In the last month and a half, India has provided fresh impetus to its Africa policy. India’s policymakers at the highest level have engaged with Africa and have outlined India’s evolving approach to the important issues concerning the Continent. Two important speeches and one high-level visit has signalled the renewed interest from India on African affairs. On 19 May, India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar addressed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Open Debate on ‘Peace and Security in Africa: addressing root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa’. On 18th May, Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs V Muraleedharan addressed the summit on ‘Financing African Economies’ organized by France. And finally, EAM Jaishankar paid a visit to Kenya last week. The purpose of this article is to focus on these three developments and highlight key points that emerged from them.
UNSC Open Debate on ‘Peace and Security in Africa’
India is currently a non-permanent member of the UNSC and therefore, the UNSC Open Debate on ‘Peace and Security in Africa’ provided an excellent opportunity to India to put forward its views on the issues related to African peace and security. India has long been a steadfast partner for Africa in matters of security including contributing troops for peacekeeping missions. In his address, Jaishankar reiterated India’s support for the Common African Position in the context of the reform of multilateral institutions.[i] As per the Common African Position, UNSC should have two permanent and five non-permanent members from Africa and the African Union would choose which countries from Africa should get a seat at the UNSC. It is implicit in this that the reform of multilateral institutions and greater representation would contribute to the fostering of peace and security. EAM also referred to India’s support to 42 African countries in supplying medicines, medical equipment and vaccines and thus making a contribution towards health security.[ii]
Jaishankar linked Africa’s recovery in the post-pandemic world with ‘partnerships that genuinely address its economic sustainability’.[iii] In this context, he highlighted India’s approach to Africa which responds to ‘priorities of Africa, as defined by Africans themselves’.[iv] India’s assistance ‘is without conditionalities and in line with African expectations’.[v] India treats ‘Africa’s challenges as our own’ and therefore, 189 projects that India is implementing in 41 African countries through concessional loans assume significance.[vi] He also pointed out that, ‘trade and technology exchanges are steadily growing, in line with closer political and people-to-people ties’.[vii]
Recognizing the threat posed by radical ideologies and terrorism for Africa, India was clear that ‘epicentres of radicalization must not be allowed to operate with impunity’.[viii]As several African countries (like Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mozambique etc) are facing the threat of terrorism and instability, India along with other major powers like the United States (US) can perhaps assist Africa in tackling these challenges. India endorsed ‘the call of the Secretary General for a mandate under Chapter VII to support African counter-terrorism operations with sustained financing, including through assessed contributions’.[ix] In the past, India had helped some African states in setting up military academies (in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania) and Indian military training teams are deployed to some African countries like Botswana, Namibia, Uganda, Lesotho, Zambia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tanzania. There exists the scope to increase the military-to-military ties. Jaishankar ended the address with an assurance that ‘India will support peace and security there, help address root causes of conflict and be a reliable partner in fighting the pandemic’.[x] The speech was important as it linked India’s multi-faceted engagement including educational, economic and health-related ties with Africa’s security concerns and re-positioned India as a key security partner for Africa.
Summit on the Financing of African Economies
France had convened a summit on 18th May which gave a call for a ‘New Deal for Africa’ and the summit agreed to work to persuade rich nations to allocate $ 100 billion to Africa by October through International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights. The summit, which took place in a hybrid format wherein leaders joined via videoconferencing as well as in person, was attended by a dozen African leaders, several European leaders and heads of international organizations.[xi]The invitation for the summit acknowledged India’s critical role in Africa’s economic recovery and also highlighted the deepening Indo-French partnership.
In his address, Muraleedharan stated that ‘Our development partnership model is sui generis’ which is ‘built on our deep ties with the continent and sharing of our own developmental experiences’.[xii] He further observed that ‘At the third India Africa Forum Summit held in October 2015, India offered US dollars 600 million in grant assistance as well as concessional loans worth US dollars 10 billion for development projects; more than US dollars 6.4 billion of these loans have already been sanctioned’.[xiii] Underlining the need for global co-operation, Muraleedharan noted that, India is ‘deeply conscious that the pandemic knows no borders and global economic recovery is contingent on collective action’.[xiv] Therefore, India called on ‘upon all friends and partners to come together in this hour of need, so that we can build back a more resilient and stronger Africa’.[xv]
Jaishankar’s Visit to Kenya
The third important development relating to Africa was the three-day visit (12th to 14th June) of EAM Jaishankar to Kenya. In the last few years, Kenya has gained prominence in the major powers’ Africa policies. For example, China has built a railway line in Kenya and is developing a port. Therefore, the East African nation has assumed considerable strategic significance in the context of geopolitics of the Western Indian Ocean. Apart from this, the visit assumed significance as Kenya is also a non-permanent member of the UNSC and both countries have stakes in working together on issues of mutual concern such as climate change. During his visit, Jaishankar inaugurated the refurbished Mahatma Gandhi library at the University of Kenya and also co-chaired the meeting of the India-Kenya Joint Commission.
The joint statement released after the visit ‘noted the mutual desire to expand bilateral cooperation under the Kenya- India Joint Commission Framework’.[xvi] This desire ‘underscores their commitment to the relationship playing a greater role in regional and global context’.[xvii] Underlining the priority of economic recovery, both sides ‘called for joint efforts to combat the disease as well as consolidate economic collaboration during the pandemic and post-Covid-19 period’.[xviii] India and Kenya also ‘acknowledged the recent rise in bilateral trade and noted the potential to further increase trade volumes and value’.[xix] Moreover, they ‘agreed that diversification of trade and new domains of cooperation would be in keeping with their closer partnership’.[xx] Framing the relationship in maritime terms, the joint statement ‘recognized the importance of ensuring through shared endeavors greater security, safety and prosperity of the Indian Ocean Region’.[xxi] In addition, the two sides ‘reaffirmed their commitment to a rules-based multilateral system and underlined the important role of the United Nations in addressing global challenges’.[xxii] The joint statement also contains a strong reference to condemning terrorism and extremism in all forms.
A closer look at the two speeches and the visit indicates the evolving approach of India towards Africa. Some themes such as development co-operation and condemning terrorism were common and yet there were some other interesting themes to consider. The importance of health security was the first major theme which emerged from these speeches and joint statement. As the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging, issues related to the supply of vaccines, medical assistance and equipment featured prominently. As EAM noted in his address to the University of Kenya, ‘we now perceive health and food security as far more intrinsic to National Security’.[xxiii] Pandemic has negatively affected the economic prospects of developing countries and the countries in Africa have suffered a great deal. Therefore, the global co-operation to facilitate and promote African economic recovery was a second major theme.
The third interesting theme is India’s development assistance to Africa. Development co-operation has long been a pillar of India’s Africa policy and both speeches highlighted the solid development partnership between India and Africa backed by data. And lastly, the references to Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific in the India-Kenya joint statement are notable. They indicate India’s priorities in engaging littoral African countries in the framework of maritime security and Indian Ocean. As the Indo-Pacific region is rising in strategic significance, the discussion on these issues is a welcome development. Besides, China is a major player in East African economic and infrastructure sectors and therefore, we are likely to see more and more references to Indo-Pacific in India’s engagement with the Western Indian Ocean states. Overall, the speeches and the visit injected fresh energy into India’s Africa outreach and therefore, needs to be appreciated.
*Dr. Sankalp Gurjar, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i]Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Address by External Affairs Minister at the UNSC Open Debate on ‘Peace and Security in Africa: addressing root causes of conflict while promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa’’, May 19, 2021. Available at: https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/33869/Address_by_External_Affairs_Minister_at_the_UNSC_Open_Debate_on_Peace_and_Security_in_Africa_addressing_root_causes_of_conflict_while_promoting_postpa (Accessed on June 18, 2021)
[xi]Deutsche Welle, ‘Paris summit promises 'New Deal' for Africa’, May 18, 2021. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/paris-summit-promises-new-deal-for-africa/a-57575579 (Accessed on June 18, 2021); Africanews, ‘African heads of states set for May 18 Paris summit on Covid and economic revival’, May 24, 2021. Available at: https://www.africanews.com/2021/05/14/african-heads-of-states-set-for-may-18-paris-summit-on-covid-and-the-economy// (Accessed on June 18, 2021)
[xii]Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Remarks by Minister of State for External Affairs at the Summit on the Financing of African Economies (May 18, 2021)’, May 19, 2021. Available at: https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/33866/Remarks_by_Minister_of_State_for_External_Affairs_at_the_Summit_on_the_Financing_of_African_Economies_May_18_2021 (Accessed on June 18, 2021)
[xvi]Ministry of External Affairs, ‘India-Kenya Joint Statement on the Visit of External Affairs Minister to Kenya (June 12-14, 2021)’, May 14, 2021. Available at: https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/33918/IndiaKenya_Joint_Statement_on_the_Visit_of_External_Affairs_Minister_to_Kenya_June_1214_2021 (Accessed on June 18, 2021)
[xxiii]Ministry of External Affairs, ‘Remarks by External Affairs Minister at the inauguration of refurbished Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Library at the University of Nairobi’, June 2021. Available at: https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/33915/Remarks_by_External_Affairs_Minister_at_the_inauguration_of_refurbished_Mahatma_Gandhi_Memorial_Library_at_the_University_of_Nairobi (Accessed on June 18, 2021)