(Dr. Arvind Kumar)
The four-day summit of the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IFAS) held in New Delhi on October 26-29, 2015 marks the biggest gathering of foreign dignitaries in New Delhi since the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit. Two previous India-Africa summits — the first in New Delhi in 2008 and the second in Addis Ababa in 2011 — were smaller events, with only representatives from select African nations participating.
The presence of 41 heads of state and government from 54 countries in Africa at the III-India-Africa Forum Summit or IAFS-III in New Delhi is in itself testimony of the importance both India and Africa attach to mutual ties. India’s hosting of the IAFS-III conveys New Delhi’s determination to energise its relations with the African Continent with which it has strong political ties in the first three decades after Independence. The momentum lost by India the 1990s in building a stronger partnership with African countries was regained in the wake of convening of 2008 India-Africa summit at New Delhi and 2011 India-Africa summit at Addis Ababa to reboot the relationship.
The successful conclusion of 2015 IAFS-III is expected to take India’s relations with the African Continent to a higher level with a demonstrated resolve and a clearly laid-down road map. According to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s in Africa is “driven by the aim of empowerment, capacity building, human resource development, access to Indian market, and support for Indian investments in Africa. This is a relationship that is beyond strategic considerations.”
The logo of the IFAS-III, as shown below, depicts a Lion with one half of an African lion and another half of an Indian lion. The official website mentioned about the logo: “Proud, Courageous, Bold and on the Prowl, ready to take on the future and seize every opportunity”. In the background African map overlapping merges with Indian map in a reference to ancient Gondwanaland when Indian subcontinent used to be part of today’s Africa’s continental landmass millions of years ago.
One analyst has opined that the IAFS-III could not have come at a better time and it has taken place amidst a hectic calendar of global discussions that shall define the post-2015 development agenda: the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Summit in September, the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled to be held soon in Paris this year and the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December this year.
The IFAS-III afforded an opportunity to African leaders and Prime Minister of India and members of his cabinet to discuss wide range of issues from seeking help in fighting terror group Al Shabab to inviting India to do business in diamonds at bilateral level, on the sidelines of the summit.
Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita invited PM Modi to visit his country and told him that he would personally take him to Timbuktu, which he said was a heritage site that faced the threat of being destroyed by extremist groups. Stating that his country was badly affected by terrorism, he sought India’s cooperation in counter-terrorism.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, President of Somalia, who received his Masters’ in Education from Bhopal (India), told Modi that he was the “shining example” of a beneficiary of education cooperation between India and Somalia. He further added that on his return to Somalia and set up an educational institute, which has now become a university with 5,000 students. While praising Indian Navy’s role in curbing piracy, he said terror outfit Al Shabab was “in retreat” and sought India’s cooperation in counter-terrorist activities. Modi told him that India can send counter-terrorism experts if Somalia needs them.
Angola’s Vice-President Manuel Domingos Vicente said India should do business with his country, which is rich in diamonds. To this, Modi said it will be a “win-win partnership”.
In a gesture of goodwill, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi decided to release two Indians languishing in Egyptian jails for 16 and 22 years, respectively, under the transfer of sentenced persons agreement between the two countries. India had requested Egypt in December 2014 to release the two Indians as per provisions of the sentenced persons’ pact. During the talks, Indian PM also thanked Sisi for attending the Summit and asserted that without Egypt, the Summit would have been “incomplete”. The two leaders agreed to take bilateral ties to a “much higher and broader level”. Referring to Indian investments, the Egyptian President invited more joint ventures in his country.
In the concluding session, the summit adopted two documents – the ‘Delhi Declaration’ and the India-Africa Framework for Strategic Cooperation to chart a new course of engagement in diverse areas with Modi describing it as a historic day for both sides.
The Delhi Declaration envisages Indian and African views on global issues. The IFAS-III has been described not just a meeting of India and Africa, but a meeting where the dreams of one-third of humanity have come together under one roof and where the heart beat of 1.25 billion Indians and 1.25 billion Africans are in rhythm. There is a proposal to set up joint monitoring mechanism with the African Union.
The Delhi Declaration said Africa took note of India’s position and its aspirations to become a permanent member with full rights in an expanded UN Security Council, calling for a decisive push in achieving “concrete outcomes” in reforming the top decision making body. When asked by the media as to why the African leaders did not clearly spell out their support for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UNSC, a spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs said the summit was not about reform of the global body and that it was one of the subjects discussed in it.
India specifically called for stronger ties between India and Africa in the strategic areas of counter-terrorism and climate change and reiterated that closer defence and security cooperation would be a key pillar of India-Africa partnership.
On climate change, the Delhi Declaration said India and Africa looked forward to finalising negotiations on an ambitious and comprehensive agreement based on the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibility. It said the developing countries, while undertaking ambitious actions on their own, need to be assisted to mitigate climate change and to adapt and adjust to its impact. In his address, Modi invited Africa to join an alliance of solar-rich nations to be announced on November 30 at the crucial climate summit in Paris. He asserted that “excess of few cannot become the burden of many”, in an apparent attack on the developed world.
In the Delhi Declaration, both sides acknowledged that terrorism and violent extremism have emerged as primary threats to nations and condemned them in all their forms and manifestations. “The menace of non-state actors including armed groups has acquired a new dimension as they expanded geographically, acquired resources and new instruments to spread extremist ideology and draw recruits. “Tackling this challenge requires global strategy and cooperation. We emphasise that no cause or grievance can justify acts of terror and resolve to maintain zero tolerance against terrorism,” it said.
In the declaration, both sides also called on all countries to ensure that their territories are not used for cross-border terrorist activities. “We strongly condemn direct or indirect financial assistance given to terrorist groups or individual members thereof by States or their machinery, to pursue such activities,” it said. On maritime security, the declaration said India would work to support Africa, as appropriate, in the implementation of the AU 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime (AIM) Strategy in accordance with International Maritime Law.
Both sides also supported establishment of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) aimed at integrating Africa’s markets in line with the objectives and principles enunciated in the Abuja Treaty, establishing the African Economic Community (AEC). Both sides resolved to support the Continental Free Trade Area-Negotiating Forum (CFTA-NF) towards concluding the negotiations by 2017. India and Africa also agreed to work towards creating conducive environment for trade facilitation in accordance with the WTO Bali Trade Facilitation Agreement.
Trade & Investment
The Delhi declaration listed a range of sectors for stepping up engagement including in trade, energy and power sector. It was decided that the summit will be held at an interval of five years.
Pitching for deeper trade ties, Modi said India will give high priority to increase trade and investment flows between the two sides and will make trade more balanced.
India is Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner, after China, the U.S. and the European Union. Over the past decade, the two-way trade between India and Africa has witnessed a massive surge — from $25 billion in 2006 to the current level of over $70 billion. India currently has oil investments in Mozambique, South Sudan, Egypt and Libya, and is also the biggest importer of crude oil from Nigeria. However, despite the rise, the bilateral trade still lags behind China’s trade with Africa, which currently stands at $200 billion.
Like India — which primarily imports crude oil and gas from the region — China’s trade with Africa is largely import driven, with the world’s second-largest economy taking petroleum mostly from Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Uganda, South Sudan, and Sudan. According to one expert, “We can’t match the Chinese in terms of resources — but any engagement we do with the Africans at least gives them a choice.” However, in order to challenge China’s dominance in the continent, India has sought to distance itself from what it calls an ‘exploitative’ relationship with Africa in favor of one that focuses on “Africa’s needs and India’s strengths.”
India has promised to offer concessional credit of $10 billion over the next five years in order to add strength to its partnership with Africa and this will be in addition to its ongoing credit programme. India will also offer a grant assistance of $600 million which includes an India-Africa Development Fund of $100 million and a Health Fund of $10 million.
Undoubtedly, the relations between India and African countries have generally been good over the years; nevertheless, it was only in the first decade of the 21st century that they gained significant momentum. One analyst has opined that the push came from India’s burgeoning post-liberalisation private sector but the pull was the ‘African Renaissance’ project – championed by the then-South African President Thabo Mbeki. While making a call for greater solidarity of the African countries with the Global South within the neoliberal paradigm, African Renaissance served as an ideological background for greater economic cooperation between Africa and the rising economies of the Global South.
Further, India’s ambitions of UN permanent membership rest majorly on the support of African countries which usually vote en-bloc. In addition to the issue of UN reforms, India and African countries also share perspectives on a number of issues such as a more equitable international economic order, new regional formations, climate change, the WTO, and a host of other international issues. Maritime security in the Indian Ocean is another concern that calls for better coordination among India and eastern and southern African countries. Ninety per cent of India’s trade volume and 70% of trade value comes by sea.
Further, as India becomes more energy dependent on external resources, the safety of sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean becomes paramount. In the recent past, the problem of piracy has propelled a number of regional actors including India to take joint actions against pirates. In view of this, India has signed defence agreements with Mauritius, Madagascar, Seychelles, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania. On all of these issues, there is an ever more need to increase collaborations and develop mechanisms for joint positions.
Africa has now claimed its place as a global economic player and the underlying promise of Africa comes through with indicators of increasing productivity, political stability, diversifying economies, rising trade figures, declining unemployment, reducing rural poverty, among others. Indeed, seven of the world’s fastest growing economies are now in Africa. All of this means that Africa’s engagement with the world is an opportunity for better, more equal relations. For India, this is an opportunity to take India’s Africa policy out of China’s shadow and truly bring foreign policy home. Besides, India’s 3 million strong diasporic community, hitherto untapped, is now viewed as a vital resource in Africa. One critic has pointed out t
hat given how effectively the Modi government has used the diaspora, mostly in the West, to push its foreign policy agenda, it remains to be seen how India’s large diaspora in Africa will be utilised by this government.