Eyeing the Dark Continent
By : Rajeev Sharma
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have been found wanting in a host of areas relating to domestic politics and economy. However, his track record in foreign policy has been far better, though his detractors would haul him over coals on this score too over the way neighbors like Nepal and Maldives have posed difficulties for New Delhi.
The just-concluded third India Africa Forum Summit, the biggest ever diplomatic spectacle hosted by the Modi government in New Delhi from Oct. 26 to 29, is yet another trophy for Modi on the foreign policy front.
There are very many takeaways from the mega event.
The inclusive “all of Africa” engagement showed to the international community that India’s foreign policy is moving from a balancing role to a leadership role. It was for the first time in the history of the world’s engagement with Africa that all 54 countries participated in a summit organized by a non-African country. These included as many as 41 heads of state or government.
This was despite the fact that India has not able to focus enough on Africa even though Indians and the Africans have waged common struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Logistically, this was also despite the fact that India has embassies only in 29 of the 54 African states that we have diplomatic relations with. The Modi government showed how it could successfully deal with this handicap as the previous two India Africa summits held under the Manmohan Singh government in 2007 in New Delhi and in 2011 in Addis Ababa could muster participation of just 14 and 12 African leaders respectively.
Notably, only three other countries — China, Japan and the United States — have engaged the entire African continent. China is going to host its next Africa summit in South Africa next month and obviously the Chinese leadership would have noted the overwhelming response of the African states to the third Indian Africa summit and India’s increasing strategic footprints in Africa.
The second takeaway from the India Africa summit was the growing camaraderie of the two sides. This was evident from Modi’s speech at the summit wherein he candidly admitted that India, at times, had not been able to deliver on African expectations.
The third takeaway from the summit was that each of the 54 African states was able to identify newer areas of cooperation with India. Take for instance the examples of Cameroon, Cape Verde, Nigeria, South Sudan and South Africa.
While Cameroon sought India’s help in fighting the Boko Haram terror group, which has spread from Nigeria to other African countries, South Africa pitched for defense technology development. International terror is fast becoming a major challenge for Africa as Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and terror groups in the Sinai or Tunisia have brought home to several African states that terror is no longer a distant threat. India and Africa made common cause in terms of declaratory and practical support to each other in this context. While South Sudan asked for India’s help in managing livestock, Cape Verde sought Indian assistance in reconstruction of one of its islands destroyed in a volcanic eruption.
The fourth takeaway was Modi’s offer of $10 billion in concessional credit to Africa over the next five years, apart from a grant assistance of $600 million. Much of the Indian money will be spent in capacity building activities in Africa — an activity that will show results on the ground in coming years and would inevitably bring common Africans closer to India.
Fifth, Modi made a strong pitch for two major issues at the summit: United Nations reforms and climate change. Modi underlined the need for India and Africa speaking in one voice on the issue of UN reforms, which has been missing all this while. India has been eyeing to become a permanent member in the to-be-expanded UN Security Council, a goal it cannot achieve without African support.
On climate change, ahead of the upcoming international conference in Paris from Nov. 30, Modi pushed for collaboration on climate change mitigation given the fact that both India and Africa have huge potential in renewables such as solar power, providing ample scope for cooperation. Modi’s ambitious plans for an international solar group as a practical response to climate change concerns will involve getting support of nearly 50 African states who will constitute almost half of the entire group of 100 odd countries who can join together.
Africa is the go-to continent for the world and its all-round importance cannot be overstated. It is fast becoming a major supplier of India’s energy needs with already 20 percent of oil imports sourced from there. Besides, even though Africa is the oldest continent, it has amongst the youngest population and can make common cause with India on matters such as health, education and agriculture. Indian models in all these areas can work for Africa too.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.