ICWA Webinar on 'India and Africa Looking Ahead’
24 November 2020
Special Remarks by Shri Rahul Chhabra
Secretary (ER), Ministry of External Affairs
In contemporary reality, we cannot start any conversation without talking about the pandemic. I think most of us realize that it is as significant an event as the end of World War II or decolonization. It is one of those transformational moments in history that we are living through. What are the emerging prospects and where will it lead to? Looking ahead, greater unpredictability and a higher degree of multi-polarity is what we see.
India has had strong ties with Africa for centuries. Over the last few decades, our ties have become stronger. India’s partnership with Africa is based on a consultative model of cooperation, responsive to the needs of African countries and sharing of development experiences. It is demand-driven and free of conditions; a model of South-South Cooperation.
So far, three India-Africa Forum Summits have been held (IAFS-I in 2008, IAFS-II in 2011 and IAFS-III in 2015) which imparted a further vigour to our partnership with the continent. IAFS-III was attended by all 54 African countries that have diplomatic relations with India, of which a record 41 nations participated at the level of Head of State or Government. We could not host the 4th edition of the Summit yet due to the pandemic but we hope to do so as early as possible.
On the bilateral diplomatic front, there were 34 high-level visits (at the level of President, Prime Minister and Vice-President) in the last 6 years; reciprocally over 100 African leaders/Ministers have visited India. We already have 40 Missions and over one quarter have been opened in the last two years; our target of 47 missions will be met in the next 2 years.
Continuing on the bilateral diplomatic front, the contemporary reality has really been digital diplomacy. Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister are engaging with their counterparts on the digital domain, like we are doing today. As an emerging prospect, we see that everybody is getting comfortable with it, and we were quite happy to see African and Indian leaders establish rapport and continue their conversations over digital platforms. It will be a leapfrogging of technology, and Africa and India can set an example of how we could continue our business and diplomacy over this sort of medium.
As far as diplomacy on the multilateral and plurilateral forums, we have been engaging with United Nations, the IORA and the IBSA - though it has Brazil in it - but India, South Africa and Brazil are the three southern democracies. The emerging prospects is really in the ISA-International Solar Alliance for which we have committed US$ 1.7 billion as soft loan for solar projects including in Africa as our commitment, and the CDRI- Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, which we hope many more African countries will join. More than half the members of the ISA are from Africa. We are happy with that response and we are looking forward to a similar response in CDRI and other such new forums which could be coming up.
Now, I’ll touch upon development partnership. 189 development projects have already been completed in 37 countries; currently, 77 projects are going on in 42 countries with an investment of over US $12.86 billion. We have done developmental and grant projects in 48 countries of Africa. It can be said that India’s best experiences are being showcased and shared with Africa with an aim to empower the people rather than have an extractive relationship.
The emerging prospects lie in e-VidyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati, where it is the use of satellites and similar platforms which is really going to enable connectivity, are instantaneous, very easy and cost-effective. e-VidyaBharati services have been availed by 17 countries but there is still considerable scope and we are looking at picking up steam in e-ArogyaBharti. I would encourage African nations that are yet to sign on, to do so rapidly and benefit from this ambitious project.
On trade and investment, we are the third-largest export destination already for Africa; I don’t think a large part of Indian industry has realized the full implications of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, coming into force. With trade of US$ 70 billion, we have thus lived up to our commitment of “Trade, not just Aid”. Of course, we were happy in 2008 to be one of the first countries to grant duty-free, quota-free access to 33 African LDCs. India has already invested US $54 billion in Africa.
We have provided extensive training and capacity development programmes and concessional loans to build infrastructure. We have disbursed over US$ 700 million grant assistance, over the last 5 years, for people-centric projects like grants of rice or wheat or of cancer-treating medical equipment and medicines, gift of vehicles to police forces and ambulances, highly specialised training programmes and degree courses in India in business management, water resource management, oncology and cardiology training. Cash grants were given for disaster relief after natural disasters or to defray cost of hosting major conferences. We built Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre in Niger which was used for hosting African Union Summit in July 2019.
The emerging prospects are in sectors like energy, where by 2040, over 25% of Africa’s energy is going to be renewable energy. India has considerable strength in renewable energies; hence, it is a good partnership. We have invested US $7 billion in Mozambique, over US $0.5 billion in South Sudan and more investments in West and North Africa. Africa is becoming a very close and trusted partner for energy security.
Similarly for food security, in agriculture, we have been working with several countries in Africa; we have also looked at engaging in trilateral projects under the IBSA fund and with USAID, along the East coast of Africa; there are projects ongoing in agriculture.
The last specific sector I wanted to refer to in this trade-investment segment was health. We kept our supply chains open and we sent medicines, even though we were short of them- Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), Paracetamol and a pack of others - at the height of the pandemic. More than 150 countries were provided these medicines out of which over 75 countries, many of them in Africa, were given on grant basis. In vaccine development, India and South Africa have jointly appealed to the WTO to relax the IPR regulations so that the vaccines can be made more easily accessible to developing countries, including in Africa, of course.
India assured Africa of supply of life-saving medicines and medical equipment playing the crucial role of “Pharmacy to the Developing World” during this pandemic. We provided medicines worth US$ 5.5 million to 25 African nations as Grant. 1 million doses of COVID vaccine (600,000 doses already delivered, pledged another 600,000 doses to UN health workers) was supplied as grant and facilitated export of 22.4 million doses of India-made vaccines under COVAX facility on commercial basis.
In April 2020, during G20 virtual meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, India agreed to a time-bound suspension of debt service payment for the poorest countries which requested for such suspension in the light of the pandemic. India has till date suspended debt for Zambia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho. Our objective is to assist all African partner countries to improve their health, economic and social indices as a gesture of solidarity.
India facilitated evacuation of thousands of stranded African nationals of South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia and Ethiopia from India to their home countries.
This brings me to the next part: people-to-people contact, where it is worth noting that both Africa and India have the youngest population profiles. In the education sector, thousands of Indian teachers have been teaching all across Africa. In terms of the emerging prospects, we have set up 6 IT training centres, 7 vocational training centres, entrepreneurial training centres and technology centres. These centres have been set up since teachers were no longer coming to teach. These are actually full-fledged centres being set up in addition to supplement what is being done through the satellite link of the e-VidyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati schemes.
On the capacity building front, the African Continent has the youngest population on the planet, with more than 40% of Africans under 15 years of age. Out of the 50,000 training slots promised at IAFS-III, over 42,000 slots (both short-term & long-term) have been utilised; of these, around 18,000 are under ITEC programme. At any given time, we have several thousand African students pursuing degree courses in Engineering, Medical Science, Business Management and other subjects. Our short-term courses of 1-3 months’ duration include training in Solar Energy, Water Resource Management, ICT, Agricultural Sciences and training for Paramedics.
That is one people-to-people strong link and the other one is diaspora. Of course, I have served in Africa and in fact, I should have mentioned it right upfront, I have a vested interest. I have served twice in Africa; on the West Coast and East Coast. I have a very personal link, since both my children were born in Africa. The diaspora has been living in Africa for several generations. Just to recount, it comes to my mind I was on my first flight to Nairobi and the air hostess looked at me and said, “Oh, you are going to Nairobi. So which generation are you?” I was wondering what does she mean, which generation. Can’t she see I am an Indian going to Kenya. After arriving in Nairobi I realized what she meant. Indians are so well integrated that automatically if you say you are an Indian and you are going to Nairobi it means that you must be living there and for generations. The new emerging prospects are really the tech entrepreneurs, the new entrepreneurs, the Fintech people going to South Africa and to Nairobi, which are the emerging centres of IT, finance and several Indian citizens are going there to take up these jobs.
The last and final sector I wanted to cover is defence and security cooperation. Of course, we have helped establish several Staff and Command Colleges in African countries and have trained thousands of Armed Forces personnel from Africa at the best military institutions in India. Indian Armed Forces have helped keep the peace in myriad UN Peacekeeping Operations in Africa with valour and empathy. India has participated in more than 12 peacekeeping operations and the first all-female Police Unit of the United Nations was set up in Liberia. As of today, 6,000 Indian troops are engaged in 5 peacekeeping operations across the continent. African nations that are now themselves contributing peacekeeping forces have benefited from our experience that we have been happy to share with them.
The most important emerging prospect is maritime security. The Indian Ocean not only separates us, it also unites us. The Indian Ocean Region is a common sphere where maritime security is very important and India will be looking to collaborate on it. In that same sense, we have good marine capacities in HADR- Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations, which is again, another field of emerging prospects of collaboration.
On that note, I would like to end with reference to the Prime Minister’s Ten Guiding Principles enunciated at the Ugandan Parliament in 2018, because those are the principles that have guided our policy over the last few years. The gist of PM’s vision for India’s development cooperation is “Our development partnership will be guided by your priorities. It will be on terms that will be comfortable for you, that will liberate your potential and not constrain your future. We will rely on African talent and skills. We will build as much local capacity and create as many local opportunities as possible”.
I’d like to conclude that, Agenda 2063, which has been set out by the AU and our own development plan seem to gel in very well. I can see that one of the defining partnerships of this century is going to be the India-Africa partnership.