Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a written letter to G20 leaders proposing the formal induction of the African Union at the group’s summit in September.
He wants the African continent’s 1.3 billion people to have an increased say in international bodies as African leaders have increasingly cited a lack of meaningful representation in international forums as a barrier to ensuring global governance and financial systems meet their needs. At the United Nations Security Council too, India has been an influential voice and has pushed for a permanent seat while expressing support for Africa.
With 21 African countries in or at risk of debt distress, African representation at the G20 is particularly important for improving the Common Framework for debt relief.
The G20 isn’t the only multilateral group facing growing expansion demands. There’s the BRICS bloc of emerging market economies (named after its members: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).At least 19 countries, almost all from the Global South, that have made formal or informal membership bids to the bloc. Those bids will be considered at the BRICS summit in August.
This is not the first time that India has supported Africa.There are more than three million people of Indian origin in Africa today, and as the wave of independence was sweeping Africa in the 50s and 60s, Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru encouraged Indians living in Africa to fully identify with the African cause for independence.
India has historically enjoyed a close relationship with Africa, given the shared struggle against colonialism, the non-aligned movement and shared socio-economic and demographic challenges.
With India on the rise globally, Africa could benefit from a more engaged and ambitious India.The size and health of India’s over $3.5 trillion economy have made the country a force to be reckoned with in global affairs. India has surpassed the United Kingdom in size and may outstrip Germany by 2028, according to the International Monetary Fund.
While India’s upward economic trajectory has continued, many African countries face economic distress and are re-evaluating their alliances amid global power competition.
African countries could learn from India’s more aggressive diplomatic approach, which in 2021 managed to reverse its COVID-19 red-listing by the United Kingdom and several other countries.
For Indian businesses, Africa represents a massive untapped market, especially for manufacturing goods like textiles, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and light machinery. Africa
also carries opportunities in the resource and energy sectors, which have traditionally been areas of vulnerability for India. The African Continental Free Trade Area((AfCFTA)agreement has also piqued the interest of Indian businesses.
AfCFTA will be the world’s largest free-trade area, bringing together 54 countries.It was established in 2018 making it the largest free-trade area by number of member states, after the World Trade Organization,and the largest in population and geographic size, spanning 1.3 billion people across the world’s second largest continent.
Economically, Indian activity is largely led by the private sector,which prioritises local productivity, is more transparent and fosters skills that Africa needs.
Healthcare diplomacy was evident during the pandemic, as India donated vaccines to several countries, reinforcing its comparative advantage as the ‘pharmacy of the world’. At a time when Western powers were hoarding vaccines, this gained India goodwill across Africa.
India has long been a leading troop contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa. Its military activity has concentrated around the Indian Ocean, where India has historically been a dominant player in island nations such as Seychelles and Mauritius. With the Indian Ocean becoming a key battleground due to its strategic access and influence for energy resources and national security, India is redoubling its comparative advantages to maintain its naval and diplomatic ascendancy.
The success of Indian Premier League cricket now sees Indian franchises extending to South Africa, where the inaugural CSA T20 league will be played in January 2023. All six teams have Indian owners, and their extensive networks of scouts, analysts and sponsors will be a boon to South African cricket.
On the flip side, Indian businesses must overcome the ‘fear factor’ that sees Indian companies often assigning an unrealistic risk premium to the continent. The recent ‘Made in India’ cough syrup scandal in The Gambia inflicted reputational damage the country can ill afford.
Jakkie Cilliers, Head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies, believes that ‘India consistently under performs diplomatically and its interests in Africa are perfunctory.’
According to Ronak Gopaldas, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Consultant,India has a clear opportunity to carve a new niche as Africa’s strategic partner. But Sanusha Naidu of the Institute for Global Dialogue told ISS Today that to maintain a positive trajectory, New Delhi must clarify what it stands for.
‘First, it needs to be clear whether its Africa policy will be ventilated primarily through the government or private sector (or hybrid). Next, it needs to articulate what it offers Africa aside from simply not being China. And finally, India needs to be clear about the optics of its soft power strategy.’
This story was produced by Peter Ongera. It was written as part of Wealth of Nations, a media skills development programme run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. More information at www.wealth-of-nations.org. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.