India seeks to extend influence in Africa as leaders gather

Delegates from almost all 54 African states assemble in New Delhi for four-day summit

South Africa’s foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and her Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in  New Delhi. Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

South Africa’s foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and her Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi. Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

 

The third India-Africa summit in seven years opened this week at a sports stadium in New Delhi, amidst unprecedented security and chaotic traffic jams that paralysed the capital.

Delegates from almost all 54 Africa states – about 40 of whom are represented by their heads of state or government – gathered in Delhi for the four-day meeting, held to augment trade and commerce and further diplomatic, political and security links with India.

Prominent attendees include presidents Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and their controversial Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

India is wooing all these African leaders to secure a permanent seat for itself on the United Nations Security Council.

“It is inconceivable that the UNSC does not have any permanent representative from Africa, which is the largest continent in terms of the number of countries,” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said yesterday.

Security council

By hosting the summit – following the first one in 2008 in Delhi and the second three years later in Addis Ababa – India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is also attempting to counterbalance nuclear rival China’s proliferating financial and strategic footprint across Africa.

Modi’s administration looks upon the recent economic slowdown in China as an opportunity to make inroads into Africa, by strengthening business ties in agricultural, educational, information technology and infrastructural ventures.

He is seeking to increase India’s trade with Africa to €90 billion by the end of the year, from €63 billion at present. But Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is acutely aware that this remains just one-third of the China-Africa trade relationship, worth more than €181 billion.

Besides, China is hosting a similar summit for African leaders in Beijing in December, where an upsurge in its investment in the continent is expected. Most African states tend to favour Chinese capital because, unlike India, Beijing does not concern itself with democratic freedom, human rights or rule of law, concentrating exclusively on commerce and trade.

India, on the other hand, claims that its “inclusive” and “developmental” engagement with Africa has wider local acceptance, compared with China’s “exploitative” two-way trade, which has added little value on the ground for local populations.

India is also leveraging Africa’s vast expatriate Indian diaspora to expand commercial and economic links.

Spread largely across southern and western Africa, these third- and fourth-generation Indians are largely prosperous descendants of indentured workers transported there by the British colonial government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Distance learning

African Union

This network also successfully supports e-governance, e-commerce, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological and related services.

Private Indian companies have also acquired or leased thousands of hectares of land in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique to farm varied crops for local consumption and for export to India and other countries.

Since 2005 India has emerged as Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner, due largely to its oil and gas imports from Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria and gold from South Africa.

Business analysts forecast that Africa’s role as India’s fuel provider will intensify, given the prevailing insecurity in obtaining these supplies from its traditional west Asian suppliers such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In addition, the growing incidence of terrorism across Africa, from Nigeria to Somalia and more recently in Mali and Kenya, has promoted closer interaction between Indian and several AU security establishments.

India has also stepped up military instruction to countries such as Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Lesotho, Nigeria, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa and Zambia, as well as training their military officers at several of its defence academies and institutions.

Over the past six decades India has deployed more than 160,000 UN peacekeepers to successfully deal with numerous conflicts raging across Africa.

All summit delegates this week are to be clothed in bespoke sleeveless and collarless jackets, and some possibly in traditional Indian churidars – drainpipe-like pyjamas and loose baggy shorts-similar to the garb sported by Modi – for the group photograph.

The measurements of all the African leaders were obtained in advance and the photo event tomorrow is billed as a highpoint for Modi, whose penchant for drama is well known.