India’s Africa policy under Modi

India’s Africa policy under Modi
In October, India will host the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS III). Postponed from December 2014 because of the Ebola crisis, IAS III promises to be a spectacular event with more than 50 African states as well as representatives from the African Union and continental bodies like the NEPAD agency invited to attend the meeting in New Delhi. This is a significant departure from the more low keyed affair and stance adopted by the Congress-led government in the previous two Summits (2008 and 2011) <g data-gr-id="137">where</g> only 14 African governments together with AU officials participated in the discussions. IAFS III is being viewed as one of the largest gatherings of foreign leaders to take place in the Indian capital since it played host to the 1983 Commonwealth Summit.

With the Indira Gandhi National Stadium identified to be the venue, IAFS III should definitely be seen as more than just a diplomatic calendar event of platitudes and rhetoric. It needs to be examined against a backdrop of several critical issues that are relevant and contextualise the India-Africa engagement.

The most prominent of these is that IAFS III is taking place under a new Indian administration in power. An issue of note that should not be ignored. Since taking <g data-gr-id="175">office</g> the foreign policy of the Modi government has been perceived as being proactive and infused with vitality and <g data-gr-id="174">rigor</g>. South Asia, the broader Asia-Pacific region and notwithstanding the USA and China have all become key impulses in strengthening New Delhi’s geo-strategic orientations in terms of its regional and global affairs. Following more than a year in office, Prime Minister Modi had visited over 20 countries in his official capacity. Not deviating from the view that foreign policy and economics are inextricably linked, which has always been emphasised as key focus in India’s foreign policy, Modi is steadily pushing for his brand of “Make in India” Economics. And this does seem to suggest as one Indian analyst recently commented that it is not about being cautious and risk-averse but active and nimble.

So how does Africa fit into this new foreign policy thinking of India?
Well for starters in Modi’s 20 official visits; Africa did not feature prominently, barring his stops in Mauritius and Seychelles, which, of course, fall in the Indian Ocean Rim. This in itself is subjected to an array of different interpretations and implications. 

Second, as the “Make in India” initiative deepens, African countries need to be clear about what are the implications for them in respect of regional production networks, integration into global value chains, and development of national industrialisation programmes. In the current issue of The Economist, population forecasts by the UN <g data-gr-id="147">suggests</g> that India will overtake China and become the most populous country reaching 1.4 billion people by 2022. This is estimated to take place almost six years earlier than what the global body had previously forecast.

For <g data-gr-id="170">Africa</g> the writing is on the wall if it is to strategically engineer an integrated industrial development programme that enables it to compete with India in the global value chain process. This is because for India, which is active in both the <g data-gr-id="168">high value</g> capital intensive services and the <g data-gr-id="169">low cost</g> labour intensive sectors of global value chains, it is not going to relinquish this position easily, especially if it is to ensure that employment opportunities are maintained for its growing population. The case in point is the diamond industry. India’s comparative advantage in the cutting and polishing sector raises corresponding issues for a country like Botswana that relies on uncut diamonds as a major export. 

Even though under IAFS II, India announced the set up of a Diamond Institute in the Southern Africa country, it is unclear whether competing with India in this sector will be beneficial for Botswana’s integration into the diamond global value chain production network (outside of extraction) and, hence, its industrialisation prospects. The challenge is that India like all sovereign states <g data-gr-id="157">are</g> focused on strengthening the linkages between foreign policy and national development. And of <g data-gr-id="156">course</g> an Indian government would not want to compromise the labour prospects of its voting population.

Third, while India seems to have become a more confident foreign policy actor, Africa countries must gauge how this will work in their favour. At a meeting hosted by a prestigious Indian think tank in March of this year in Delhi, it was abundantly obvious that the Africa focus seems to be becoming tepid. Much of this has to do with a lack of responsibility on the African side in taking ownership of projects.

Or for that matter collectively identifying with their Indian counterparts how training and capacity building programmes can be tailored to their specific needs that <g data-gr-id="161">enables</g> them to take advantage of opportunities. The Pan-African e-network is one such project where the Indians have noted their frustrations with the transfer of the project to the African Union, which has been delayed because the AU has noted that it does not have the resources to take over the project.

Fourth, and perhaps most compelling is that the African Rising narrative is <g data-gr-id="153">stabilizing</g>, if not tapering off. From this perspective, Africa has to be clear about what it wants to achieve and gain from IAFS III in terms of capitalising on the post rising period. To this end, defining a realistic strategy that is based on pragmatic outcomes and deliverables must inform deliberations in October, bearing in mind that the Indian government has indicated that IAFS III will not be about big headline announcements but rather a review of projects implemented and of the engagement in the past seven years. With this mind, African governments must be prepared for less attention-grabbing declarations and start showing that they are also willing to commit resources and responsibility to the IAFS process.

At the same time, though, India also has to show that its renewed foreign policy focus puts to rest previous critical claims that Delhi is “sleep-walking” in Africa. This means that Delhi should refrain from comparing what China is doing in Africa and how far Beijing has advanced its relations with African countries. 

Obviously this is even difficult for actors like the US to abstain from, but India has the opportunity to pursue what been described by India’s most esteemed strategic thinker, C Raja Mohan as Modi's pragmatic diplomacy.

Sanusha Naidu

Sanusha Naidu

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