-By Ravi Srivastava
(This article has featured in The Diplomatist magazine.)
a 4 mins read.
The African continent is as vast as it is enigmatic. It’s the only place on earth to hold key evidences of human evolution but somehow appears to have been left in a time warp. It is second largest in size and second most populus continent after Asia. Flanked by Americas, Europe and Asia, Africa as a continent is the world’s centerpiece. It is straddled between strategic waters of Atlantic Ocean in the West and Indian Ocean onto East. It’s a confluence of 55 nations and a few disputed territories, it has largely held limited pace of growth. Vastly rich in resources Africa was a prime territory of interest during colonization. The extent of exploitation was such that even after gaining independence from colonial powers most African countries found themselves struggling to adequately address their people’s basic aspirations.
Africa’s link with India goes back to several centuries and has been well documented in 60 AD by Greek author in his Guidebook of the Red Sea. Modern connect has been established in late 19th century when Mahatma Gandhi’s inspirational struggle against racial and colonial atrocities in South Africa later transformed into rallying point for India’s own independence movement. Africa has held a place of prominence among the psyche of common Indians. Africa and India though separated by land are closely connected by the waters of Indian ocean through the Horn of Africa, known to be world’s busiest commercial shipping lanes.
As African nations walked out of the shadows of colonial past and took charge of their own development a common realisation persisted about the enormity of tasks ahead. Most basic necessities became the most common concerns across the continent. Africa also inherited multiple conflicts as the passing debt of colonialism. The unfortunate part of these conflicts was, it allowed the intervention of the very same powers Africa has struggled to get rid-off. The spiraling geopolitical complication thus took firm roots as varied interest started playing up in the different geographies of the continent. This only further complicated the already existing challenges at hand.
On 25 May 1963 as a major step forward, Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed. This was a grouping of 32 countries and was formed to boost greater political and economic integration among the African states. Later on 09 July 2002, OAU was re-transformed into African Union(AU) a larger grouping of 55 nations to align more closely to the existing realities. AU has vastly improved charter and envisaged closer coordination and unity of purpose among all African states.
AU while charting out a growth philosophy for the African continent in 2015 came out with a comprehensive program called ‘Agenda 2063’. It describes the Pan African vision as – “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena.” It also identifies seven African aspirations to be achieved by 2063, which includes – A politically united, peaceful, secure, prosperous and democratic Africa. An Africa with a strong common heritage whose development is people-driven. This was a remarkable effort of recognising enduring challenges and achievable goals especially by Africa itself.
Indian diaspora of 2.6 million spread across 46 countries is among the largest ethnic migrants in Africa and contributing significantly to the African growth story. During the height of Covid pandemic India shipped 39.65 million doses of ‘Made in India’ Covid vaccines and 150 MT of other medical supplies to 42 African countries. India is among the largest contributors to peacekeeping missions in Africa. The professional conduct and human connect by more than 5,500 Indian peacekeepers with the African people has earned great admiration for India.
Perceptions apart there are various other strong factors which closely binds India and Africa together. India is the third largest trading partner with Africa with mutual trade touching $74 billion and is slated to grow further at a brisk pace. Drawing benefits from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) India has greatly invested in 194 high value development projects spread across 37 African countries with 77 more such projects in the offing. India has extended an upward of $10 billion lines of credit to Africa for self-sustainable projects.
India has been doubling it’s effort to increase it’s visibility across the continent. Recently it opened 18 new embassies in Africa. This push for improvement in Indian representation has been both essential and timely. With envisaged engagements adequate government to government connections are most essential. Diplomatic connectivity eases out a lot coordination hassles as well as open up new opportunities for trade and investments. Even the essence of Africa Day celebrations on 25th May in Delhi underscored recognition of potential, challenges and mutual endeavour to make today’s visions a tomorrow’s reality.
India and Africa are at the critical juncture of their evolution today, their commonality of trajectory is unambiguous. Both aspiring to explore new possibilities while harnessing their inner strength. India having the traditional edge in pharmaceuticals, refined petroleum products, IT, services, textile, automobiles, tele-communications and processed food is also exploring newer vistas in space, defence, robotics and Artificial Intelligence. India has been rapidly climbing onto tech self sufficiency while investing on creation of innovative and dedicated sectoral eco systems. India is looking for greater trade avenues, as Africa is projected to have a quarter of the global workforce and consumer market by 2030 India is well placed with a competitive edge.
India’s push for infrastructure build up, tech R&D and make in India initiatives across the sectors has opened up major opportunities. India recognises the potential of Africa as a new trading destination. In 2015 India organised a summit to bolster ties with the continent. In 2018 while addressing Ugandan Parliament Indian PM laid down “Kampala Principles,” a set of 10 ethics for India’s engagement with Africa. Africa was also the focus of recently held Def Expo 22 where 50 African countries participated in the India – Africa dialogue. It was a unique display of innovative defence products and services by a large number of Indian ventures, clearly offering value association for African countries.
Africa also stands to immensely gain from India’s own experience in harnessing of domestic institutions, conduct of democratic elections, reaching out effectively to vast population, taxation regime, improving connectivity and even political discourse which is essential for stitching together diverse beliefs and lifestyles. Most unique about Indo-Africa association is not just unbounded trade and business potential, but significantly important is, the solutions India holds for much deeper population and governance challenges. India has learned difficult lessons whether it’s food security, economy, conflict management or mastering the cutting edge technology. As a true friend, India wants Africa to swiftly progress by sharing it’s valuable capabilities already gained and focus on harnessing prosperity and security for it’s people. A mighty common instinct which closely echoes what agenda Africa has laid down for itself.