India-Africa summit: from agreement to action

COMMON GROUND: The Addis Ababa Declaration and the Frameworkfor Enhanced Cooperation establish that a striking convergence ofviews exists between India and Africa not only on bilateral mattersbut also on a whole range of issues. The closing plenary session of the2nd India-Africa Forum Summit at the AU Commission in Ethiopia.  

When Dr. Manmohan Singh was the Secretary General of South Commission over two decades back, he worked with its chairman Julius Nyerere, a respected African leader and the former President of Tanzania. This relationship might have moulded Dr. Singh's perceptions on challenges facing Africa and how India should partner with it to secure a multi-dimensional partnership benefitting both sides. This explains, at least partly, why the second India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-II), followed by the Prime Minister's bilateral visits to Ethiopia and Tanzania, represents the high water mark in India's engagement with Africa. The recent safari may owe much to the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But, above all, it was a well-designed initiative by Dr. Singh's team to position India-Africa relations in the specific context of 21st century.


As Prime Minister, Dr. Singh travelled to South Africa in late 2006 to deepen bilateral relations and inaugurate the centenary celebrations of Satyagraha, the unique movement launched by Gandhiji in 1906. This was followed in 2007 by his rare bilateral visit to Nigeria and a brief sojourn in South Africa where he attended the India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) Summit. In November of that year he visited the continent again to attend the Commonwealth Summit in Kampala. In April 2008, he hosted the historic summit, IAFS-I, in Delhi that heralded the commencement of institutionalised interaction with Africa, injecting new momentum into an old relationship. Throughout 2010, India hosted numerous African dignitaries.

The political will and commitment to build ties afresh with Africa have thus been on display in abundance under Dr. Singh's leadership. This backdrop points to why he enjoys special empathy with African leaders. Echoing their sentiments, Kgalema Motlante, South Africa's Vice-President, articulated his belief in Addis Ababa that the India-Africa equation “is and should remain a mutually beneficial strategic partnership.”

Key questions

Despite ample coverage of IAFS-II, several questions demand objective answers. Was the summit well organised? What are its key outcomes? Does Africa look at India in isolation or within a rapidly changing global context? What are the prospects of a timely implementation of Addis Ababa decisions? And, finally, how would the engagement look like in 2014 when the third summit takes place?

The first question is the easiest to answer. Thanks to careful preparations in recent months and notable synergy created between Indian and African Union officials, the second summit was managed adroitly. It was helped by the absence of controversial or divisive issues. What the planners did exceptionally well was to choreograph a series of productive interactions involving not just officials and political leaders but also other segments of the target constituency — entrepreneurs, CEOs, media figures, academics, civil society, artistes and craftsmen. While taking a leaf out of the first Summit, they managed to take the B-to-B and P-to-P exchanges to new heights.

As to the key outcomes, the Addis Ababa Declaration and the Framework for Enhanced Cooperation bring out clearly that a striking convergence of views exists between India and Africa not only on bilateral matters but also on a whole range of issues. These include U.N. reforms, Africa's place in world affairs, climate change, countering terrorism, the Doha Round and South-South cooperation.

What analysts were keen to know was whether the areas of cooperation identified in 2008 would now be modified substantially, and whether India would demonstrate further financial generosity to fund new programmes. The set of seven areas chosen in 2008 remains unchanged, but details of some of them have undergone a transformation. The Prime Minister's business-like announcement of new funding for additional commitments — $5 billion for lines of credit, $700 million for new institutions and training programmes, and $300 million for the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway line — was an apt response to African expectations.

India has made it clear that capacity building would receive priority in its endeavour to deepen links with Africa at the continental, regional and bilateral levels. However, the other two pillars of its strategy, namely trade and investment cooperation and infrastructure development too would be pushed hard. On trade, further clarity and a more targeted promotion are required. A duty-free tariff regime offered by India is yet to work optimally. Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) negotiations such as with Southern African Customs Union (SACU) seem to be moving slowly. However, the enhanced focus on infrastructure is significant. India is not leaving this field to others, engaged as it is in building roads, railways, ports and bridges. But Africa's appetite is huge: the World Bank has recently estimated that Africa needs $93 billion a year to address the infrastructure gap. For creating new opportunities for Indian companies, the government has no option but to find new methods to finance projects in future.

India-China competition?

As regards the next question, many diplomatic and scholarly voices have been heard on whether there is competition, race or rivalry between India and China for seeking a place under the African sun. Delhi's official view is unmistakable: there is no competition. Significantly, Beijing has not expressed any view. Within Africa, there are many who believe not only in the existence of competition, but also in its desirability. Western observers and scholars have, of course, been the main proponents of the theory that India-China competition in Africa has been heating up.

Whatever may be one's preferred conclusion, it can be asserted that healthy competition is generally good, not bad, and that even though the Indian and Chinese approaches are quite different, they exhibit a few similarities too. If at macro level the India-China relationship is widely seen to have three fundamental characteristics, i.e. competition, cooperation and conflict, it is hardly plausible to argue that these traits would not be unfolding in Africa.

Further, neither India nor China can afford to ignore monitoring each other's activities in Africa and drawing lessons from them. Given the fact that Africa, despite its intrinsic unity, is a diverse continent of 54 — soon to be 55 — nation-states, India and China as well as the Western and other powers would have a role to play on the African stage.

Future prospects

The last two questions pertaining to implementation are inter-related. The 19 institutions that India had proposed to establish in accordance with the 2008 Summit decisions are yet to see light of the day, but hopefully they will do so soon, probably within a year from now. The package of new institutions announced in Addis Ababa is no doubt impressive, but it will need a longer gestation period and a lot of hard work.

South Block would make a huge contribution to the India-Africa cooperation if it quickly crafts a tight calendar for fulfilling the Prime Minister's promises. Let 2014, the year of the third summit, be the final, non-negotiable deadline when all the proposed institutions become a reality. An essential pre-requisite: External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna should consider deploying an A-team of officers as the Africa desk undergoes important changes in the coming weeks. Should this happen and if promised funding is spent purposefully, the substance and profile of India's partnership with Africa are set to grow tremendously.

But, enhancing cooperation is a shared dream, working for it a joint responsibility. Leaders and other drivers on both sides of the Indian Ocean need to rise to the occasion.

( The author is a former Indian Ambassador with extensive experience of African affairs.)

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 8:56:12 AM |

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