External Affairs

As Growth in the West Slows Down, India and Africa Need Each Other Even More

When the India-Africa Forum Summit takes place in New Delhi next week, leaders from both sides will face the challenge of turning words and sentiments into a plan of action that establishes a new paradigm for international economic relations

Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman in a group photograph with the delegates of African countries at the India-Africa Trade Ministers’ Meeting 2015 in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Singh

Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman in a group photograph with the delegates of African countries at the India-Africa Trade Ministers’ Meeting 2015 in New Delhi on Friday. Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Singh

India and Africa stood together in their struggle against colonial rule and then again during their post-colonial reconstruction programmes but the need for a comprehensive development partnership has never been more pressing than at the current time.

In Africa and India, domestic expectations and democratic structures have evolved to a point where both sides need partners willing to work with them towards the fulfilment of their development requirements. The solidarity and complementarity between India and Africa reflects the new aspirations of their people. Driven by the time-tested principles of mutual benefit, understanding and equality, the heightened pace of engagement marks the emergence of new dynamics in South-South cooperation. Next week, when the largest ever India-Africa Forum Summit takes place in New Delhi, leaders from both sides will face the challenge of turning their words and sentiments into a concrete plan of action that establishes a new paradigm for international economic relations.

While consolidating its partnership with Africa, India has focused on five elements as articulated in the concept of a ‘development compact’. These are: (i) trade and investment; (ii) technology; (iii) capacity building; (iv) lines of credits; and (v) concessional finance. In both theory and implementation, this stands in contrast to the essentially transactional manner in which other global players have sought to deal with the continent.

It was way back in 1979 that Nobel laureate Arthur Lewis offered the best possible rationale for South-South cooperation: “When Northern economies were booming, the South could reap some advantages in linking itself with Northern markets. If the North is now entering a period of structural readjustment to much lower levels of growth, the developing countries must increasingly look to themselves and to each other to sustain their movement of development”.

Today, the merit of Lewis’s argument is stronger than it has ever been. Apart from the declining salience of the North-South plank in growth terms, it is the principles that govern South-South cooperation – mutual gain, non-interference, collective growth opportunities and the absence of loan conditionalities – which make the latter so attractive. No less a person than US President Barack Obama has been forced to recognise this reality when he said in a speech in Addis Ababa on July 28, 2015:  “So many Africans have told me, we don’t want just aid, we want trade that fuels progress.  We don’t want patrons, we want partners who help us build our own capacity to grow.  We don’t want the indignity of dependence, we want to make our own choices and determine our own future.” Obama hit the nail on its head. That he has not been able to do anything to change the way the US or the West relates to Africa is another matter.

Old partnership, new promise

Post-colonial India and Africa were drawn together to address similar development challenges facing them. Soon after it won its own independence, India in 1949 established 70 scholarships to foster cultural and educational relations with Africa. This number gradually rose to several hundred. In a circular issued in 1953, the Central government asked state governments to support at least two students from East and Central Africa. In the same year another scheme was launched giving 25 scholarships for African countries to provide training in cottage industries.

Since then, there has been an increasing focus on three ways of fostering African capacities: providing training in India, sending teams of experts to partner countries, and providing equipment for project sites.

India also helped create capacity among African countries in their negotiations with the advanced economies. In 1956, Delhi loaned out the services of key financial officials to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) for its negotiations with the UK in connection with the massive Volta River hydro project. Support for capacity building in Africa has continued; India recently has acted as mediator between groups and factions across different regions in Africa and has also taken up larger issues at various multilateral forums including WTO and WIPO.

Indian experts are sent abroad under the ITEC programme in accordance with requests from partner countries. They usually work in health, agriculture, engineering, teaching, accounts, small-scale industry and legislative drafting. Such expertise has greatly contributed to an observable incremental improvement in vital developmental sectors in the partner economies. India has also evolved specific training programmes for addressing sectoral challenges across newly independent countries, particularly in Africa.

So far, India has implemented 137 projects across 41 African countries with lines of credit worth US$ 7.5 billion. Almost 70% of these projects have a capacity-building component. Apart from this, other strong capacity-building programmes have also been pursued. For instance, 15,000 fellowships were created after the first India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008 and nearly 25,000 fellowships since then. The telemedicine work programme under the Pan-African E-network has connected 48 countries.

India-Africa engagement in the health sector has been growing at a rapid pace in areas like the export of high quality, low-priced Indian pharmaceuticals, setting up of manufacturing units, creating healthcare infrastructure facilities within Africa, medical tourism, telemedicine, capacity building, traditional medicine, etc. India-Africa development cooperation in the healthcare sector assumes added importance in view of Sustainable Development Goal 3 that calls for ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

While India and Africa have done much over the past decade, the window of opportunity is also much bigger provided the two sides can their development cooperation to connect with the rising aspirations of their people.  India and Africa are young economies, with 65% and 57% of their population between 15-64 years, respectively. Partnerships for start-ups, particularly in the realm of ICT, may provide a major fillip. Water conservation and alternative energy are some of the important areas where we have shared priorities. The time-tested principle of mutual benefit, solidarity, mutual understanding, equality and complementarity must continue to guide India-Africa development cooperation.

Sachin Chaturvedi is Director General, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), a think-tank in New Delhi