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India Africa Relations

Africa is world’s second largest continent both in terms of land and population with 55 countries which account for about 15 percent of world’s population. India and Africa have a long and rich history of interaction marked by cultural, economic and political exchanges based on the principle of south cooperation.


Historical Context

  • India’s relations with Africa date back several centuries. The presence of Indians in East Africa is documented in the ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’ or Guidebook of the Red Sea by an ancient Greek author written in 60 AD.
  • The geographical proximity and easy navigability in Indian Ocean resulted in well-established trade network between India and the Swahili Coast predating European exploration.
  • More concrete relation between India and Africa begins to emerge during the Islamic age which is evident through the accounts of Venetian traveler Marco Polo.
  • In the early 1920s when both regions were fighting against colonial rule and oppression. India’s freedom movement had an internationalist outlook; many Indian nationalists like mahatma Gandhi viewed the struggle for independence as part of the worldwide movement against imperialism.
  • After India gained independence, it became a leading voice in support of African decolonization at the United Nations. Independent India, though extremely poor after two centuries of colonial exploitation, strived to share its limited resources with African countries under the banner of South-South cooperation.
  • India was a forerunner as a champion of the interests of the developing countries from Africa, particularly through the Bandung Declaration of 1955, the Group of 77, and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
  • In 1964, India launched the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme to provide technical assistance through human resource development to other developing countries, with African countries the greatest beneficiaries of it and the Special Commonwealth African Assistance Programme (SCAAP).


Why is Africa important for India?

The significance of Africa for India can be summed up in one word—OIL where O stands for oil, I for investment and L for Location.

  • Real GDP in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa in the past decade has grown by more than twice the rate in 1980s and 90’s. African continent has a population of over one billion with a combined GDP of 2.5 trillion dollars making it a huge potential market.
  • Africa can help us in diversifying our energy sources and reduce our dependance on middle east, which is one of the stated objectives of our Integrated Energy Policy. Africa also contains rich reservoir of valuable minerals, metals including gold and diamond.
  • Africa is critical to India’s security, especially the Horn of Africa region, because of its proximity with India. The threat of radicalism, piracy, organized crime emerges from this region.
  • Support of African countries is important for India’s aim of gaining a permanent seat in UNSC.

India Africa partnerships

  • India uses concessional lines of credit (LoC) as one of its key development partnership instruments to fund the construction of railway lines, electrification and irrigation projects, farm mechanization projects, among others in the African nations.
  • Engagement at all levels with African countries has increased in the last two decades with a large number of public and private sector companies from India investing in Africa.
  • India’s duty-free tariff preferential scheme for Least Developed Nation (LDCs) launched in 2008 has benefited 33 African states.
  • Indian traders travelled regularly to the East African coast, forming relationships with local inhabitants in ports leading to the establishment of Africa-based family businesses, some of which exist even today.
  • India s engagement with African states is vibrant and deep-rooted. The political ties between India and African states have been based on the principles of south-south cooperation, people to people linkages and common developmental challenges.
  • There has been regular high-level bilateral visits and multilateral summits between India and African states which have helped in strengthening political partnership
  • India has provided experts in agriculture, education and health sectors to many African states. India has also shared cheap generic drugs with African countries for AIDS and other diseases. Such gestures have generated a goodwill among African states towards India.
  • India’s security engagement with Africa is not limited to anti-piracy operations around the Gulf of Aden and providing security assistance to small Island states in the Indian Ocean. India is undertaking regular patrols and assisting in surveillance of the Exclusive Economic Zone of Mauritius and Seychelles.

India Africa Forum Summit

  • India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) is an institutional platform for India-Africa relations and engagements. It is held once in every three years. The first such summit was held in 2008 in New Delhi as a much-needed intergovernmental attempt to give a direction and thrust to the bilateral synergy.
  • This forum is increasingly being used by India to promote its economic diplomacy with Africa and to enhance relations in areas such as trade and investment.


Concerns in India Africa relations


Declining trade

  • Declining trade: Bilateral trade valued at $55.9 billion in 2020-21, fell by $10.8 billion compared to 2019-20, and $15.5 billion compared to the peak year of 2014-15.
  • Decline in investment: India’s investments in Africa too saw a decrease from $3.2 billion in 2019-20 to $2.9 billion in 2020-21.

Chinese Challenge in Africa

  • China’s economic footprint in Africa dwarfs that of India, with over 10,000 Chinese firms operating on the continent and China becoming Africa’s largest trading partner.
  • With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, China is essentially trying to offer an alternative authoritarian model of development to African countries.


The impact of COVID-19 in Africa and missed opportunity for India

  • The latest economic data confirms India’s exports and imports have reduced compared to the previous year.
  • A dozen nations from America, Europe and Asia have come forward to assist Africa in resolving the continent’s political and social challenges. In return, they got benefits from Africa’s markets, minerals, hydrocarbons and oceanic resources, and thereby an opportunity to expand their geopolitical influence.

Geopolitical tensions

  • Geopolitical tensions in Asia and the imperative to consolidate its position in the Indo-Pacific region have compelled India to deviate from India-Africa relations. Instead, India concentrated on its ties with the United Kingdom, the EU, and the Quad powers, particularly the U.S.

Inadequate education infrastructure in India

  • The poor quality of education in India and the inadequate infrastructure is the primary reason it is not the foreign destination of choice for African students. China, on the other hand, has been viewed as a more attractive destination for higher studies to African students. Between 2003 and 2015, the number of African students in China increased from less than 2,000 to about 50,000.




Way Forward


  • Countering China: China has been actively pursuing cheque book and donation diplomacy in Africa. However, Chinese investment is seen as neo-colonial in nature. India’s approach, on the other hand, is one that focuses on building local capacities and an equal partnership with Africans and not merely with African elites concerned.
  • More engagement between India and Africa: For mutual benefit, Africa and India should remain optimally engaged. For instance, conducting the fourth India-Africa Forum Summit, Allocating fresh financial resources for grants and concessional loans to Africa, etc.
  • Becoming Voice of Developing World: Just as India and Africa fought colonialism together, both can now collaborate together for a just, representative and democratic global order that has a voice for around one-third of humanity that lives in Africa and India.
  • Fresh financial resources for grants and concessional loans to Africa must be allocated, as previous allocations stand almost fully exhausted.