“Development Partner”: India’s Growing Influence in Africa

“Development Partner”: India’s Growing Influence in Africa

India is now home to more than 1.3 billion people – the subcontinent will soon overtake China as the most populous country, according to the United Nations World Population Outlook 2022. As a booming economy, the country has a great hunger for energy, says Veronika Wittmann, Professor of Global Studies at Johannes Kepler Linz University, in an interview with ORF.at. With its activities on the African continent, India reinforces its claim to be the “spokesperson for the countries of the Global South”, according to the expert.

Since the 1990s, the subcontinent has expanded its political and economic activities in Africa. Three summits in 2008, 2011 and 2015 and more than 35 state visits by Indian politicians to African countries show that strengthening relations is a high priority under Prime Minister Modi, writes the Hindustan Times.

India as a “development partner”

Compared to China, which for years has been expanding infrastructure in African countries and has had a huge influence on the market with investments, India appears as a “development partner”, say international experts. As the world’s largest democracy, India is attractive to African states, says Wittmann, and the weight of countries’ votes plays an important role in India’s fight for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council – also in the event of a United States reform. “If I have African states on my side, the cards will be shuffled,” says the expert.

In recent years, Indian-African trade has grown rapidly, according to figures from the “African Economic Outlook 2017”: in 2000, the trade volume was US$6.9 billion, in 2010 it was US$37.5 billion. billion and in 2015 it was US$ 51 billion. Current trade volume in 2021 is over 82 billion USD – India has now become Africa’s second most important national trading partner.

Energy and medical know-how

Political scientist Belachew Gebrewold explains in an interview with ORF.at: “India sees an unprecedented market in Africa.” It’s all about energy resources, oil and coal. Trade relations are particularly intense with Nigeria and Angola – India is one of the biggest importers of Nigerian crude oil, according to a report by the “High Commissioner of India”.

India has also expanded its activities in the areas of telecommunications, information technology, medicine and pharmaceuticals. As the US newspaper “Politico” reported, the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, is considering expanding to Africa. The company plays an important role in the fight against hepatitis and Covid-19 vaccines. Medicines and medical expertise from India are very important to African countries, says Gebrewold, and HIV medicines are also at stake here.

Gandhi statue in Johannesburg

Portal/Siphiwe Sibeko Gandhi statue in Johannesburg: Gandhi’s involvement in South Africa is now considered controversial

shared colonial legacy

Because of shared colonial experience, Africa has a deeper connection to India than China, which has spanned decades. India gained independence before many African countries and supported African countries in their struggle for independence.

Wittmann says they feel a strong bond through their shared colonial past: “It’s a cultural legacy that is strongly invoked today and on which it builds.” relationships today, adds Gebrewold. From 1893 to 1914 Gandhi lived in South Africa and worked as an advocate for the rights of the Indian people under the apartheid regime.

Gandhi’s controversial activism in South Africa

Gandhi himself describes his episode in South Africa in his autobiography as a “key experience” for his struggle against oppression and colonial rule. Gandhi’s teaching influenced and inspired Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, but his stay in South Africa is also viewed critically today.

South African sociologist Ashwin Desai and historian Goolam Vahed write in their book “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire” that Gandhi made repeated racist remarks about the African population during his stay, as the Washington Post reported. There are sources that indicate that Gandhi would have defended the superiority of the Indians over the African population and his fight against apartheid would have been directed less at his African than at his Indian compatriots. Gandhi is interpreted differently, says Gebrewold, adding, “You have to closely examine what position and attitude of Gandhi is considered racist.”

History of the Universum: Mahatma Gandhi – Fight without Violence

Gandhi’s life – from the beginning of his social commitment as a lawyer to his formative role in India’s struggle for independence – is dedicated to the documentary “Mahatma Gandhi – Kampf ohne Violence” in “Universum History”, ORF2.

Intense relationships across diaspora and education

Today, many parts of Africa are home to Indian diaspora communities that can be vital in strengthening India-Africa ties. These diaspora communities can be very well used, for example, for “economic exchange activities as well as to cooperate more closely on a political and cultural level”, explains Wittmann.

The Indian diaspora in South Africa comprises around three million people, the majority living in Durban. In Mauritius, the Indian diaspora represents almost 70 percent of the population, while Indian communities can also be found in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mozambique.

South African women in traditional Indian sarees in Durban in September 2019

APA/AFP/Rajesh Jantilal South African women dressed in traditional Indian sarees. Indian diaspora communities live in many parts of Africa.

The education factor also guarantees intensive relationships. For years, the Indian government has attracted African students to Indian universities and colleges – with scholarships, affordable tuition fees and the promise of a quality education. In 2016, there were 42,420 international students in India, with Sudan and Nigeria among the top five home countries, according to US National Public Radio (NPR). “This soft power as part of Indian foreign policy should not be underestimated,” says Wittmann.

conflict and cooperation

The triangular relationship between Africa, China and India is characterized by both cooperation and conflict. There is cooperation, for example, at the level of the BRICS format – India, China and South Africa are among the members. There are also common interests and cooperation in measures to combat terrorism and piracy off the Horn of Africa. On the other hand, security policy issues, such as China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean, offer potential for conflict. In 2017, India, Japan and several African countries adopted the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) – an agreement aimed at promoting infrastructure projects in Africa. International experts interpret the initiative as a response to the China Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Political scientist Gebrewold also sees problems in India’s political discourse, which is becoming increasingly polarized under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP. “Many African states see that the country that was once considered a model democracy could lose that status.” Africa would have more “choices”, but the triangular relationship also poses a dilemma for African countries, says the political scientist: “Not possible about being on the side of India or China, but as diplomatically as possible on both sides. ”