Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

[op-ed snap] Fortifying the Africa outreach

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India Africa bilateral; economic relations

CONTEXT

President Ram Nath Kovind commenced his seven-day state visit to Benin, Gambia and Guinea-Conakry and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in on a three-day visit to Mozambique.

Economic links

  • During the past five years, Indian leaders have paid 29 visits to African countries. Forty-one African leaders participated in the last India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015, where India agreed to provide concessional credit worth $10 billion during the next five years. By 2017, India had cumulatively extended 152 Lines of Credit worth $8 billion to 44 African countries.
  • India has also unilaterally provided free access to its market for the exports of 33 least developed African countries.
  • India escalated its commitments to Africa in an era of low-commodity prices when most other partners, including China, have scaled back theirs.
  • Its trade with Africa totalled $63.3 billion in 2018-19. India was ranked the third-largest trading partner of Africa having edged past the United States during the year.
  • Indians’ investments at $50 billion and Indian diaspora at 3 million are substantive when put in the continental perspective

Challenges:

  • The numbers are well below the potential for India-African economic synergy and are often dwarfed by the corresponding Chinese data.
  • There seems to be a conspicuous disconnect between Indian developmental assistance to and India’s economic engagement with Africa.
  • Any objective cost-benefit analysis of India’s development assistance to Africa is unlikely to impress. From the demand to remove the statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Ghana to the travails of Indian investors in Africa, from the occasional demonisation of the long-standing Indian community to the non-recognition of Indian academic degrees, India’s large developmental footprint in Africa does not produce commensurate empathy.
  • India’s aid being unconditional, the recipients often take it as an entitlement.

Way ahead:

  • Integrate the development assistance and economic engagement for a more comprehensive and sustainable engagement. It would also facilitate aided pilot projects being scaled up seamlessly into commercially viable joint ventures.
  • India’s aid to Africa should be reciprocated by acknowledgement and quid pro quo in terms of and institutional preference. India cannot simply be a cash cow for Africa, particularly when its own economy is slowing down.
  • We need to ask ourselves these: for all the development billions spent, how many mega-projects did Indian companies get and how many natural resources does India have access to in Africa?
  • We need to take direct control of our development programme instead of handing our funds to intermediaries such as the African Union, the African Development Bank Group and the Techno-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement (TEAM 9), whose priorities are often different from India’s.
  • Our aid should be disbursed bilaterally and aligned with national priorities of the recipient state, which should be a substantial stakeholder and co-investor in schemes and projects from initiation to operation.
  • India’s development assistance should prefer the countries with their substantial interests. For instance, Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Angola and Algeria are India’s top six trading partners in Africa, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its trade and half its exports to the continent; yet, they do not figure commensurately in India’s developmental pecking order. India’s own needs for raw materials, commodities and markets should be factored in its aid calculus
  • We ought to prefer aiding countries which are willing to help us — from access to their natural resources to using our generics
  • The aided project selected should be compatible with local requirements. They should be cost-effective, scalable, future-ready and commercially replicable.
  • For greater transparency, India should prefer its public sector to implement the aid projects
  • Indian Head of Mission in the recipient African state must be an integral part of the aid stream including project selection, coordination and implementation.

The aforementioned should not distract us from our duty to provide the needed humanitarian assistance to Africa: to be rendered promptly and with sensitivity, but without noise.

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