The second summit was held at the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, with India and 15 African countries participating. The leaders discussed significant aspects of the India-Africa partnership with the objective of enhancing and widening its ambit for mutual benefit.
Then, the third summit in a rotation basis was held last week in India. That 5 day summit started with consultations on official level followed by the head of states/government level. It was Modi government's biggest diplomatic outreach involving 54 delegates from African nations.
The main agenda of that summit was to push for a permanent seat from both parties( India-Africa) at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Both experts have been examining mechanisms that India and Africa can put in place for developing countries to have their say as global actors on the International scene rather than depend wholly on others.
On the economical and political posture, the outcome of the summit is being judged by the conversion of the promises that were made on both sides into action in a continent where China's footprints is all over. China has been wooing Africa for the last 15 years or so. It has been pouring billions into ports, rail tracks, football stadiums, highways, dams and other major infrastructure projects. China is Africa largest trading partner doing an annual trade roughly $ 200. Much of the trade is related to getting Africa's oil and minerals shipped to mainland China to fuel its insatiable hunger. India is also wooing mineral-rich Africa for the same reasons as China.
As India's economy takes off again, the need for natural resources will steadily mount. Already India is buying oil from Nigeria, Algeria, Mozambique and Angola. Politically speaking India is not in position to dictate its agenda in Africa, since India and Africa face similar challenges in that respect and both can learn from each other.
India's economic engagement in Africa expanded in recent years. India companies have been present on the continent for many decades, particularly in East Africa where, historically, there has been a large Indian diaspora. However, the relationship has expanded over the past decade, helped by governments instruments intended to encourage Indian Companies to do business with Africa. There have included the extension of lines of credit and capacity-building initiatives.
India's overall two-way trade with Africa has expanded significantly from where it was at the turn of the century, rising to $70 billion, compared with $5 billion in 2001. African exports are dominated by resources: Africa is considered important in securing India's energy security. In 2008, India extended duty-free access to its markets for 34 of the poorest countries in Africa.
In terms of investment, India's total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa grew by 14 percent from 2010-2013, compared with its global FDI, which grew by 18 percent, or $13.6 billion. Apart from Mauritius, which acts as tax haven, the leading destinations for India FDI in 2011 were Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Libya and South Africa.
Indian companies have invested in sectors ranging from chemicals and pharmaceuticals to IT and telecoms. India firms have also invested in resources, including oil in Sudan and copper in Zambia.
India political ties with Africa go back many decades. India was at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa and was a key leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, while many of its companies have had a presence in Africa countries for many years, India had neglected the political and diplomatic aspects of relations. The establishment of the India-Africa Forum in 2008 was a way to revitalize those earlier links.
In the wake of a resurgent Africa and solid economic growth in India during past decade, Africa has become a commercial opportunity for Indian business and increasingly, the stage for a more active Indian foreign policy, as India begins projecting itself beyond its region as an aspiring global power.
India has cultivated a strong political relationship with South Africa, the continent's economic powerhouse, but also a country with which India shares similar views on reforming the global governance system, they are both members of the BRICS. East African countries remain important, increasingly so in the context of India's renewed interets in the Indian Ocean.
On the economic front India is much smaller player than China or the the United States. Also, politically India's high level engagement is much smaller than China's. The U.S. too, has been perceived by Africans to have only re-engaged recently, at least at a political level with Africa, with President Obama's first U.S.-Africa summit in 2014. India seeks to emphasize its South-South cooperation credentials and the government's commitment to capacity-building on the continent and knowledge-sharing, especially in technology.
Although never articulated directly, India;s narrative seek to differentiate its Africa ties from China's engagement in Africa. Indeed, perceptions of India in Africa are generally more favorable than those of China, although Indian extractive companies such as Vedanta have had their share of negative press. India's long standing, active role in the U.N, peacekeeping, with currently some 4, 500 blue helmets in Africa, also distinguishes it form other external actors.
Although no much could be filtered out, the outcome of the third India-Africa Forum Summit, last week, lies more on the conversion into action of the promises that have come out of that summit.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert