Like an absentee landlord, Africa is flagging its demands nowadays on multilateral fora such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the G-20 and the United Nations General Assembly. For a continent with 54 countries, over a quarter of the “Global South”, it is populated at BRICS and the G-20 by South Africa, an atypical representative of the Black continent.
Challenges and disruptors
Africa, in general, and the Sahel region in particular, are passing through several existential challenges such as misgovernance, unplanned development, the dominance of ruling tribes and corruption. Recently, new disruptors such as the Islamic terror, inter-tribal scrimmage, changing climate, runaway food inflation, urbanisation and youth unemployment have further strained the traditional socio-political fabric. As the past military interventions by France, the United States and Russia’s Wagner Group to curb the militancy have shown, they frequently become part of the problem. These interventions have costs: keeping dictatorships in power to protect their economic interests, such as uranium in Niger, gold in the Central African Republic and oil in Libya.
Until recently, African nationalists took pride in the continent having seen the last of generals in power. But thanks to the socio-political disorder highlighted, the past decade has seen the generals coming back in Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The armed forces in Libya and Sudan have split and are vying for supremacy. While most military establishments in these countries are relatively weak and incapable of defeating the Islamists and tribalists, their top brass do not lack political ambitions. The reasons for the return of generals are complex and often specific to the national situation.
The African political elite is at its wits’ end to put the genie of Bonapartism back in the bottle. Their earlier regional and continental prescription of delegitimisation and containment of the putschists is becoming increasingly less effective as such regimes have proliferated. Thus, when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently threatened to act militarily against Niger’s junta, two member-States, Mali and Burkina Faso — both run by military governments — opposed the idea. Similarly, Sudan’s warring generals have defied calls for a ceasefire.
Eroding international support
Africa’s problems are further compounded by an erosion in its international support base. China has been Africa’s largest trading partner and investor, but a slowing economy and trade have reduced its appetite for Africa’s commodities. Its Belt and Roads Initiative has raised the debts of some African countries to unsustainable levels, in turn causing them to cede control of some of their assets to China.
Russia previously promoted the Wagner Group in Africa as a shortcut for security, but after the militia’s mutiny against the Kremlin and the death of its chief in an air crash on Wednesday, the situation is unclear. Russia, which is under western economic sanctions, hosted an African summit in July, that saw tepid participation. France, the United Kingdom and other colonial powers as well as the United States have continued to exploit mineral wealth in Africa, but their economic downturn has limited their outreach. Moreover, Europe’s main concern is limited to stopping illegal migration from African shores.
Against this worrying backdrop, the 15th BRICS summit took place in South Africa on August 23-24 with the theme “BRICS and Africa”. It would be followed up early in September in the 18th G-20 Summit hosted by India where several issues of the “global south” with Africa as a focus would come up. The annual session of the United Nations General Assembly would also get underway — once again the Black continent’s travails would prick the world’s conscience.
India’s robust ties
India’s ties with Africa are deep, diverse and harmonious that range from Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha against the apartheid to the UN peacekeeping role. Although we now import less oil from Africa and sell fewer agricultural products, India-Africa trade reached $98 billion in 2022-23. India’s investment and other socio-economic engagements with Africa remain robust, especially in such sectors as education, health care, telecom, IT, appropriate technology and agriculture. India was the fifth largest investor in Africa and has extended over $12.37 billion in concessional loans. India has completed 197 projects and has provided 42,000 scholarships since 2015. Approximately three million people of Indian origin live in Africa, many for centuries. They are Africa’s largest non-native ethnicity.
India is well placed to leverage its comprehensive profile with Africa to help the continent either bilaterally or through these multilateral forums. Its hosting of the G-20 Summit will present it with a historic opportunity to up the ante. It could consult like-minded G-20 partners and multilateral institutions for a comprehensive semi-permanent platform to resolve the stalemated security and socio-economic situations in several parts of Africa. It should deliver political stability and economic development by combining peacekeeping with socio-political institution building. We can offer force multipliers such as targeted investments and transfer of relevant and appropriate Indian innovations, such as the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile), DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer), UPI (Unified Payments Interface), and Aspirational Districts Programme. By offering a more participative and less exploitative alternative, New Delhi can make the India-Africa ecosystem an exemplary win-win paradigm for the 21st century.
Mahesh Sachdev is a retired Indian Foreign Service officer who served as Ambassador to Algeria and High Commissioner to Nigeria. He has authored a book, Nigeria: A Business Manual