[Burning Issue] India-Africa Relationship


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  • The India-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) was recently held on the sidelines of Defence Expo 2022 and successfully brought fifty African countries and India together on a single stage.
  • The IADD adopted a ‘Gandhinagar declaration’ as an outcome document. It proposes to enhance cooperation in the field of training in all areas of mutual interest.
  • In this context, in this edition of Burning issue, we will be analyzing the India-Africa relationship, its challenges to it and then the way forward.

Importance of Africa

[A] Geostrategic

  • Africa is critical to India’s security, especially the Horn of Africa region, because of its proximity to India. The threat of radicalism, piracy, and organized crime emerges from this region

[B] Economic

  • Africa can help us in diversifying our energy sources, which is one of the stated objectives of our Integrated Energy Policy
  • Africa also contains a rich reservoir of valuable minerals, metals including gold and diamond
  • Africa provides a space for Indian investment
  • Africa has ample agricultural land which cab address India’s food security. India is looking at leasing land in Africa to overcome the land deficit that we face in terms of arable land

[C] Geopolitical

  • Support of African countries is important for India’s aim of gaining a permanent seat in the UNSC
  • Africa provides a space for displaying both India’s soft and hard power
  • India has been actively involved in the peace and stability of African countries through UN Peacekeeping operations. India is involved in the capacity building of African countries. Africa is also the largest beneficiary of India’s ITEC programme

History of India-Africa relations

[A] Ancient Period

  • During the ancient period, Indian merchants were constant look out beyond the Arabian Sea towards the west for lucrative markets. Slowly, the increasing people-to-people contacts made them a part of the Indian Ocean circuit of trade’.
  • They sailed regularly to the Zenj coast (Zanzibar) for palm oil, gold, copper, spices, ivory, rhino horn etc.
  • Trade developed through the knowledge of favourable sea winds and the development of a suitable marine technology
  • Periplus of Erythrean Sea, a first-century AD merchants’ sailor guide throws light on the thriving trade between India and the Western Indian Ocean region
  • It also stated that India’s trading contacts were spread from Egypt to the coast of northern Somalia, the ancient land of Punt, the kingdom of Kush (Sudan) and Axum.

[B] Medieval Era 

  • Venetian traveller Marco Polo mentioned explicitly the Gujarati and Saurashtrian merchants on Africa’s east coast
  • The use of the Indian system of weights and measures and Cowries as currency pointed to the fact that Indians were playing a key role in this area
  • Not only economic benefits, the trade also contributed to the development of internal links in the African continent even before the advent of Europeans
  • By the seventeenth century, the nature of Indian Ocean trade underwent a radical change due to demand for captives who could be sold as slaves.
  • A good example could be of ‘Malik Amber’ and the ‘Siddis’ who are still a part of the Indian population and are settled in parts of Gujarat, Karnataka and Hyderabad

[C] Colonial period

  • With the advent of European colonial powers in India and Africa, the trade pattern underwent a significant change as Indo–African relations entered a new era of ‘colonialism’.
  • The Indians who went to Africa as slaves and post abolition of slavery, as indentured labourers, and the merchant class of Gujarat slowly settled down there
  • India’s link with the African continent dates back to the anti-apartheid struggle of Mahatma Gandhi with the colonial rulers in South Africa
  • India has been aggressively putting forward the issue of apartheid on multilateral forums such as UN, NAM And Commonwealth

[D] Post-Colonial Period

  • The foundations were laid by Mahatma Gandhi. According to him, there will be a “commerce of ideas and services and not of raw materials and goods like imperialist powers”. All the governments continue to take this approach as the foundation of India’s Africa Policy.

According to Vice President Hamid Ansari,“India shares Africa’s dreams and India-Africa cooperation is a genuine 2-way street partnership

1st phase (till 1960)

  • Nehru talked about Afro-Asian solidarity. African countries provided strength to Nehru’s NAM. The policy in this phase is described as “ideational” and “pragmatic”

2nd phase (1970s – 1990s):

  • There was neglect of Africa because of India’s attention on South Asia and India’s attention on inward-looking foreign policy. Though India in this phase continued to support Africa against Apartheid.

3rd phase (1990s onwards):

  • This is the phase of re-engagement with Africa. However, the lead was taken by the private sector, rather than the government. The private sector of India should be given credit to push the attention of GoI towards the region of strategic and economic importance.

Present status of Ties

  • The institutionalisation of relations: Since 2008, India and Africa’s relations have been institutionalized. The India-Africa Forum Summit constitutes the basic framework for the relations under the South-South Cooperation platform. So far 3 summits have been organized.
  • Opening of embassies: In July 2019, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that India would open embassies in 18 African countries. This would result in Indian embassies being located in 47 of 54 African countries.
  • Economic engagement: India’s economic engagement with Africa began intensifying in the early 2000s. India’s total trade with Africa grew from US$ 6.8 billion in 2003 to US$ 76.9 billion in 2018, and India is now Africa’s third-largest trade partner.
  • Investments: Indian investments in Africa have also grown rapidly in the last decade and the country is currently the seventh-largest investor in Africa. The scale of India’s development cooperation with Africa has also grown rapidly.
  • The flow of LoC: From 2003 onwards, India began to use concessional lines of credit (LoC) as one of its key development partnership instruments to fund the construction of railway lines, electrification and irrigation projects, farm mechanisation projects, among others. India has sanctioned 182 LoC projects in Africa of about US$ 10.5 billion
  • Bilateral cooperation: includes solar energy development, climate change talks, information technology, cyber security, maritime security, disaster relief, counter-terrorism and military training.
  • Soft power projection: India provides about 50,000 scholarships to African students each year under its ITEC programme. Also, the huge Indian diaspora is a major asset.

10 guiding principles for India-Africa engagement

In July 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Ugandan Parliament during his state visit and outlined a vision for not just a bilateral partnership with Africa, but also a partnership in multilateral forums by espousing the ‘10 guiding principles for India-Africa engagement’

  • Africa will be at the top of our priorities. We will continue to intensify and deepen our engagement with Africa. As we have shown, it will be sustained and regular.
  • Our development partnership will be guided by your priorities. We will build as much local capacity and create local opportunities as possible. It will be on terms that are comfortable to you, that will liberate your potential and not constrain your future.
  • We will keep our markets open and make it easier and more attractive to trade with India. We will support our industry to invest in Africa.
  • We will harness India’s experience with the digital revolution to support Africa’s development; improve the delivery of public services; extend education and health; spread digital literacy; expand financial inclusion; and mainstream the marginalised.
  • Africa has 60 per cent of the world’s arable land, but produces just 10 percent of the global output. We will work with you to improve Africa’s agriculture.
  • Our partnership will address the challenges of climate change.
  • We will strengthen our cooperation and mutual capabilities in combating terrorism and extremism; keeping our cyberspace safe and secure; and, supporting the UN in advancing and keeping the peace.
  • We will work with African nations to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. The world needs cooperation and competition in the eastern shores of Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean.
  • As global engagement in Africa increases, we must all work together to ensure that Africa does not once again turn into a theatre of rival ambitions, but becomes a nursery for the aspirations of Africa’s youth.
  • Just as India and Africa fought colonialism together, we will work together for a just, representative and democratic global order that has a voice for one-third of humanity that lives in Africa and India.


  • Declining trade: Bilateral trade was valued at $55.9 billion in 2020-21, fell by $10.8 billion compared to 2019-20, and $15.5 billion compared to the peak year of 2014-15.
  • Decline in investment: India’s investments in Africa too saw a decrease from $3.2 billion in 2019-20 to $2.9 billion in 2020-21.
  • Short-term focused: Indian LoCs have not been designed to achieve a larger development goal such as food security, health security, clean energy or education for all. LoCs are typically used by recipient countries to fund small development projects such as roads, bridges, railway lines, power transmission and water supply systems.
  • Competing powers in Africa: India is not the only external power engaging Africa, developed countries and other emerging powers like China, Brazil and Russia have also been involved in various activities across the continent.
  • Lack of synchronisation: there is no synchronisation between different development instruments. LoCs, grants and capacity-building initiatives operate as standalone instruments of development cooperation, with almost no links with each other. 
  • Racial attacks: Despite frequent references to Afro-Asian solidarity between the two nations, instances of violence against African students are common in India.

Chinese challenge in Africa

  • China has been investing heavily across the African continent throughout the last decade.
  • China’s interests are related to four major areas: infrastructural projectsfinancial assistancenatural resources and maritime interests.
  • While access to Africa’s natural resources, its untapped markets and support for the ‘One China Policy’ are primary drivers of Chinese engagement with the region, there are other factors at play.

What India should do?

  • A clear strategy for African development: India should prepare a focused Africa strategy for the next decade and identify a few areas for closer cooperation.
  • Continue the current focus on capacity building: A simple focus on building physical infrastructure and economic growth will not contribute to a stable and prosperous Africa. Investment in human capital is the key to development in Africa.
  • Harness Indian civil society organizations, NGOs, and Indian diaspora: The Government should explore greater collaboration with them to implement development projects in Africa at low costs. Some Indian organizations like Pratham and Barefoot College are already playing an important role in Africa.
  • Timely completion of projects: Efforts must be made to expedite the LoC projects. Lessons should be drawn from other countries that have a much better record in implementation.

Steps taken so far

  • The ITEC programme: In 1964, India launched the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme to provide technical assistance through human resource development to other developing countries. Africa is a key beneficiary of the programme with nearly 50 percent of the ITEC slots reserved for countries from the region.
  • Asia-Africa growth corridor: The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC is an economic cooperation agreement between the governments of India, Japan and multiple African countries. India on 25 May 2017 launched a vision document for Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or AAGC at the African Development Bank meeting.
  • Pan African e-Network : The late Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam initiated the Pan African e-Network (PAeN) in 2004. Over the years, PAeN has significantly contributed to the advancement of tele-education and telemedicine in Africa.
  • Maritime cooperation: India’s maritime cooperation with African nations, particularly those in the East & Southern African region, is also growing. The Indian Navy took part in Exercise IBSAMAR-VI in South Africa in 2018 alongside the navies of Brazil and South Africa.
  • Peacekeeping operations: India participated in almost all UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) in Africa. With 200,000 soldiers and police officers joining the blue helmets since independence, India is today Africa’s fourth-largest contributor of troops to PKO
  • Duty-free tariff preferential scheme: Launched in 2008, India’s duty-free tariff preferential scheme for Least Developed Nations has benefited 33 African states. The India–Africa Forum Summit- the official platform for African-Indian relations, is also contributing immensely to this building-up process.
  • India Africa Defence Ministers conclave: India has also launched several initiatives to develop closer relations, including the first-ever India Africa Defence Ministers conclave in February this year on the margins of the Defence Expo 2020.

Way forward

  • For mutual benefit, Africa and India should remain optimally engaged. The third India-Africa Forum Summit was held in 2015. The fourth summit, pending since last year, should be held as soon as possible.
  • Fresh financial resources for grants and concessional loans to Africa must be allocated, as previous allocations stand almost fully exhausted. The promotion of economic relations demands a higher priority.
  • To impart a 21st-century complexion to the partnership, developing and deepening collaborations in health, space and digital technologies are essential.
  • India should continue its role in peacekeeping in Africa, in lending support to African counter-terrorism operations, and contributing to African institutions through training and capacity-enhancing assistance.
  • Improve the experiences of Africans in India. Indian government should ensure that Africans studying or working in India are safe and enjoy their stay in the country. Efforts should also be made to educate Indians about Africa so that people-to-people connections between India and Africa flourish.
  • Promote development-friendly private investments. The presence of Indian companies in Africa has grown rapidly in the last two decades. Given the emphasis on mutual benefit in its strategy, India’s development cooperation should be aligned with its commercial interests in Africa. Therefore, India should try to support Indian companies making the investment in development-friendly projects for mutual benefit.
  • To overcome the China challenge in Africa, increased cooperation between India and its international allies, rates a priority. The recent India-EU Summit has identified Africa as a region where a partnership-based approach will be followed.


  • Africa is a continent on the move, characterised by rapid economic growth, rising educational and health standards, increasing gender parity, and expanding infrastructure and connectivity.
  • India has an intrinsic interest in helping Africa achieve progress. The spirit of “developing together as equals” defines this bilateral partnership. A resurging Africa and a rising India can give a strong impetus to South-South Cooperation.

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