India’s engagement with Africa is set to enter a new phase with the hosting of the five-day summit meeting with the leaders of the continent. The first summit level talks was held in 2008 in New Delhi and the second one in 2011 at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Though links between India and Africa are millennia old and New Delhi had supported continent’s struggle for independence and fight against apartheid, China could score the point on having more intensive engagement with the continent. Comparatively India’s structured institutional engagement with Africa as a whole had a late start. But better late than never. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly seized the opportunity for deepening relationships with Africa picking up the thread from 2008.

What Prime Minister Modi intends is to give a new direction to India’s institutional relationship with Africa. The earlier Banjul formula of inviting only 15 heads of state or government through the African Union has been done away with. Now all the 54 heads of state and government have been invited to the five-day Third India-Africa Summit in New Delhi and with almost all the African leaders participating, it is the largest international summit meeting to be hosted by India after 1983 NAM and CHOGM summits. This led Prime Minister Modi to tweet “Level of engagement for @indiafrica2015 <https://twitter.com/indiafrica2015> has been tremendously scaled up.”

Turkey, Japan, European Union, China, South Korea and, lately, US have regular institutional arrangements with the natural resource-rich continent. Competition in engagement should not be a policy, as, in a multi-polar world there is enough space for every country to develop relationship suiting to its own convenience and to the needs of Africa.

India, therefore, needs to develop its relationship with Africa in its own
unique way. Since Banjul formula has been done away with, India needs to intensify its relationship with African countries through bilateral, regional and pan-African formats. There are several economic and political groups in the vast continent catering to regional interests and India needs to directly engage with these groups. At the same time, we also need to maintain our relations with the African Union.

So far India’s development assistance was routed through the African Union. But the vast continent has countries with varied needs and priorities for development. Therefore it is necessary that India engage with these countries directly or through regional groups. Other venues of India’s engagement are Economic Commission for Africa, Afro-Asian Rural Development Organisation (AARO), Pan African Parliament and Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Recently, South Africa hosted the 5th BRICS Summit with focus on partnership for development, integration and industrialisation of Africa. BRICS countries agreed to set up a Development Bank to meet the needs of developing and least development countries in which African countries can be beneficiaries.

India’s basic approach of development cooperation is a three-pronged strategy – technical assistance, line of credit (LoC) and grants. Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) was launched as early as in 1964 to share its development experiences with fellow developing countries, but then the continent of Africa as a whole was not much in the focus. To give focus to the country’s development cooperation programmes, a separate Development Partnership Administration (DPA) was set up in the External Affairs Ministry in January 2012. For promoting economic diplomacy Investment and Technology Promotion (ITP) Division was also created.

Since the First India-Africa Summit, India committed $7.4 billion Line of Credit (LoC), out of which $6.8 billion have been approved and $3.5 billion has been disbursed which created 137 projects in 41 countries. Total grant element in the LoC was $500 million. Though the pace of capacity building and training has been satisfactory, that of setting up of projects and institutions has been slow due to the delay in preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) by African countries. India, with the help of AU, could set up Pan-African e-network for education and health in 48 countries.

Since the first summit, New Delhi extended 40,000 scholarships for pursuing higher studies in India. Indian pharma companies supplied cheap medicines to contain HIV AIDS in Africa, but its role in containing Ebola outbreak was limited.

It is an irony that while Africa seeks more engagements with India, New Delhi’s response has not kept up to that pace. There are 43 African Missions in New Delhi while India has set up permanent missions in only about 25 countries.

There are some of the fastest growing economies in the world in Africa. It is a continent which has large amounts of arable land and rich in natural resources including oil and gas. It is a demographically young continent – 65 % of African population is under the age of 35. It has got a long coastline, very important in trade and strategic terms, of 26,000 km. But of course, there are several landlocked countries too.

Africa has adopted 2063 Agenda for sustainable development, good governance, rule of law, democracy, gender equity, renewable energy, sustainable fisheries. The UN adopted Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 with 17 goals and 169 targets. Will India be an active partner in Africa’s development? Can India be a leader of the developing world, including the land locked countries and Small Island states in the global fora, particularly in the context upcoming G-20 summit, Paris conference on climate change and WTO Ministerial in Nairobi?

Africa represents 28% of UN membership and its support is crucial for India getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. UAE, Singapore, UN Coordinator for Africa, UN Global Head for HIV AIDS and President of the African Development Bank are invited as special guests in the summit as they are interested in financing projects addressing health and social issues.

Apart from development of the continent, there are areas of win-win situation for both sides. Bilateral trade has reached $ 70 billion and needs to scale up further. Indian corporates’ investment in the resource-rich continent is in the range of $30-35 billion. There is a 2.7 million Indian diaspora in Africa. There are ample scope for setting up fertilisers plants in Africa with buyback arrangements.

New Delhi depends upon import of pulses from countries such as Tanzania to meet its shortages. Nigeria exports oil to India. Mozambique has huge gas potential and there are new hydrocarbon discoveries in North Africa including Somalia. About 400-strong business African delegation are part of the business forum meeting and trade ministers’ meeting, likely to sort out problems in trade and investment.

Finally development can take place when there is peace and security. Africa is facing terrorist threats from Boko Haram and Al Shabab. India has joint working groups on counter-terrorism and defence training arrangements with several African countries which need to be extended to others. India is already in UN peacekeeping mission in Africa. Countries on the east coast of Africa are crucial for maritime security in the Indian Ocean and New Delhi has offered them a package of maritime security and sustainable blue economy.

All now await the finalisation of the joint action plan with the African Union after the summit meeting which would pave the way for 2.3 billion people of India and Africa working together.