Competing with China?

India’s Africa Outreach

By Dr D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

In an international conference, warming up to an African delegate, I said India has committed $6 billion to Africa as development assistance. He promptly replied, “China has announced $10 billion”. Curiously, this is typical African perspective on their engagement with both India and China. The Rwanda’s Prime Minister thinks, “It is normal to conduct business with both China and India in parallel without any conflict of interest”. Is India competing with China in its outreach to resource-rich African continent?
India’s engagement with Africans dates back to the days of Mahatma Gandhi when he launched his famous anti-apartheid movement. Thus while India has had long relations with African continent, China is the latecomer and yet seems to have outpaced India. Prime Minister Modi landed in Rwanda just over 24 hours since the Chinese President Xi Jinping had left Rwanda. The two leaders were received by the Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Both Modi and Jinping are on their way to attend 10th BRICS summit in South Africa.
We must note that, New Delhi and Beijing are keen on defence diplomacy with Africa. Admittedly, most African countries are willing to have defence ties with India, as was evident in the Third India-Africa Summit in October 2015 in New Delhi. Likewise, China held, only recently, a fortnight long China-Africa Defence and Security Forum in Beijing that brought 50 African countries. Beijing promised “comprehensive support” for the armed forces in Africa, which includes supply of modern technologies.
As per the available figures, Chinese arms export to Africa has multiplied phenomenally; it has shot up by 55 per cent between 2013 and 2017. India’s exports are less as it does not have much of a defence industrial base, but its training facilities have been attractive to African countries. These look up to India for defence procurement too as Chinese do not boast of high quality conventional weapons. What, however, worries the African stakeholders is the chasm between promise and delivery in New Delhi’s approach.
Let us take another area where New Delhi and Beijing have contrasting approaches. In peace keeping operations, a major international activity in Africa, India has been involved for more than 50 years. China came in only about 10 years ago, yet it has forged ahead. While New Delhi saw peacekeeping from a diplomatic angle, Beijing saw it as increasing its military profile in the area, and flexing its military prowess. It has about 3000 peace keepers deployed in Africa. Furthermore, China has extended $1 million grant to set up a Rapid Response Force to deal with regional crises. On the back of military engagement, Beijing is inching towards political mediation and resolution of conflicts.
A foreign policy expert, now the director of Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, C Raja Mohan has argued that “India cannot match the massive resources China deploys in Africa.” But New Delhi cannot ignore its defence diplomacy in Africa. In fact, India is in a better position vis-a-vis China as many African countries are English speaking and India has had historical links with many of these.
There is massive presence of people of Indian origin in most parts of Africa, especially the Eastern part. New Delhi will have to factor this cultural capital while conducting business and security transactions. It has been long held by Europeans and Americans that India could give a hand in building and rebuilding Africa because of its cultural affinities and historical links. No wonder, there are thousands of African youths in India as students, entrepreneurs and so on.
Obviously, Prime Minister Modi is visiting three African countries to enhance India’s presence and goodwill. He will have the occasion to reach out to a few other countries on the fringe of the BRICS meeting in Johannesburg. Modi’s first port of call was Rwanda, a first by an Indian Prime Minister ever. In fact, India does not have diplomatic presence in Rwanda, although the latter setup its High Commission in New Delhi in 1999, and their first High Commissioner took charge in 2001.
Modi promised to open India’s High Commission in Kigali soon. Worthy of noting is also the fact that Rwanda, although not a colony of Britain, joined the Commonwealth in 2009. India has a prominent role to play in the Commonwealth, which is likely to be energised as Britain withdraws from the European Union.
In 2017, India and Rwanda elevated their bilateralism into a ‘strategic partnership’. New Delhi gave $400 million line of credit to Rwanda for building industrial parks, economic zones and agriculture projects. In this visit, Modi announced an additional $200 million line of credit for defence, trade and agricultural sectors. Several MoUs were signed for animal resources, dairy cooperation, agricultural research, leather and allied sector. There was a MoU between Rwanda Agricultural Board and Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) for research and development.
The Prime Minister visited Rweru, a model village where he donated 200 Indian cows to Rwandan families. The idea is to enhance their livelihood by giving a cow each to a family. As a female calf is born, the family would pass it on to a new beneficiary. Thus, the cow population would increase to the benefit of several families. This is a development project popular in Africa, like ‘give mum a goat’ or ‘give mum a cow’.
New Delhi also has helped in electrification of 35 schools in rural Rwanda, as an example of south-south Cooperation. Modi invited Rwanda to join the International Solar Alliance, headed by India and the latter readily agreed becoming the 25th signatory to the Alliance.
All in all, India-Rwanda relations are growing. South Block sees Rwanda as a gateway to Eastern Africa and Rwanda draws on India’s expertise, resources and politics. Whether such bilateralism would contribute to India-Africa partnership is the moot question. Africa is resource rich, comprising 54 countries. Then, there is African continental Free Trade Area comprising 44 members of the African Union. It is a huge potential to be tapped. New Delhi will have to keep up its African outreach to tap the potentials as it watches out for China on its back.—INFA