A promising inclusive development, India seeks to move China to Africa

This week, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar traveled to Kenya to co-chair, with his Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo, the third meeting of the India-Kenya Joint Commission. His trip to the strategic neighbor of the Indian Ocean highlights the importance India attaches to its relations with Kenya. Not only does New Delhi consider the country a gateway to mainland Africa, it is also home to 80,000 people formally classified as people of Indian origin (including 20,000 Indian citizens). India and Kenya currently sit on the United Nations Security Council and are also members of the Commonwealth.

During the visit, representatives of the nations discussed various bilateral, regional and global issues, including partnership for development, delivery of healthcare and ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.

This week, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar traveled to Kenya to co-chair, with his Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo, the third meeting of the India-Kenya Joint Commission. His trip to the strategic neighbor of the Indian Ocean highlights the importance India attaches to its relations with Kenya. Not only does New Delhi consider the country a gateway to mainland Africa, it is also home to 80,000 people formally classified as people of Indian origin (including 20,000 Indian citizens). India and Kenya currently sit on the United Nations Security Council and are also members of the Commonwealth.

During the visit, representatives of the nations discussed various bilateral, regional and global issues, including partnership for development, delivery of healthcare and ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.

These talks took place at a time when India seeks to consolidate its reach in Africa through sustained and regular high-level visits in order to strengthen its image as one of Africa’s main development partners. The fact that India has kept its supply lines open during much of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensured that essential supplies of drugs and medical equipment reach countries in need in Africa testifies to India’s desire to become an unwavering and reliable partner, even though in late March, when India faced a devastating second wave of the virus, it had to stop the export of AstraZeneca vaccines. This took a heavy toll on immunization programs in African countries, which depended mainly on supplies from the COVAX global vaccine sharing facility.

Despite facing growing challenges at home, India and South Africa have nonetheless defended a patent waiver for vaccines at the World Trade Organization in order to increase the capacity of developing countries. to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines and medical products. In order to find a lasting solution to the pandemic, the proposal of India and South Africa is now supported by the United States after months of hesitation from the Biden administration.

Their joint efforts on this global challenge may be a sign of things to come.


Since its independence, India has always supported the anti-colonial and anti-racist liberation struggles in Africa. While the previous relationship built on the legacy of colonialism, a wave of liberalization and privatization in India in the 1990s led to a decisive shift in its African commitment to trade and economic issues. However, despite a strong commitment for over 70 years, India never really had a clear, long-term strategy to develop a broader relationship with the continent. And, for the most part, India has failed to capitalize on the immense historical goodwill it enjoys there.

But that could change. With ideological and political issues fading into the background, economic and, more recently, security ties have breathed new life into the relationship.

The most striking example is the creation of the India-Africa Forum Summit, which made it possible to institutionalize and formalize India’s relations with its African partners. To date, the platform has organized three summits (in 2008, 2011 and 2015), which have provided India and African countries with a platform to engage constructively.

The fourth edition of the summit, which has been delayed due to the pandemic, is expected to take place in Mauritania later this year. The summit aims to incorporate inputs from an upcoming meeting on India-Africa collaboration organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Export and Import Bank of India. The main thrusts will be skills and capacity building initiatives, healthcare, agriculture, maritime safety, climate change and the promotion of the digital revolution in Africa.

Another important step was the development of 10 Guiding Principles for India’s Engagement in Africa during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the Ugandan Parliament in July 2018. These pillars reflect a shift in nuances of priorities from India. For example, Indian private and government officials consistently underscore India’s desire for its partnerships to be inclusive, people-centered, sustainable, transparent, and driven by Africa’s needs and priorities. These principles form the basis of a coherent and comprehensive strategy. And there are also security concerns. India sees African countries, especially those with coasts on the Indian Ocean, as an essential part of its Indo-Pacific strategy. India shares a rich history of maritime commerce with these nations in particular, and has signed defense and navigation agreements with many of them.


Over the past two decades, African countries, as well as those in India’s immediate neighborhood, have been at the center of much of New Delhi’s development assistance through concessional lines of credit, grants and capacity building initiatives. Unlike loans from China – and even from the IMF and the World Bank – India’s lines of credit are demand-driven, advisory, transparent and unconditional. From 2002 to February, India granted the continent $ 11 billion in concessions. This is combined with aid grants in the hundreds of millions and scholarships for African students.

The trade and investment partnership has also grown in recent years. Indo-African trade increased from $ 51.7 billion in 2010-2011 to $ 66.7 billion in 2019-2020. During the same period, African exports to India also increased by around $ 5 billion. About 8 percent of India’s imports come from Africa and 9 percent of Africa’s imports from outside the continent come from India. Indian public and private sector companies are also investing in Africa, making India the eighth largest investor in the country.

Beyond loans and investments, India has also helped Africa in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Jaishankar, India “offered 150 [metric tons] medical aid to 25 [African] countries. As part of the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative, we have provided 24.7 million doses of India-made COVID vaccines as grants, and commercial and COVAX supplies to 42 countries in Africa. Although these supplies have been temporarily halted, the Serum Institute of India plans to resume exporting doses of AstraZeneca this summer.

While these developments are indicative of the growing alignment between India’s growth agenda and Africa’s Agenda 2063, the African Union’s development goals for the next half-century, it is important to recognize that India is just one of a long list of development partners seeking to engage Africa in a meaningful way. One of those competitors is China, which has become Africa’s largest trading and investment partner. As China and India attempt to shape their bilateral and regional approach independently of each other, an element of competition is clear.

While Beijing has invested its immense economic weight in developing manufacturing capabilities and extracting natural resources, New Delhi has focused on its core competencies in human resource development, information technology, education and health care. Without a doubt, China’s willingness to build infrastructure across the continent has been welcomed. However, large-scale infrastructure projects will only have the desired transformative effects if they are able to create jobs, generate income, attract investment and contribute to the development of local productive capacities. Yet Chinese companies are often accused of employing mostly Chinese workers and offering little training and skills development to African employees. Some infrastructure projects thus risk turning into economically unsustainable vanity projects.

This is where India comes in. Unlike China’s efforts, the construction and financing of Indian projects in Africa is aimed at facilitating community participation and development. Indian companies rely more on African talent, and India has other advantages over China as well. The successes of China’s political-economic model are attractive, but public support for democracy in Africa is high, according to Afrobarometer polls. India is playing on its strengths by projecting itself as a different model from China. Second, India has the added benefit of linguistic and cultural affinity and proximity. While Mandarin is slowly becoming popular among the younger generations, English is still much more widely used in Africa and India as well. This makes it much easier for Indian entrepreneurs and workers to talk to local partners. In addition, the Indian diaspora in Africa, more than 3 million strong, has been a crucial strategic asset in bridging the gap between the two geographies.

India and China have growing stakes in Africa as they seek to align with the continent’s growth story. And they compete more and more geopolitically. New Delhi hopes its sustained engagement with African countries over the past few years will pay dividends on foreign policy. And for India as for its African partners, if their commitment bears fruit, it could mean a relationship based on a partnership model. With the weakening of major power fault lines across the world, India’s growing engagement in Africa may be able to bring more equitable benefits to both partners.

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