January 03, 2016

India-Africa Summit: Scramble for Africa

Yohannan Chemarapally

THE three day India-Africa summit (IAFS) held in New Delhi from October 27-29, according to Indian officials, was the most important event held in the capital since the 1983 NAM summit. The NDA government had been preparing for more than a year to make the IAFS a grandiose event. Previous India-Africa summit organised when the UPA was in power was in contrast, a modest affair with only a small group of African leaders being invited. The first IAFS was held in 2008 in New Delhi and the second time in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa in 2011. Only 15 African leaders were invited for the 2011 summit. This time 52 African countries were represented at the IAFS, among them the heads of States of leading African countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. The decision to make it a humongous event that brought the nation’s capital to a virtual halt for two days was taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. It was supposed to be held last year but got postponed at the eleventh hour due to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. A few African heads of State had in fact landed in Delhi last year to attend the summit. Others had to cancel their visits at the eleventh hour. Many African governments were unhappy at the way the situation was handled by the NDA government last year. The African leaders who were in Delhi for the summit would not have failed to notice the ugly side of domestic Indian politics which was on full display. Beef, of course, was not on the menu for the visitors from Africa. The spouses of the African leaders were taken for a visit to the Akshardham temple in the capital and not to the more famous historical monuments that New Delhi is famous for. The present government's anti Muslim bias and attacks on multi-culturalism are not a good advertisement for Indian democracy and pluralism. North Africa is almost totally Muslim. So is much of sub-Saharan Africa. Modi in his speeches at the summit conspicuously failed to mention the key role of Jawaharlal Nehru in forging relations with the newly independent African countries. Nehru, and for that matter, Indira Gandhi, remain iconic figures on the African continent. Their contributions in the anti-colonial struggles and help for liberation movements will never be forgotten on the continent. African nations also continue to value institutions like the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of which Nehru was one of the key architects. One of the aims of the NDA government in hosting the entire gamut of African leadership was to push India's case for a permanent seat in the UNSC. There were no firm commitments forthcoming from the African leaders who all said that their support would be determined by the stance adopted by the African Union. Many African countries themselves are vying for a seat in the UNSC and there is no unanimity on the issue yet in Africa itself. Holding summits with African leaders seems to have become a global trend after China hosted its first mega summit in 2005. That summit had signaled the growing diplomatic and economic clout of China on the continent. Today China is the biggest investor and development aid provider on the African continent. China, barring a brief hiatus, has been active on the African continent since 1960's. An 1800 km railway line connecting Tanzania and Zambia was built by the Chinese way back in the early seventies. Most African capitals boast of football stadiums and key government buildings built gratis by the Chinese government. It was in the beginning of the last decade, after their economy started booming that China went full steam and started partnering African countries in a bigger way by offering cheap credits and development aid along with investments. Improving the transport infrastructure, which is woefully lacking on the continent, was given priority by Beijing. China is today building roads and railway networks linking the continent from the north to the south. China is no longer solely a supplier of consumer goods but has become a major source of capital and technology for the developing world. China has so far invested more than US$180 billion in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Bilateral trade between China and Africa is estimated to be more than $200 billion annually. It was at the end of the last decade that China's rivals tried to play catch-up on the African continent. Seven of the ten fastest growing economies are located in Africa. Washington actively encouraged New Delhi to partner it on the continent to counter the growing influence of Beijing. India has considerable “soft power” in many important countries on the continent. There are two million people of Indian origin resident on the continent. Bollywood has a big fan following in parts of the continent. “Democracy promotion” on the continent, which has many authoritarian governments, is an area in which Washington and Delhi are closely cooperating. In the 2005 India-US agreement, both countries expressed the “obligation to the global community to strengthen values, ideals and practices of freedom, pluralism and rule of law”. The two countries agreed “to develop and support through the new US-India Global Initiative in countries that seek assistance, institutions and resources that strengthen the foundations that make democracy effective and credible”. The West has been using democracy promotion as a tool to destabilise governments it does not like on the continent while turning a blind eye to authoritarian regimes that are its allies. The United States had set up an Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007. Since then Washington has become more militarily involved on the African continent and is on the lookout for permanent military bases. Africans remember America's dubious role on the continent, starting from its support of the apartheid regime in South Africa to the key role it played in triggering the recent chaos in Libya. Both the US and India consider China their strategic rival and seem to have tacitly agreed to team up on the continent. India has been projecting its military force in the Indian Ocean region adjacent to East Africa. India has signed defense agreements with Seychelles and Mozambique. Many African countries were taken by surprise when the US and India jointly announced in September that they would train troops in six African countries before they are deployed for UN peacekeeping duties. Both the countries did not keep the AU in the loop before making the announcement. Africans don't like to be taken for granted. India's focus in Africa has been on “capacity building” having trained more than 40,000 professionals from several African nations since 2008. Bilateral trade between India and Africa stands at US$70 billion annually. Indian investments stand at US$30 billion. These sums are paltry in comparison to what China has achieved. The Indian government wants the pace of investments and trade to be accelerated. Prime Minister Modi announced a concessional credit line of US$10 billion for Africa to be disbursed in five years during the IALS. He also announced a $600 million grant to the continent and another $10 million to an India-Africa Health Fund. India is the fifth biggest source of direct investment in Africa. India has also offered to expand its military training programmes. Military officers from Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda, have been training in India for decades now. The current president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, underwent training in India as a young officer. China on the other hand has made “non interference in the internal affairs” of other countries a key tenet of its foreign policy. Counties like Sudan and Zimbabwe, long ostracised by the West, have had a fruitful relations with China. The rapid economic growth experienced by the continent has a lot to do with the economic fillip provided by China and its “win, win economic partnership”. But with commodity prices having gone down in recent years, the African growth story has started slowing down. But most experts are of the opinion that the price of commodities like oil and minerals like gold and copper are bound to go up in the near future. Countries, including India, are betting on this as they prepare to invest in Africa. The competition between India and China on the African continent is essentially based on the quest for oil, markets, minerals and influence. It was the French who first set the trend of holding large scale summit meetings with African nations. It is an annual affair that is attended mainly by former Francophone countries in the African countries. Critics have accused the French of using their summits to push a neo-colonial agenda. France continues to have military bases in many of its former colonies and continues to play an important role in the politics of the region. Most recently French forces have intervened in Ivory Coast and Mali. Before that France had saved many of its proteges from being overthrown in popular revolts in many parts of Africa. President Barack Obama too invited African leaders over to the White House but he made it a point to exclude leaders he did not like. President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Omar al Bashir of Sudan, two leaders ostracised by the West, were however in attendance at the Delhi summit. Bashir is on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is also facing trial at the ICC. But he, unlike Mugabe and others, is an ally of the West. Mugabe is the current chair of the African Union (AU) and is the last remaining hero of the liberation war still in power. But one AU member was conspicuously uninvited. African leaders wanted the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) to be also present in Delhi. The first NDA government under Atal Behari Vajpayee had withdrawn the recognition given to SADR under controversial circumstance. Since then, New Delhi has had the best of relations with the Kingdom of Morocco and is that country's biggest importer of phosphates. The Moroccan ruler, King Mohammed was the first head of State to come to the Indian capital. He was no doubt extremely pleased that New Delhi, going against the AU consensus, preferred the presence of Morocco. Morocco had walked out of the AU since the entry of the SADR into the organisation. Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco. African leaders consider Western Sahara as the last colony in Africa. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony till 1974. After a war with the Polisario Front, representing the Sahrawi people, Morocco had occupied most of Western Sahara, including the lucrative phosphate producing areas. The Angolan foreign minister, Georges Chikoti, told the African media in Delhi, that a commitment was given by the Indian government to the AU that the SADR would be invited. That invitation was apparently canceled under pressure from Morocco at the eleventh hour. “We have countries that are members of the AU that do not recognise the Sahara. But as the Sahara was recognised and supported by the African Union, it continues to participate as a member of the African Union. And that is what should have happened in Delhi”, the Angolan foreign minister said. The issue had a bearing on the joint statement issued after the end of the summit. At the insistence of India and Morocco, the issue of de-colonisation in the continent, much to the chagrin of many African leaders present, was soft pedalled. The majority of the African leaders however did not allow the hosts, India, to incorporate words criticising the use of “State terror” in the final communique. It was an obvious attempt to target Pakistan. Senior officials from African countries demanded “credible and irrefutable” evidence against a country if it is to be labeled as a sponsor of terror. The joint statement finally used the words “non-Sstate actors” and “cross border terrorism” in the final document. The summit did not get much traction in the African or international media. Many African governments are not fully convinced that their continent is a priority for Indian foreign policy. India seems more focused on East Asia and building closer relations with the West. Meanwhile South Africa has co-hosted the sixth forum of the China-Africa Cooperation summit in early December. The draft ANC foreign policy paper that guides the South African government has identified China as the country's preferred partner in international relations. The ANC document specifically noted that China was South Africa's “most important strategic ally”. Among those who drafted the document were the AU chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the current foreign minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane. The document hailed China as a role model for development and that China is “gradually redefining the world towards a multipolar order”. The document describes the US as an “imperialist” and “aggressive” power.