Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Africa ??

The 'Scramble for Africa' during the period of New Imperialism [ late nineteenth century ], led to the economic subjugation, political domination and territorial division of the continent. All this was done to justify the White man’s burden’ – a concept, core to racial superiority. Most African colonies were faithful to the European powers during the two world wars but became defiant after their masters retracted from the promise of freedom. After 1945, they started to throw off the yoke of foreign powers and gradually emerged victorious.

Thus, it is no surprise that in 2010, 17 African nations celebrate 50 years of their independence. The ‘dark continent’ is now on the path to modernity and globalization. From the Aswan dam to Kalahari Desert, Africa can be viewed as a motley of cultures that reverberate in its ethos. From the geo-strategic and geo-economic perspective, there has been a significant rise in the importance of Africa owing to its strategic location, oil deposits, mineral wealth, booming market and rich bio-diversity.

Viewed through the prism of History, trade links between India and Africa were restricted mostly to the countries in the ‘Horn of Africa’. In the 6th Century A.D., Indian ships flocked to the Ethiopian ports to trade in silk and spices for gold and ivory. However, in modern days and with the expansion of diplomatic and commercial representations, India has now developed ties with most of the African nations.

Nehru and Krumah : discussing Neo-imperialism?
The efforts of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have weaved strong cohesiveness in Indo-Africa Relations. India played a substantial part in Africa’s de-colonization and its fight against apartheid. When the Non Aligned Movement [NAM] was founded in Belgrade in 1961, a leading role was played by both India and Africa. In recent years, most of the focus has been on trade, investment and economic relations. Indo-African trade has reached $35 billion and the target is to double it by 2014.

The leading members of India Inc. have made substantial investments in Africa. The Tata group, construction major Shapoorji-Pallonji & Co., BM Khaitan owned McLeod-Russel India, ICICI bank etc are forerunners in this regard. Co-operation in health care, agriculture, mining, hydrocarbon sectors are also on the rise. In the Defence sector, India assists countries like Nigeria, Zambia and Botswana through training and exposure to best practices.

The West African nation of Nigeria is the largest African crude oil supplier to India — India imports 400,000 barrels per day from Nigeria valued at 10 billion USD annually. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Limited [ OVL ] has invested in Sudan, Ivory Coast, Libya, Egypt etc. India has recently completed a $200 million project to lay a pipeline from Khartoum to Port Sudan on the Red sea.

In recognition of India’s growing role as an industrial and economic power, last year Egypt offered India to set up an ‘India Zone’ along the Suez Canal development area. Interestingly, 35 per cent world’s trade passes through the Suez Canal and this offer could give tremendous opportunity to India to extend its reach to emerging markets in North Africa and Europe.

In the east, Indian firms have invested around $3 billion in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar to produce wide variety of food crops and crops that could be used a bio fuels. Indian government is actively encouraging investments in land acquisition programmes by providing cheap lines of credit to these countries.

In 2009, India signed a civilian nuclear co-operation deal to trade in Uranium and build nuclear power plants with the South African country of Namibia. Also, by 2008 India had emerged as the largest contributor to UN mandated operations in Africa, with a cumulative effort totaling more than 30,000 personnel involved in peacekeeping, humanitarian and electoral missions.

In addition, the Indian sponsored Pan-African e-Network [ in partnership with the African Union ] links 53 countries through tele-medicine, education, governance and plays a crucial role in developing skills and resources that are critical for Africa’s growth.

Owing to the 'China Factor', India has been religiously promoting trade with Africa in recent years. It launched the 'Focus: Africa' program under the EXIM Policy 2002-07, thus providing financial assistance to various inter-regional trade promotion schemes. Interestingly, on agrarian front, Andhra Pradesh is exporting farmers to East Africa, so that they can help their counterparts with skill and expertise.

Thus, we can say that India has a reasonably successful policy towards Africa - one that strikes a balance between our values and interests. But more needs to be done.

India is all set to contest the post of non-permanent member in the United Nations’ Security Council in January 2011. Thus, it becomes imperative to garner the support of nations across the world including the African Union [AU], which is an association of 53 African countries. Possibly, this is the reason, why in the first half of 2010, VP Hamid Ansari visited Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Mauritius and Mozambique.

This increased co-operation and growth in economic-cultural ties is also very important in the run up to the 'India-Africa Forum summit' in 2011. India and Africa, both being members of the Commonwealth, the tri-continental India-Brazil-South Africa [ IBSA ] and NAM, can also try to improve their relations through these associations.

In an effort to boost trade ties, India can plan to provide duty-free access to products from African countries. It can also work on double taxation avoidance mechanism. Also, in the wake of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden, Indian Navy can play a larger role.

Another area which can be strengthened is Indian Technical and Economic Co-operation Programme [ ITEC ] which aims to develop human resource through various trainings and workshops in target countries. The Indo-African collaboration in this regard can be taken to greater heights.

India and Africa together make up a large section of the ‘south block’. They have strong historical links, share similar views, want to bring reforms to the existing world financial institutions and face similar internal/external challenges. Africa can serve as a huge market for the growth of India’s economy and its global presence. India thus, should deepen its engagement in Africa by considering it as an emerging priority.

Indira Mukherjee is a Computer Engineer and works in a reputed IT consulting company in Kolkata. She takes keen interest in India's history, foreign policy and domestic issues. She is passionate about quizzing as well. She may be contacted at

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