14th April 2022

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By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS retd)

Africa and India have been umbilically connected. Post-independence India made it her mission to support the cause of their freedom struggles from the yoke of colonialism. In the Cold War 1.0 era India and Africa chose non-alignment over alliances led by Americans and Soviets. Even though herself suffering from under development exploitation and shortages even of food, India carried on with her policy of ‘Share and Care’ with her African friends through extensive capacity building programmes and other much needed assistance. This goes on in a much bigger and expansive manner now and will probably will be far more crucial as the developing world suffers from neo-colonialism and India standing firm for strategic autonomy.

Moreover, India remained a strong supporter of the cause of the developing and underdeveloped countries at the international fora and multilateral negotiations from GATT,WTO to Climate change discussions protecting their interests . It also has provided duty free preferences for scores of African partners to her large and burgeoning markets while extending significant lines of credits and grants for infrastructural and other developmental area. Although some efforts had been made, India lacked a coherent policy and an institutionalized outreach because of which China was able to gain much ground and has become virtually omnipresent despite occasional setbacks.

“India remained a strong supporter of the cause of the developing and underdeveloped countries at  the international fora and multilateral negotiations from GATT, WTO to Climate change discussions protecting their interests”

India had started the institutionalized interaction through India-Africa Forum Summits -3 editions of which have been held and 4th are due. COVID Pandemic also demonstrated India’s resolve to provide training to health professionals, supply of medicines and vaccines under the rubric of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ World is our family. India even went to the WTO requesting for the Intellectual Property Rights’ waivers for the vaccines so that African countries could be spared the ignominy of ‘Vaccine Apartheid’ as the South African President mentioned in Paris .

India has crafted a substantive Africa policy .Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while speaking at the parliament of Uganda in 2018 enunciated 10 guiding principles of India’s Africa Policy. The essence of which is Africa for Africans.

Many books have been written on the subject but I came across this brilliant rendition on ‘ India-Africa Relations -Changing Horizons’  by Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia and published by Routledge India . Amb Bhatia does have extensive experience of Africa having served as Ambassador to Kenya and South Africa and has remained an ardent supporter of the India-Africa relations. The book succinctly analyses the current intra-regional dynamic and the whole of Africa approaches including the Agenda 2063, African Continental Free Trade Agreement that encapsulate the aspirations of African people. He also rightly traces the Indian footprint in Africa that in the last century was ‘predominantly cantered on political and ideological issues and later peacekeeping, development assistance and cultural cooperation’. As the scramble for Africa starts again with nearly every major power heading to the continent he speaks of a more competitive African landscape for India. He has painstakingly documented the extensive initiatives by India and that the high-level exchanges and visits’ deficit from India to Africa was bridged at an unprecedented pace.

 India’s Africa journey moves in a much higher gear and trajectory. High level exchanges attest to that . While India hosted over 100 African leaders from 2014-19 , 34 visits by Indian leaders to Africa -many for the first time speaks for itself. India is also opening 18 new missions in Africa to enhance its outreach. In the regional context Amb Bhatia speaks of the Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIM) 2050 and extrapolates it to India’s SAGAR and IORA Maritime outreach for ensuring mutually beneficial enterprise and for keeping the sea lanes open as a global good. India’s enhancing strategic cooperation with Africa in the domain of defence, counter terrorism and capacity building has been discussed at length .Apart from discussing India’s bilateral relations with several key countries in Africa, Amb Bhatia also refers to the immense contribution by over 3mn strong and successful Indian diaspora in being a reliable bridge with Africa. He rightly quotes Phillip Nyinguro ‘Of all foreign diasporas in Africa none has been so deeply incorporated into the economic, political, cultural and social fabric of the continent as the Indian’.  Besides, large number of African leaders themselves have been the bridge of affection between India and Africa. Current President Buhari of Nigeria fondly recalls his training days in India . Likewise, I recall former President Obasanjo  often mentioning to me “ I know India better than you ‘ and appreciated that the Indians were the second largest employers of Nigerians after the Federal Government.

“Likewise, I recall former President Obasanjo often mentioning to me “ I know India better than you ‘ and appreciated that the Indians were the second largest employers of Nigerians after the Federal Government”.

There is indeed a long way to go to actualize the blueprint of enhancing cooperation across the spectrum. But for that it is essential that the gaps of deep knowledge of Africa’s needs and concerns as well as its agenda, plans and priorities within the Indian establishment are bridged and for that Amb Bhatia recommends establishment of an ‘Africa Advisory Group’. Of course, another big gap between announcements and commitments and delivery must be reduced immediately so that the credibility of India remains well ensconced at the grass roots level. To that end the author also suggests prioritization of India‘s country focus.

Amb Bhatia has also quoted Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying ‘India and Africa were once united by geography  and now linked by the Indian Ocean as well as by our youth “  Result of this critical combination could be the catalyst for second half of this century  turning into the ‘Afro-Asian Century’ . But for that all stake holders must bite the bullet and that too now.

In sum, this book is a valuable contribution to dispassionately understand the underlying and evolving dynamic between India and the African countries and the way forward for a mutually beneficial partnership.

( Anil Trigunayat is a former Indian Ambassador who has served in several African countries including as Dy. High Commissioner to Nigeria )

April 9,2022

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