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Is India still sleeping?

Is India still sleeping?
In less than a month’s <g data-gr-id="92">time</g> India’s BJP-led government will be hosting <g data-gr-id="91">its</g> first ever Africa Summit. With more than 35 African governments having accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to attend, IAFS 3 promises to be <g data-gr-id="90">grandiose</g> affair. IAFS 3 comes at a time when Africa will be playing host to one of its other partners, China. The 6th China Africa Forum, co-chaired by South Africa will take place from the 4-5 December in Johannesburg. Perhaps this is an opportunity for New Delhi not to be caught following the dragon’s tail but rather setting its own mark in its African engagement.
But before the Modi government can start rolling its action plan on Africa, there needs to be some form of reflection on how far India has come in its Africa Policy. <g data-gr-id="67">Lets</g> consider some of <g data-gr-id="66">the more</g> fundamental commitments made in the past several years.

In 2013, India’s former commerce and industry minister, Anand Sharma noted that the sub-continent actor hoped to increase bilateral trade between New Delhi and Africa to $100bn by 2015. In 2014 two way trade was estimated to be around $70 bn while in 2015 it is projected to fall short of its target to reach $90 bn. Although there seems to be some mixed reaction around whether India will reach the projected figure for 2015 since trade seems to be stagnating.

At the 2014 world Economic Forum hosted in New Delhi African leaders and Indian industrialists suggested alike that trade between the two sides is envisioned to reach $500 bn by 2020.

So how do we <g data-gr-id="71">contextualise</g> these trade statistics and projections?
Tralac a trade law think tank based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, published an article by the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria in which it was noted that in 2014 India overtook the US to become Africa’s second largest trading partner after China. This is a significant issue for India strengthening <g data-gr-id="86">its</g> Africa policy.

But what does this say about Africa’s position in the broader picture of India’s global trading profile?
For the financial period 2014-2015 India’s top five trading partners did not feature a single African country; only two African countries Nigeria and South Africa appeared in India’s list of op 25 trading partners at 12 and 22 respectively.

In the same period, Africa’s share of India’s total exports only constituted about eight <g data-gr-id="79">per cent</g> while its share of India’s total imports was around seven per cent. These figures suggest that despite all the headline news about India’s economic footprint in Africa, the continent represents a meager component of New Delhi’s global trade footprint. Even where the trade numbers seem to indicate a large volume, it must seen in context that Africa is a continent of 54 countries and in quantitative terms the figure is negligible while bearing in mind that much of this trade could be fueled by a few resource rich countries. An interesting exercise of note is that India’s trade with Africa is almost equivalent to its trade with its top trading partner, China, of over $72 bn for the period 2014-2015. This is lesson 1.

Lesson 2 is to not aggregate but disaggregate India’s corporate footprint in Africa. According to a FDI market report on India’s investment flows into Africa only a total of 165 Indian companies invested in Africa compared to 53,024 corporates that have invested globally between January 2003 and July 2015. This again demonstrates that the engagement must be broken down to understand how the numbers are understood in reality.

Having used the above two examples, what should one glean about the India-Africa engagement or Africa’s interaction with India?

There are several issues that come to the fore. First, India’s Africa Policy still remains cautiously defined. This became clear when a discussion in March hosted by a prestigious Indian think tank in Delhi brought forward the debate of where does Africa fit in Modi’s new foreign policy diplomacy and whether Africa is still a relevant area for the country.

Second, if India wants to demonstrate that it is ‘not sleep walking’ in Africa, then it needs to develop an official White Paper on its Africa Policy. This will certainly provide more impetus and a coherent roadmap to the relationship. Launching such a policy document at IAFS 3 will definitely set the Modi government apart from its predecessors. It <g data-gr-id="109">maybe</g> instructive here to note that China has already drafted a second white paper on its Africa Policy, which looks likely to be released ahead of the 6th FOCAC Summit.

Third, and perhaps more significant is that the Africa-India engagement while important to recognise historical linkages and support must take into account the realities of the new context of the international system and the development agenda. 

It cannot be ‘business as usual’ with India gushing about how important Africa is to its global aspirations and vice versa. Putting that rhetoric into action can be established in what New Delhi sees as their values add to the continent’s development vision and action plan of Agenda 2063.

Fourth, India should not treat nor dismiss Africa as a junior or muted partner. While this may not seem the case, the first US-India consultation on Africa that took place in April 2015 certainly echoes some of this sentiment. It seems that there <g data-gr-id="84">maybe</g> room for interpretation that New Delhi and Washington are becoming partners in Africa’s strategic issue with perhaps little input from the Africa side. This is definitely not how Africa’s relationship with emerging actors is perceived, at least by continental commentators and analysts.

With the above in mind, IAFS 3 represents an opportunity for the Modi government to set put a pragmatic agenda for how it will chart its engagement with the continent over the next three years. 
Both sides need to be decisive in the partnership with Africa being more coherent about what it wants out of New Delhi and Delhi being explicit about what it wants to achieve.
Sanusha Naidu

Sanusha Naidu

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