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India Reaches Out to Africa

Raj Kumar Sharma writes: The recently concluded India-Africa Summit in New Delhi was one of India’s most ambitious diplomatic outreach events in over two decades since the Non Aligned Summit in 1983.

Raj Kumar Sharma writes: The recently concluded India-Africa Summit in New Delhi was one of India’s most ambitious diplomatic outreach events in over two decades since the Non Aligned Summit in 1983. The importance of the event is reflected from the fact that 41 heads of state and government from 54 countries in Africa were present at the gathering.

India has historical and cultural linkages with African continent. Being a victim itself, India supported anti-colonial and anti-racist liberation struggles in Africa. Ideas of Indian leaders like Gandhi and Nehru on liberation and Afro-Asian unity had an impact on African leaders like Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, and Kwame Nkrumah.[i] In 1960s and 1970s, economic issues, common development challenges and need for a New International Economic Order brought India closer to the countries in Africa. However, these relations lost a bit of momentum as India was readjusting its foreign and economic policies in wake of disintegration of Soviet Union and opening up of its own economy to the outside world in 1991.

As Indian economy is back on good growth trajectory, India wants to strengthen its relations with a civilizational friend. PM Modi has not been able to visit African continent since he took office in May last year and this timely summit gave him a chance to engage the whole continent.

India has forged a development partnership with Africa, focusing on human resource and capacity building.[ii] In addition to the USD 7.4 billion concessional credit pledged in 2008, India has announced credit of USD 10bn over a period of five years. Besides, India will offer grant assistance worth USD 600 million, which will include USD 100mn for the India-Africa development fund and USD 10mn for an India-Africa health fund. India has also announced 50,000 scholarships to African students to pursue their studies in India. India also wrote off the debts of Mozambique, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries II Initiative. Significantly, India has launched a number of capacity building projects such as the Pan-African E-Network Project, the Focus Africa Programme, and the Team 9 Initiative.[iii]

India is an energy deficient country and needs hydrocarbons from Africa. India imported 33.05 million tons of oil from Africa in 2014-15, around 16 percent of its total needs, mainly from Nigeria Algeria, Mozambique and Angola. In June 2015, Nigeria replaced Saudi Arabia as the largest crude oil supplier to India. India-Africa trade stands at over $70 billion and is aimed to reach the target of $100 billion by end of 2015. This trade is around one third when compared to China-Africa trade which stands beyond USD 200 billion.

There are mutual areas of security concern like terrorism and maritime security which necessitate strategic cooperation between the two sides. Pirates operate in the Indian Ocean near Somalia while terrorism has found roots in the continent. From 1991 to 1996, Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders were based in Sudan. Groups like Boko Haram, Al-Maghreb and Al-Shabaab have been operating in the continent. India too remains a victim of terrorism and there is ample scope for the two sides to cooperate.


Both sides also share the need to bring about desired reforms in global institutional governance to make it more representative by inducting India and at least two African states as permanent members at the UN Security Council. There is a similarity in their stand at WTO as well. The intellectual property regime at WTO will hit generic drug industry in India. This in turn, will hit Africa too, which uses cheap Indian drugs for its fight against AIDS.

Lastly, India has a diaspora of around 3 million in Africa. This remains an unutilized asset, as diaspora has been used in Western countries by respective Indian governments. There is need to effectively engage Indian diaspora in Africa.




[i] Rajan Harshe, ‘India Africa, a new story’ The Indian Express, November 3, 2015.

[ii] Ruchita Beri, ‘3rd India Africa Forum Summit: Rejuvenating Relations’ Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses Website.

[iii] Vineet Thakur, ‘India-Africa Summit: Bringing Foreign Policy Back Home’ The Wire, Oct 27, 2015.

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