As China’s slowdown impacts ties with Africa, India is
seeking to step in and boost political and economic relations with the
continent. The upcoming India-Africa Summit may offer a key opportunity
to do just that.It is being touted as India’s largest ever Africa outreach. From
October 26 to 30, New Delhi plans to host representatives of all 54
African states in the “India-Africa Forum Summit” or IAFS, the third
top-level meeting of its kind to be held since 2008 designed to
strengthen bilateral relations.
governments, including South African President Jacob Zuma and his
Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari, have already confirmed their
participation in the five-day forum, which was initially scheduled to
take place last December but was postponed due to the Ebola outbreak.
About 1000 delegates, including officials and business people, are
expected to attend. “The summit will be an occasion to harness new
opportunities unleashed by the parallel and interlinked resurgence of
India and Africa,” Nivedita Ray, a research fellow at the New
Delhi-based Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), told DW, adding that
sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, security, blue economy
trade and investment, capacity building through training, and
institutional building would be given thrust.
Ever since taking office last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
has taken a strategic approach to ramp up his country’s foreign policy
engagement and expand India’s trade partners. But despite a busy
diplomatic agenda over the past months, Modi has yet to visit mainland
The premier has instead prioritized expanding relations with
neighboring countries, improving ties with the US and East Asia, and
bolstering trade with economic powerhouses like Germany. So when it
comes to defining India’s Africa relations, the current administration
has been relatively quiet.
South Asia specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States,
argues the summit represents “India’s attempt to show how serious it is
about engaging with the region.” Tim Steinecke, a researcher of
Asia-Africa relations at the UK-based University of St Andrews, agrees,
adding that the IAFS will also force the PM to reveal his vision of
future Indian-African ties.
The meeting comes at a time when China, one of Africa’s key economic
partners, is looking to further upgrade its partnership with the
resource-rich continent. In this context, the IAFS will be facing
particularly tough competition as South Africa will be hosting in
December the sixth Forum on China-Africa Corporation (FOCAC) – a
ministerial level meeting that has been particularly popular among
African leaders given China’s strong economic role in the region.
In fact, Sino-African trade has increased massively over the past years
– from around $10 billion in 2000 to over $200 billion in 2014.
However, the tide is changing. As China’s economy decelerates, data
suggest that demand for the region’s resources is withering, with
bilateral trade dropping sharply since late 2014, leaving several
African economies vulnerable.
“Due to the global slump in commodity prices and the slowdown in
Chinese demand for key mineral commodities, African resource exporters
are suffering negative shockwaves to their industries,” Rajiv Biswas,
Asia-Pacific Chief Economist at the analytics firm IHS, told DW.
Moreover, Chinese firms are finding themselves increasingly at odds with
their African hosts over environmental and labor issues.
this development, researcher Steinecke argues the upcoming New Delhi
summit will also be viewed as an indicator of just how seriously African
leaders are looking for alternatives to Beijing’s investment model,
which tends to involve Chinese state-owned enterprises and low-interest
loans in return for favorable access to oil and mining projects.
But just how strong are Indian-African ties? Economist Biswas explains
that although previous Indian governments may have been relatively low
key in terms of stepping up trade ties, India’s private sector has been
much more dynamic. “The significant presence of an Indian diaspora in
many parts of the continent – countries such as South Africa, Kenya,
Tanzania and Mauritius – has led to strong entrepreneurial ties in
sectors such as retail services, mining and commodities trading,” said
share in India’s global trade rose six percent ($4.8 billion) in 1997-98
to almost 10 percent ($68 billion) last year, far exceeding Japan’s
bilateral trade with the region, which amounted to some $30 billion in
India’s top 25 trade partners, analysts say New Delhi is keen on
diversifying into new regions, especially French- and
Portuguese-speaking countries such as Senegal and Mozambique.
number of Indian multinationals already have significant interests and
investments in the region, with strategic sectors including
agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, information and communications technology
(ICT), and energy.
fact, African countries, in particular Nigeria and Angola, now account
for more than a quarter of India’s oil and gas imports – a
diversification strategy aimed at reducing New Delhi’s traditional
dependence on the Gulf states, as Constantino Xavier, a researcher at
the Washington-based Johns Hopkins University, told DW.
Indian conglomerates operating in the continent include state-owned oil
and gas firm ONGC Videsh Ltd., petrochemicals company Reliance,
agribusiness firms such as Karuturi Global, pharmaceuticals such as
Cipla and Ranbaxy and ICT companies such as Bharti Airtel.
Tata Group, for instance, has been operating in Africa since 1977 and
is present in 11 countries across a wide range of industries such as
automobiles, hotels and telecoms. Africa has also been a focus of
India’s small but growing foreign assistance program.
Xavier points out, ties are also strengthening on the security front.
“East African coastal states from Somalia to South Africa, including
also the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius, are all key partners in
India’s efforts to establish leadership in the Indian Ocean Region, from
combating piracy to securing sea lines of communication and disaster
UN-mandated peacekeeping and other operations in Africa, with more than
30,000 personnel involved in 17 of 22 total missions in the region since
Delhi’s time to shine in Africa? Although Indian state actors and
corporations may not yet be a game-changer to Sino-African relations,
researcher Steinecke points out that the mood across many African states
“may be ripe for a new foreign partner.”
Jaishankar agrees, adding that the South Asian nation’s growth profile
and needs are similar to those of many African countries, with local
businesses often geared towards low-cost production and services.
Moreover, he says, India provides a useful model for democratic
development. Indeed, the world’s largest democracy is increasingly
responding to requests from African governments to share its democratic
experience, offering training on electronic voting systems,
parliamentary procedures, federal governance, and an independent
judicial system to strengthen the rule of law.
South Asian nation’s economy expected to grow more rapidly than China’s
over the medium to long-term, the long-standing presence of Indian
business communities in the continent is set to help firm up trade and
investment relations even further.
become increasingly international in their operations and business
strategies, they also offer a new source of growth for many African
countries, with many of them likely to be keen on diversifying their
relations to reduce their dependence on China given the country’s
current economic slowdown,” said Biswas.
upcoming IAFS may serve as a crucial springboard to a more intense and
mutually beneficial strategic engagement, agree experts. “PM Modi has
promised to make India more competitive in the global economy, and
Africa plays an important role,” said ICWA expert Ray. At the same time,
India’s development model – particularly its capacity building and
infrastructure projects – have become increasingly attractive for the
continent, she added.