist Islamist groups operating there like ‘Boko Haram’ and ‘Al Shabaab’ have links with ‘al-Queda’ and other groups operating in Indian subcontinent.
Bharat has announced an additional US$ 10b in soft loans and US$ 600m in outright grants to Africa over the next 5 years on top of existing commitment of US$ 7.4b concessional LOCs and US$ 1.2b in grants since the first IAFS in Delhi in 2008. The assurance to provide 50,000 scholarships to young people from Africa is also equally significant viewed from the perspective of Africa’s pressing need in the HRD sector. A key decision is to expand and further extend the Pan African e-network which connects Bharat with 48 African countries in various fields including telemedicine, scientific research and distance
While the increased allocation by our government towards concessional lines of credit and grants would help strengthen our engagement with the African countries, these numbers alone cannot be taken as a measure of our Africa connection. We are not cash rich. Our modest financial support only signifies our principled support and solidarity for Africa’s developmental aspirations. Western countries and China can put far greater cash on the table. Our unique strength is in the area of capacity building and skill development. As articulated by PM Modi, “our approach to partnership with Africa is driven by the aim of empowerment… so that people in Africa have the capability to shoulder the responsibility of their continent’s development.” Having spent over 13 years in Africa, I find that African countries fully understand that and seek our support in the area of
our core strength.
The IAFS platform has proved quite useful in providing us a pan African outreach and we must sustain that. A new framework for strategic cooperation has been adopted and a formal monitoring mechanism would ensure efficient and timely implementation of the decisions contained in it. In the past, there has been criticism over somewhat tardy pace at which projects were set up. Apart from a close engagement with African Union Commission, we would need to continue our traditional linkages at bilateral and regional levels for this purpose. In fact, a case could well be made to strengthen these linkages since Africa is quite heterogeneous and a lot of economic activities are undertaken at regional level and by individual
In the times of global recession, Africa has registered an impressive GDP growth rate of 5.6 per cent which is likely to cross the 6 per cent mark in the next decade. With total GDP at around US $ 2.5 trillion in nominal terms, Africa is full of opportunities. The surge in economic growth has led to growing political confidence and maturity on the part of African countries in resolving their problems themselves in an inclusive manner. We must continue to support these efforts rather than be a party to the solutions imposed from outside by erstwhile colonial powers and present day big powers in total disregard of Africa’s sensitivities. Our help in training for peacekeeping operations and positioning of army and police training teams in several African countries is quite significant in this context and needs to be expanded.
Our relations with Africa are steeped in deep empathy arising out of our shared history of suffering from colonialism and exploitation. Our emotional bonds and the brotherly sense of equality are the distinctive feature of our relations.
I am reminded of a reception in Johannesburg to see off the South African contingent for the Commonwealth Games in Bharat in 2010 at which the President of South African Olympic Association observed that when one went to a brother’s home one did not worry about the facilities or the quality of arrangements. He completely brushed aside numerous reports in the media about the lack of preparations and substandard facilities for the Games in Bharat, noting that it was a family matter for them and if something needed to be done they would be standing alongside their Bharateeya brothers. In familial ties, as in dealing with our neighbours, we have to be very careful in not offending the sensitivities of African countries in any manner. We therefore cannot allow even the remotest hint of exploitation to enter the matrix of our relationship with Africa.
Our historical relations with Africa probably date back to the times of Indus Valley civilisation. Extensive people to people contacts have characterised our relations. These must be nourished further and our government must provide all possible support for closer interaction amongst academics, media persons, artists and our youth. Presence of a large and vibrant Indian Diaspora which numbers close to 3 million can be effectively leveraged in that regard. So far its linkages with Bharat are largely restricted to cultural contacts but there is a strong case for involving the Diaspora in developing economic and trade opportunities.
Our bilateral trade has grown over 30 per cent per annum over the last few years having already reached the US$ 70b mark. Africa accounts for nearly 18 per cent of Bharat’s oil imports and a sizeable part of our total coal imports. It has thus played a crucial part in our search for energy security through diversification of our energy imports. Concomitantly, there has been a robust growth in Bharateeya investments grossing around US$ 50b covering core sectors including telecom, pharmaceuticals, IT, energy and automobiles. This makes enormous business sense since Africa today offers the highest rate of return on investment in the developing world.
For the economic growth in Africa to remain sustainable, greater emphasis is needed in the manufacturing sector and Bharat could emerge as a trusted partner of Africa for achieving that goal partly because of availability of suitable technologies in Bharat. For inclusive development of the continent, Bharat’s experience in small and medium enterprises sector could be quite relevant. Our business entities are already engaged in several green field projects in Africa, creating jobs and imparting skill transfer, which makes our investments qualitatively better than those from elsewhere. Let us hope that recent Summit would succeed in taking this forward by creating appropriate synergies between our campaign of ‘Make in India’ and the goal of ‘Make in Africa’.
Comparison with China is inevitable although somewhat irrelevant because of our vastly different decision making process and approaches to Africa. It is true that China has been able to secure a very large economic footprint in the continent through a massive injection of funds in the form of soft loans and clever leveraging of its permanent membership of UN Security Council. But there has been growing resentment at “predatory policies” followed by China in securing supplies of strategic minerals including crude oil from Africa likened to “new form of imperialism”. China has also been criticised for large scale import of Chinese labour for undertaking projects and for absence of any skill transfer to local communities. This has created a massive opportunity for Bharat since many African leaders are themselves very anxious to have increased Bharateeya involvement in order to balance China. Holding of India-Africa summit at this juncture therefore has proven to be a very timely initiative.
Amb. Virendra Gupta (The writer is a retired IFS)