India-Africa: Strengthening Ties

22 Nov 2019

The roots of India-Africa relations go back a long way. They were laid down during the colonial era, led by Mahatma Gandhi who began his career in South Africa and also became the leader of the National Indian Congress in South Africa in 1894.

The focus of the India-Africa policy post-independence was decolonization and ending apartheid, particularly for People of Indian Origin (PIO) in Africa. This was set by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. There have been significant changes to the India-Africa policy with the increased enhancement of economic diplomacy.

Several strategic initiatives have been launched in the last few decades with the intent of strengthening ties with Africa. Some notable initiatives are:

Focus Africa was launched by the Indian Government in 2002 to boost trade and investment in Africa.
The India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS), a platform for Indian-African relations, was held first in 2008 in New Delhi. It was followed by a Summit in Addis Ababa (2011) and New Delhi (2015).
The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor was launched in 2017 as an economic co-operation between the governments of India, Japan, and multiple African countries.

From 2014 onwards, a total of 29 visits to African countries have taken place where participants included the Prime Minister, President and Vice-President, apart from several other ministerial visits. These engagements are not limited to a bilateral political level. India and Africa have diplomatic mechanisms at three levels – regional, bilateral, and continental.

India-Africa trade has not only diversified but also multiplied in the last 15 years. The strengthening of South-South complementarities between these two regions suggests that India-Africa trade could touch US$117 by 2021.

Africa’s exports to India are mostly limited to crude oil as India seeks to diversify its oil supplies away from the Middle East. Top products exported by India to Africa include medicinal and pharmaceutical products, accounting for 26.9% of India’s exports in the region in 2017.

Several Indian public and private sector companies have invested in Africa thereby generating many employment opportunities. Large corporates like Reliance, Bharti Airtel, Coal India, Cipla, HCL Technologies, Essar Group, and the TATA Group have already made huge investments in many African countries.

As per the report titled ‘Indian Industry’s Inclusive Footprint in South Africa – Doing Business, Doing Good by CII and PricewaterhouseCoopersIndian companies in Africa are also working to uplift the communities in which they operate.

To reduce dependence on their Indian counterparts, the companies have also launched programs to transfer IT skills to their employees. Training centers have also been launched to facilitate exchange programs between IT graduates from South Africa and India. Since the last four years, six IT centers have been established in South Africa, Ghana, Namibia, Morocco, and Tanzania.

India is currently the third-largest national trading partner of Africa as the trade between India & Africa increased from US$ 7.2 bn in 2001 to US$ 62.6 bn in 2017~18. India became the fifth largest investor in Africa with investments amounting to a staggering US$ 54 bn (as of 2008~2016). Most of the investments have taken place in the following sectors:

  • Oil & Gas
  • Mining
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Banking
  • Textiles

The current government, led by Shri Narendra Modi, has laid huge emphasis on Digital India and aims to make Indian citizens digitally literate via its Digital Literacy Programs. India is also helping Africa to take the digital leap via the second phase of PAN Africa e-Network projects – e-VidhyaBharati & e-ArogyaBharati Network Project (E-VBAB). The vision of the program is to provide free tele-education to 4000 students, free consultancy to African countries, and free medical education to 1000 doctors/nurses.

India and Africa have ample opportunities to grow together in a manner which is mutually beneficial.

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