india-africa-bilateral-relations-amid-covid-19

Context: Africa Day is observed every year on May 25 to commemorate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (now known as the African Union). 

More about news:

  • The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses has hosted an Africa Day Round Table annually for the last four years in order to commemorate this epochal event. 
  • India had planned to host the Fourth India Africa Forum Summit in September this year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause it to be delayed. 

Significance of Africa

  • Resourceful continent: Africa’s rich natural resources, long-term economic potential, youthful demography and influence as a bloc of 54 countries in multilateral organisations is apparent. 
  • Increasing international engagement with African states, with an eye to rising economic opportunities, including in energy, mining, infrastructure and connectivity. 
    • Japan hosted the 7th Tokyo International Conference for African Development (TICAD) in August 2019. Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit last year. Brazil, home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa, has also sought to develop closer ties. Cuba has sent medical teams to help Africa.

India-Africa relations: 

Background: India Africa relations (economic & cultural) date back to the pre-colonial era and were strengthened during the national independence movement of India (due to leaders like M.K Gandhi).

  • After India's independence the factors like the success of Gandhian non-violent methods, establishment and survival of modern ideals of secularism, development etc. in India, despite various hurdles, etc. became important models for many young African nations. 
  • However, after a few decades of aloofness, India has redefined India’s relations with Africa in the 2000s. Ties were boosted at the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in 2015.

Current state of relations

  • Political relation: From 2014 onwards, there have been a total of 29 visits to African countries from the Indian side at the level of President, Vice President, and Prime Minister, apart from several ministerial level visits.
    • Opening of 18 new Indian Missions in Africa over a period of four years from 2018-2021
  • Fight against the coronavirus: India has already dispatched medical assistance to 25 African countries and Indian PM has had a telephonic talk with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa who is the current chairperson of the African Union, and separately others such as the presidents of Uganda and Ethiopia. 

The African Union is a continental union consisting of 55 member states located on the continent of Africa. 

  • The AU was announced in the Sirte Declaration in Sirte, Libya, on 9 September 1999, calling for the establishment of the African Union.
  • The African Union Commission (AUC) is the AU's secretariat and undertakes the day to day activities of the Union. It is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Economic relations
    • India is currently Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner, and Africa’s third-largest export destination. 
    • Indian government initiatives like Focus Africa (2002), TEAM-9 (2004), Duty-Free Tariff Preference Scheme for Least Developed Countries (2008), and the institution of the India Africa Forum Summit (held in 2008, 2011, 2015), have succeeded in lifting bilateral trade and investment flows to new heights
    • Infrastructure support: After South Asia, Africa is the second-largest recipient of Indian overseas assistance with Lines of Credit (LOC) worth nearly $10 billion (42 per cent of the total) spread over 100 projects in 41 countries. 
  • People to people contact: 
    • Diaspora: There are more than three million people of Indian origin in Africa today.
    • Scholarships: Forty percent of all training and capacity building slots under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme have traditionally been reserved for Africa. India provides about 50,000 scholarships to African students each year. 
  • Techno-Economic Approach for Africa–India Movement (TEAM–9): 
    • It was launched by India in 2004 together with eight energy and resource-rich West African countries viz. Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and India. 
    • AIM: engaging the underdeveloped, yet resource-wealthy countries of West Africa, which required both low-cost technology and investment to develop their infrastructure.
  • Peacekeeping, defence and security cooperation:
    • Peacekeeping: Approximately 6,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in UN peace-keeping missions in five conflict zones in Africa. 
    • The first-ever India Africa Defence Ministers conclave in February this year on the margins of the Defence Expo 2020. 
    • Capacity building and training of African military officers in Indian institutes has long remained a cornerstone of defence ties. Africa-India conducted Field Training Exercise-2019, called AFINDEX-19.
  • Self Help Group and Africa: Ethiopia and South Africa are working with Kudumbashree, a self-help group movement created by the Government of Kerala aimed at eradicating poverty and empowering women.
  • Cyber Security and Digital Revolution:  India signed MoUs/joint statements with six African countries on the subject — i.e., Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles, South Africa, Kenya, and Mauritius.
  • PAeN: India’s digital cooperation with Africa is the Pan African e-Network (PAeN) project on tele-education and tele-medicine, launched in 2004. 
  • India’s Ministry of External Affairs launched a new network project – e-VidyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati (e-VBAB). The PAeN project operates on satellite-based technology and it will establish two separate web-based portals – one each for tele-education and tele-medicine.
  • International collaboration:
  • Africa and International Solar Alliance (ISA): Even in the International Solar Alliance (ISA), out of the 48 countries that have signed and ratified the ISA Framework Agreement, 25 countries are from the African continent.India Africa Forum Summit (2015): The India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) is the official platform for the African-Indian relations. India announced a line of credit to help financing the projects in African countries, capacity building, IT education, and higher education.
  • Asia-Africa Growth Corridor:It is an economic cooperation agreement between India and Japan which envisages closer engagement between Asia and Africa for “sustainable and innovative development” and will be anchored by these  pillars.
  • Paradiplomacy: Now, Organizations and State governments have also been crafting independent relationships with African counterparts. For example, Kerala is planning on importing cashew from African countries for its processing plants that are running low on raw material. 

Ten Guiding Principles for India-Africa engagement, as articulated by PM during his 2019 Uganda visit:

  1. Africa will be at the top of our priorities.
  2. Our development partnership will be guided by your priorities. We will build as much local capacity and create local opportunities as possible.
  3. We will keep our markets open and make it easier and more attractive to trade with India. 
  4. We will harness India’s experience with the digital revolution to support Africa’s development; improve delivery of public services; extend education and health; spread digital literacy; expand financial inclusion; and mainstream the marginalised.
  5. Africa has 60 percent of the world’s arable land, but produces just 10 percent of the global output. We will work with you to improve Africa’s agriculture.
  6. Our partnership will address the challenges of climate change.
  7. We will strengthen our cooperation and mutual capabilities in combating terrorism and extremism; keeping our cyberspace safe and secure; and, supporting the UN in advancing and keeping peace.
  8. We will work with African nations to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. The world needs cooperation and competition in the eastern shores of Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean.
  9. As global engagement in Africa increases, we must all work together to ensure that Africa does not once again turn into a theatre of rival ambitions, but becomes a nursery for the aspirations of Africa’s youth.
  10. Just as India and Africa fought colonialism together, we will work together for a just, representative and democratic global order that has a voice for one-third of humanity that lives in Africa and India.

Significance of India-Africa relations

  • Resurging Africa and Rising India : It can give a strong impetus to South-South Cooperation, especially in areas like clean technology, climate-resilient agriculture, maritime security, connectivity, and Blue economy.
  • Energy security: Africa will be helpful for India to diversify its energy basket.India is seeking diversification of its oil supplies away from the Middle East and Africa can play an important role in India’s energy matrix.
  • Mutual convergence:
  • Convergence of interest in WTO: India and Africa are aligned on the outstanding issues at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are in favor of multilateral trading systems. At the Bali Ministerial in 2013 too, Africa and India had united in seeking an interim mechanism for safeguarding minimum support prices to farmers against WTO caps till a permanent solution is found and adopted. 
  • Cooperation to tackle terrorism: India strongly advocated stepped-up cooperation through intelligence exchange and training with 54 African countries. 
  • Cooperation on climate change between India and Africa, both who had “contributed the least to global warming”. 
  • Open and Free Oceans: 
    • India aims to enhance cooperation with African countries in order to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. 
    • India and Africa Maritime strategy: Indian Navy’s 2015 Maritime Strategy document and the African Union’s 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS 2050) aim for a free and open Indian ocean.
    • Complemented by  India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and SAGARMALA (port development) initiatives, the AAGC (Asia Africa Growth Corridor), with Africa being an equal partner, can potentially be a game-changer in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Non traditional threats: Addressing non-traditional threats in the Indian Ocean Region and Higher incidences of natural disasters and regional instabilities in the past decade have necessitated increased deployment of Indian Navy for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations.
  • New Global Order: The institutions of global governance that were created after the Second World War, like the UN, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation, failed to adapt to the changing global scenario and adequately represent the voice of the developing world.
    • India —the world’s largest democracy representing one-sixth of humanity, and Africa — with more than a quarter of UN members, cannot be kept out of the decision-making table.

Challenges: 

  • Dominance of China with deep pockets: India and China are competing with each other to build a stronger relationship with Africa. China even built up its first overseas military base in Djibouti.
    • China’s predatory and exploitative engagement of Africa: Its annual trade with Africa in 2019 stood at $208 billion, in addition to investments and loans worth $200 billion. 
    • Chinese infrastructure projects: It famously built the 1,860 km Tanzania-Zambia railway line in 1975, and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti and Mombasa-Nairobi lines more recently, China is now eyeing to develop the vast East Africa Master Railway Plan.
      • It is also developing the Trans-Maghreb Highway, the Mambilla Hydropower Plant in Nigeria, the Walvis Bay Container Terminal in Windhoek and the Caculo Cabaca Hydropower project in Angola. 
    • At the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (COCAC) in 2018, China set aside $60 billion in developmental assistance, followed by a whopping $1 billion Belt and Road (BRI) Infrastructure Fund for Africa. 
    • Health sector diplomacy in the wake of the pandemic, but its image has been tarnished by defective supplies of PPE gear and discriminatory behaviour against Africans in Guangzhou, leading to an embarrassing diplomatic row.
  • Financial limitations of India: India cannot compete with China or the U.S. Some of the African countries, even the richer ones like Nigeria, expect India to invest in Africa under the India Africa Forum Summit. However, India asserts for joint endeavor for better development. eg: Asia Africa growth Corridor.
  • Poverty and underdevelopment: The World Bank’s Africa’s Pulse, a biannual analysis of the near-term macroeconomic outlook for the region, in its report, assessed that the COVID-19 outbreak has sparked off the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region’s first recession in 25 years. 
  • Falling growth:Growth is expected to plummet to between -2.1 and -5.1 per cent in 2020, from a modest 2.4 per cent in 2019. 
  • Disinflation: The steep decline in commodity prices has spelt disaster for the economies of Nigeria, Zambia and Angola.

Sub-Saharan Africa is, geographically, the area of the continent of Africa that lies south of the Sahara. According to the United Nations, it consists of all African countries and territories that are fully or partially located south of the Sahara.

  • Health crisis: With high rates of HIV, malaria, diabetes, hypertension and malnourishment prevalent, a large number of Africans were already faced with a health and economic crisis. 
  • Increasing Public debt: According to the World Bank, the SSA region paid $35.8 billion in total debt service in 2018, 2.1 percent of regional gross domestic product (GDP). 
  • Attack on Africans in India: India will have to make efforts to make African nationals feel welcome. 
  • Terrorism in Africa: There has been an extraordinary increase in terrorist attacks by extremists connected to al-Qaida and ISIS across Africa over the recent years.

Way forward:

  • Fund for Africa: Together, African countries have sought a $100 billion rescue package, including a $44 billion waiver of interest payment by the world’s 20 largest economies.The IMF’s debt service relief of $500 million is too less for 25 countries of which 19 are in Africa. 
    • India could also create a new fund for Africa and adapt its grant-in-aid assistance to reflect the current priorities. This could include support for new investment projects by Indian entrepreneurs especially in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors in Africa.
  • Hosting virtual summits: India could consider structuring a series of virtual summits in zonal groups with African leaders across the continent over the next few months that could both provide a platform for a cooperative response to the pandemic.
  • Pandemic help: 
    • The Ministry of External Affairs has already extended the e-ITEC course on “COVID-19 Pandemic: Prevention and Management Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals” to healthcare workers in Africa. 
    • The Aarogya Setu App and the E-Gram Swaraj App for rural areas for mapping COVID-19 are technological achievements that could be shared with Africa. 
  • E-learning: Since the movement of African students to India for higher education has been disrupted, India may expand the e-VidyaBharti (tele education) project to establish an India-Africa Virtual University. 
  • Food and agricultural collaboration: With the locust scourge devastating the Horn of Africa and the pandemic worsening the food crisis, India could ramp up its collaboration in this sector.
  • Leveraging international relations: 
    • Both India and Japan share a common interest in forging a partnership for Africa’s development. 
    • It is time for the Quad Plus, in which the US, India, Japan and Australia have recently engaged other countries such as the ROK, Vietnam, New Zealand, Israel and Brazil, to exchange views and propose cooperation with select African countries abutting the Indian Ocean. 

At a time when various non-western powers like Japan, China, Malaysia, and Singapore are stepping up their presence in Africa, it is imperative for India to regularly consult with its African partners, and leverage its unique blend of development packages, technology transfer, human resource development, and infrastructure development, in order to be truly recognised as an ‘alternative development partner’.

Sources:

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/africa-day-india-coronavirus-covid-19-6432071/

https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/india-in-pivotal-geographies-africa-54356/

Image Source: Indiatoday