Evolution of India’s Africa Policy-lecture by Ambassador Gurjit Singh-17/02/2022 

From 1991 till the turn of the century, the African Renaissance takes place. It is not an easy time. But there are thought processes in different parts of Africa. The Omega plan, NEPAD, there were so many things happening, all these I’m just collectively calling the African Renaissance. I put it to you that post- 1991 India realises that the dynamics of the world have changed.

 Ambassador Gurjit Singh

The Evolution of India’s Africa Policy


By: Ambassador Gurjit Singh
Venue: School of International Relations and Strategic Studies & Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai
Date: February 17, 2022

Mike Bullet

Thank you so much Professor Renu Modi and Professor Rajesh Kherat for the warmth of your welcome. I must thank the Ministry of External Affairs and the University of Bombay for inviting me to address the India@75 Videsh Neeti Lecture series and what topic better than to talk about evolution of India’s Africa Policy.

Now, I would like to say that if you want to look at a success story of India’s foreign policy, I think Africa is the one that you can easily look at. It doesn’t have many problems; it seems to go at its own pace and rather smoothly. When I will talk about the evolution of India’s Africa policy, I take you back to the fact that we are geographically having a proximity. Just across the Indian Ocean is actually Africa. We are neighbours across the sea. Today we talk of connectivity, but for time immemorial, the monsoon winds provided us the connectivity between the coast of East Africa and Gujarat and what is today, Maharashtra. There was a large amount of trade and cultural interaction. Ultimately, this led to a common view of anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid action. Essentially, the genesis of India’s Africa policy is through people-to-people connections that was far well known and happening without any structure before governments stepped in.

You did mention Professor Appa Pant. He was well known in Kenya as a lawyer. He participated in the defence of Kenyan anti-colonial pro-independence fighters like Kenyatta. He was well known and deeply respected in East Africa. He came from western India, from where a large amount of diaspora particularly in East Africa also comes. This diaspora was part of this people to people connect that I’m talking about which preceded the independence of India. Before India became independent in 1947, there was a plethora of people-to-people cultural trade, investment, all this happening between India and Africa.

And then of course, there was Mahatma Gandhi, who can forget him, who was the ultimate people to people cultural connect between India and Africa. His role in India’s national movement, and India’s achievement of independence, it bolstered Africa’s own aspirations for equality, for independence from colonial rule. There were many African leaders who drew sustenance from India’s success in obtaining independence peacefully and I think that is a fact that brought us together in the post-independence period.

I bring you to 1955, the Afro-Asian Summit in Bandung. At that time there were only six African countries who participated. Two were actually not yet independent i.e., Sudan and Ghana, called the Gold Coast. They were not yet independent, but they participated in the Bandung conference. Around this time, I also recall that, when the Bretton Woods institutions were being set up around 1945, and so was the UN system, there were only four African countries who participated and one of them was apartheid South Africa. Africa was not really visible on the world stage at that time.

Between 1957 and 1964, a large number of African countries became independent across Africa. These countries got the membership of the Organisation of African Unity set up in 1963, the membership of the United Nations and the membership of the Non-Aligned Movement set up in 1961. These became there calling cards and the NAM and the UN brought India and Africa in together at the level of governments.

Subsequently, when India started formally looking at Africa, we found that private constructive engagement through entrepreneurship and cultural interaction had been established. There was the political will to support Africa in its anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movement. India and Africa joined together in the search for an egalitarian and responsive place in the international order. This is very important. India was a young country with a few years of independence behind it but it opened its institutions and experience to build capacity and human resources in African countries.

Therefore, now the G to G aspect starts coming in. In 1958, the Imperial Military Academy in Harar, Ethiopia was set up as the first capacity building institution by India in Africa. In 1960, a similar Academy was established in Nigeria. Interestingly, these were both military academies to start with, but I guess when you want to free yourself from colonialism, you first try and free your main institutions from them. I think that is where the military as institution came in.

The ITEC programme was started in 1964. Africa was included and slowly became the largest user of the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme. This was an institutionalised response to what people called South- South cooperation. They were the Buenos Aires conference, Addis Ababa conference, there are many conferences happening, and India was doing the ITEC programme from 1964.

The flow of private students from Africa to India started around that time as well. The scholarships played a small role, but a lot of private students started coming to India to study, again emphasising the private and people to people connection. India was ready to share its newfound experience and facilities to support African development. I think that is a very important aspect as well.

Several countries in Africa, though having secured independence had leftover problems like the Congo and later in other countries. India started participating in the UN peacekeeping operations in a big way from the first PKO in the Congo and continued participating till today. India has been one of the pioneers and one of the major troop contributing countries to bring peace and stability to Africa. Besides the UNPKO, India had more than 20 military training missions in different African countries. In the Cold War period, this was a sign of confidence that India was a non interfering benign partner, and willing to transfer our capacity building strength, create, in the militaries of African countries and we had no agenda of our own, beyond that. I think there was a respect being shown to Indian capacities.

When the Cold War ended around 1989 to 1991, the traditional colonial partners or even post-colonial partners of Africa, became embroiled more in their neighbourhood like Europe, and the Russians became involved in their own resettlement, the Americans got involved in Iraq. So suddenly Africa was open to new partners.

From 1991 till the turn of the century, the African Renaissance takes place. It is not an easy time. But there are thought processes in different parts of Africa. The Omega plan, NEPAD, there were so many things happening, all these I’m just collectively calling the African Renaissance. I put it to you that post- 1991 India realises that the dynamics of the world have changed. India’s economy is doing much better. Like earlier, we could share our capacity-building approach. Now we were willing to share our economic approach and capabilities. Therefore, from about 2000, a new approach starts, a more intensified approach, in which India’s Africa policy and African Renaissance become complementary to each other without contradiction.

I’m also happy that 20 years ago, in June 2002, the African Union was born. And it was born in Durban. I was there as a member of the Indian delegation; it was a proud moment to see the transition from the OAU to the AU. This was the African Renaissance. From 2002 onwards, the intensity of India’s evolution of policy towards Africa acquires many more dimensions. India, therefore, responded at this stage to African aspirations, post cold war and post creation of AU in a deep and fulsome manner.

What were the elements of this policy?

The ITEC programme became more intense and open to a larger number of countries and regional economic communities as well as the African Union Commission. The scholarship programmes got expanded. There were many bilateral programmes and India supported the Commonwealth initiative under the SCAAP programme.

In 2002, the Ministry of Commerce announced its Focus Africa programme, and there was so much enthusiasm that all African countries wanted to be considered for it, rather than the limited number initially targeted.

The IDEAS scheme, under which the lines of credit were announced, became a much deeper and larger scheme in 2003-04 from a budget announcement. The Team 9 which was the first time India dealt with a collective of countries in Central and West Africa was also announced in 2000.

The Pan Africa e-network project was announced in 2005 by President Kalam, and this acknowledged the role of the African Union and became the largest project that the African Union undertook at that stage with any partner. I believe it remains the largest grant project that India has done in Africa till date.

Not to forget that business relations, trade and investment needed to be looked at-and the India Africa conclave by CII and the Exim Bank of India also emerged in 2005.

By the time the African Union in 2006, at the Banjul Summit, decided to reach out to new partners to set up bilateral summits between Africa and let’s say, India, these were the various facets of intensified engagement with Africa, which were already to the fore. Now I am not going to go into much more detail than this but those who are interested, Professor Modi mentioned my new book, The Harambee Factor that has a whole chapter on the evolution of India’s Africa policy in where the details are in deeply covered.

Now, before I develop the India – Africa Forum Summit concept, let me take you to the articulation based on these ideas of India’s Africa policy. You can see these trends, you can see these traits, but there is no single articulation of them. In 2018, while addressing the Parliament of Uganda, Prime Minister Modi made a very important speech in the course of which he identified 10 ideas, which he said, formed the basis of India’s Africa policy. And what were these? First Africa would be top priority for India and the relationship would be intensified. This is the trend I have told you, which happened up to 2006 and thereafter through the India-Africa summits, which I will come to.

Then he said the development partnerships will lead to capacity building, but will be based on African priorities. So we were in listening mode always. This comes from our experience of people-to-people connection; you cannot have cultural and trade exchanges in the private sector, which are led only by one side that was the lesson that India had. Much more market access to the Indian market for African trade was enunciated.

This led at the time of the first India Africa summit to the Duty Free Tariff Preference Scheme, which has been subsequently improved, and today covers about 97% of HS codes of all LDCs in Africa. More important than this concession it is to remember that in this period, post 2000, in fact, post 2006 Africa-India trade blooms and India become Africa’s third largest trading partner, in some years the second largest. The only countries beyond us are China and France. We have overtaken everybody else without any significant concessions for the whole of Africa, like Europe-Africa trade is actually based on concessions, duty preferences, but not so the Indian trade. There was a natural affinity to do more trade. In the last five years, Africa actually has a trade surplus with India because of its energy exports. As the Indian investments in Mozambique gas fields succeed, and more gas is imported, this trade will bloom even further.

The fourth aspect was the digital revolution, which will apply to improving development in Africa. This focused on E-governance and the fact that India was contributing through its government programmes to a large number of IT centres, including a very large Centre in Ghana, and in many other countries and Indian private sector had moved into the telecom sector, into IT training and services.

The fifth point of Prime Minister Modi’s policy was agriculture. He said that with so much arable land and Africa still imported food, India would work with them for improvement of their agriculture with both technical cooperation and FDI for enhancing production.

The sixth aspect was more contemporary, climate change. India and Africa were to work together on climate change. Now with the Conference of Parties 27th ministerial meeting scheduled for Egypt, I think next year 2023, it is time for India and Africa to actually put substance into this idea and discuss directly what we can both do and deal with adaptation and mitigation and not depend only on a North-South relationship.

The seventh clause of the 10 point, Africa policy enunciation was counterterrorism, cybersecurity and maintaining peace. That means the peacekeeping operations were recognised, but we went beyond into talking about counterterrorism because that is what India and Africa are afflicted by: the terrorism in Somalia for many years, in the Sahel, now in Mozambique and many countries and India and through various efforts is working with them, India is trying to have cybersecurity dialogue and see how that can be handled. It is the need of the hour with contemporary technology that India has, these are the basics of how we are moving forward with Africa.

The eighth point was how to keep the oceans open. Now I go back to the beginning of my lecture today. I said it was the ocean which was the connectivity between India and Africa. Now if that ocean became threatened, this connectivity would get curtailed. India and Africa would like to work together to keep these oceans open and therefore when India talks of its Indian Ocean policy, or its Indo-Pacific policy, we are the one country which includes Africa in it. Of course, now, so do Japan, so do France, but for many countries, the Indo-Pacific actually was beyond India, but India brought African shores and the Indian Ocean firmly into the Indo-Pacific understanding. India is working with several countries in the western Indian Ocean, Mozambique, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, to develop capacities to deal with non -traditional threats of terrorism, money laundering, drug running, and maritime security.

The ninth point was keep African people at the core of our Africa policy. This means people to people connections to be enhanced. Prime Minister Modi also said, that our evolution of policy will never allow us to take sides in African continent. So, when today Africa talks of African solutions for African conflicts, it is something that India has always abided by but it was never articulated. That was our policy, always, Africa for African solutions to African problems. We can share experiences, build capacities and help but we will not intervene or interfere. That is why outside the UN PKO India does not send troops to Africa in any way. It is very important to note this.

The final 10th point was India and Africa would jointly work towards a just and democratic global order. I go back to what I said earlier right from Bandung onwards, India has spoken up for Africa, spoken and worked on NAM, when it came to WTO, when it came to UNCTAD, when it came to WHO, India stood with Africa always and looked for African countries to become members of these bodies. India stands with Africa to bring it into the UN Security Council on a permanent basis. India and Africa share that aspiration. I put it to you that other friends of Africa, perhaps do not share this aspiration, especially those who are already permanent members of the UN Security Council. They are muddying the waters. It is India which is saying that Africa must be represented because unless you agree to an expansion in both categories, permanent and non permanent, how will the Ezulwini consensus ever get implemented? So simply saying we support the Ezulwini Consensus without supporting it at the UN and they are opposing expansion of permanent membership as some countries want to do is chickening out. It is my view that India has been consistent that if this is our fight together, we must be heard together. We are both not being given our due place in the Sun.

Ladies and gentlemen, when I look at this, I go back to 2006 when Africa decided to invite India for a Summit. Indian policy blossomed and so far, three India-Africa summits first one 2008 in New Delhi, the second one 2011 in Addis Ababa, and the third one in New Delhi, 2015 were held the fourth one has been delayed by the pandemic and sooner or later it will be held.

These summits brought a large amount of low-cost finance to Africa. It came without discrimination. Whereas other partners would lend to investment grade countries alone, India specialised in lending to the highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) and to the LDCs. Therefore, India has lending programmes in 41 African countries. In my book, I have analysed which countries have not borrowed and for what reason, but they are actually the more well to do African countries. All the African countries who required soft loans have received them from India. This has expanded private sector relationships, brought governments closer together, and I believe contributed to African development in a fulsome manner.

Therefore, the private sector which originally began with traders, investors and engineers is today expanded as entrepreneurs all support African development, support regional trade, support African exports. Capacity building remains the core of our policy. Even India’s private sector is among Africa’s partners who invest in Africa, are the best of those who build the biggest capacities and transfer the most technology. This is a part of our DNA. Similarly, seeking a multilateral solution to the world, what we call reformed multilateralism is a part of our Africa policy. We want international institutions to be reformed. We want Africa to have a say and presence in them, and we support Africa’s voice to be heard globally for itself.

ladies and gentlemen, I aim to tell you that we are looking at Africa as a dynamic partner for the future of the globe, where we want to deal with all current issues, climate change, cyber, investment, terrorism, other non-traditional threats, connectivity, this is what we want to do.

Finally, I would like to say that I believe India’s model of cooperation with Africa had two very significant aspects. First, India was not Europe or even other developed Asian countries, that Africa could not be like. I believe India was the one country with its plurality, with its democracy. demographic dividend, with its economic growth and its developing status, which provided Africa a role model which could be emulated in their own way.

Secondly India provided Africa a contemporary relationship, which has moved beyond the partnership of the anti-colonialism era. Today, India and Africa come together to do things which are important for Africa and which India may provide. Today I think there are no sectors left, where India can not engage with Africa. This is because of India’s policy.

In my days, when I dealt with the African Union, there were two things that they told me. One everybody wants to know who is better China or India. And most people used to say China does more but India does better, a very diplomatic way but I think that was the message in this. Secondly, the then chairman of the African Union Commission said that India was the one country which actually adopted a three-tier approach of the African Union, the regional communities and bilateral and allowed Africa to take its own decisions. Therefore, when we offered 100 institutions to Africa, they were left at all these three levels for them to make choices.

While making those choices, there was a capacity building of decision making which came into these African institutions. Last and not least, India does not believe that you need to say India, India, India all the time. India believes the best resources of Africa live in the continent and don’t lie under the ground. India also believes that if we can build human and institutional capacity in Africa, we would make a contribution to the development of that continent on its own terms, and post COVID we will take things to new levels, which are now coming up.

With that I would like to conclude my lecture here today. I look forward to interacting with you.


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