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IDSA COMMENT

3rd India Africa Forum Summit: Rejuvenating Relations

October 29, 2015

Africa is in the air as New Delhi hosts representatives of fifty four countries from the continent for the third India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) from 26-29 October, 2015. Touted as the most spectacular diplomatic exercise hosted by India since the 1983 Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, this meeting provides opportunity for India to rejuvenate relations with the continent. While India’s relations with African countries go back a millennium, in 2008 India began a structured engagement with Africa through the India Africa Forum Summit process. The second summit in 2011 at Addis Ababa expanded this cooperation. The current summit is important in the context of the evolving development partnership, trade and investment ties and the scope for convergence on peace and security issues.

In recent years African countries have experienced high economic growth. The average annual growth rate of real output has increased from 2.6 percent in 1990-2000 to 5.3 percent in the period 2000-2010. Further according to the World Bank, seven out of ten fastest growing economies in the world during the last decade are from Africa. Despite Africa’s relatively strong economic performance in the recent years many countries in the continent are grappling with several developmental challenges such as high unemployment, lack of economic transformation, food insecurity, environmental degradation etc. The African countries have recognized these challenges and at the continental level, have formulated Agenda 2063 to deal with these issues.

Development Partnership

In this backdrop, India has forged a development partnership with the African countries. This development artnership is unique as it is based on a consultative model and is driven by African needs. The focus of the development partnership is on human resource development and capacity building in Africa. India has extended development assistance worth $ 7.4 billion through lines of credit given by the Export Import bank. Of this $6.8 billion has been approved and about $3.5 billion, nearly half, has been disbursed. These lines of credit have led to the completion of 137 projects in 41 countries across Africa. Apart from this, India had also pledged to set up nearly 100 Indian Africa Training Institutes across the continent. However progress on this project has not been very satisfactory. These institutes were to be set up in consultation with the African Union, regional economic communities and the host governments. The several layers of consultations required may have been one of the reasons for the delay in the setting up of these institutes. The 3rd India Africa Forum Summit provides an opportunity for the African countries to do a reality check on these projects and continue only those that are deliverable.

Another area of engagement that could be added in the Partnership is that of renewable energy. Both India and the African countries share the problem of access to modern means of energy. A large part of rural India is devoid of modern means of clean energy. Similarly almost two- thirds of Africa does not have access to modern energy. As there is a global focus on use of energy resources that are clean and lead to sustainable development, India has been involved in projects related to renewable energy such as solar energy in Africa. In Mozambique India helped set up the first solar panel production factory in the country. Moreover, the Mozambican technicians involved in the production process were trained in India. This factory provides the people in rural Mozambique an opportunity to access electricity through clean and renewable energy. So India can look into enhancing cooperation on renewable energy with Africa.

Trade and Investment

India’s growing synergy with Africa is evident from the recent trends in trade. The total trade was than $1 billion in 1990-1991 and has grown to $71 billion in 2014-15. South Africa, remains the leading destination for India’s exports to Africa in 2014-15. Other major export destinations include Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, Tanzania, Mozambique and Mauritius. Important items of export include transport equipment, machinery and instruments, pharmaceuticals, non-basmati rice, cotton yarn fabrics, semi-finished iron and steel. In the case of India’s imports from Africa, around 51 percent of them were sourced from Nigeria in 2014-15, South Africa is the second largest source of import followed by Angola, Egypt, Ghana and Tanzania. While petroleum crude accounted for a significant 67 percent of India’s total imports from Africa during 2014-15, other major items imported from Africa include gold, inorganic chemicals, metal ores and metal scrap and cashew nuts.

Significantly, India’s private sector has played a pivotal role in the expansion of trade relations. The chambers of industry such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have, through regular trade conclaves, provided a platform for the corporate sectors of India and Africa to interact and forge business ties. As a result Indian investments in Africa have multiplied and are currently pegged at around $ 35 billion dollars. They are spread across sectors such as telecommunications, information technology, hydrocarbons and agriculture. Over the years there has been a similar interest in engaging with Africa among the Chinese, the Americans and the Europeans. The value of Africa’s trade with China was approximately $210 billion in 2013 while that with the United States was $ 85 billion. However recent decline in oil imports from the United States and sluggishness in the Chinese economy may push the Africans closer to India.

Peace and Security

There has been a growing convergence between India and Africa on peace and security issues. Africa like India has a long coast line and is concerned about the threats such as piracy, drug trafficking and security of sea lanes. In recent years India has deployed its Navy in the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean region in a bid to deal with the piracy challenge. In most parts of Africa the navies and coast guards are not equipped to deal with this threat. Thus the possibility of India – Africa maritime cooperation are immense. The African countries have developed the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 that provides a roadmap to deal with the maritime security challenges and measures to develop the blue economy. This strategy blends well with the Modi governments focus on ocean governance and economy. Thus the possibility of India extending a hand across Indian Ocean to promote Samudri Mitrata (Friendship across the Ocean) cannot to be discounted.

More recently, there has been a rise of terrorism in Africa with Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Qaeda in Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, the presence of Islamic State in Libya and Al Shabaab in Somalia. Terrorism and extremism are perceived as the greatest challenges the African continent is confronted with. The rising number of attacks and their increasing level of sophistication along with transnational connections with radical Islamist groups are a matter of concern for Africa. India has long been a victim of terrorism and therefore can share its experience in countering terrorism with the African countries if they so desire.

There are, thus, multiple avenues for cooperation which India and Africa should explore during the current summit to forge deeper and long lasting relations.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.