That 41 heads of state and government from 54 countries in Africa were present at the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, itself demonstrates the importance both sides attach to mutual ties. The summit, which concluded on Thursday, was the largest gathering of foreign dignitaries in New Delhi since the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit.
The message was not lost on anyone: India wants to energise its relations with the continent with which it had strong political ties in the first three decades after Independence. But India lost some momentum in building a stronger partnership with African countries since the 1990s as the country recalibrated its foreign and economic policies.
The idea of the India-Africa summit was first mooted to arrest this slide and reboot the relationship. While the previous two gatherings — the 2008 New Delhi and 2011 Addis Ababa summits — were significant, this week’s meet takes relations to a higher level with a demonstrated resolve and a clearly laid-down road map.
India has offered a new line of credit worth $10 billion to strengthen economic cooperation and called for a unified stance for the reform of the UN Security Council.
Africa is an important trade partner for India. Indian energy companies have assets in African countries, and New Delhi exports consumer and capital goods and medicines to the continent. India-Africa trade was worth almost $70 billion in 2014-15, and Indian companies invested some $30-35 billion in the continent over the past decade.
While trade has improved in these ten years, it is still much less than Africa’s trade with China, which was $200 billion in 2014-15. Besides, China has invested more than $180 billion in Sub-Saharan Africa alone in areas ranging from energy to infrastructure during the period 2005-2015.
India may not have the resources to beat the level of Chinese investments, but it can certainly do a lot more with proper policy approaches, faster project execution and improved bilateral relations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the $10 billion concessional credit is a right step in this direction. Second, there’s a convergence of interest for reforming the Security Council.
India’s claim is that as the second most populated country and the largest democracy in the world, it deserves a permanent seat in a reformed Security Council. The Prime Minister has also noted that Africa, with more than a quarter of the members of the UN, is not represented in the powerful UN body.
Against this background, it is imperative for both sides to speak in “one voice” for Security Council reforms. Third, stronger ties with Africa fit into India’s traditional foreign policy milieu. The goodwill India enjoys in the continent is a result of the principled anti-colonial positions the country took in the post-Independence era. India should cash in on that goodwill to build a stronger economic and political partnership with Africa in the new century.
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