Nagesh K Ojha is a researcher in School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi.
If the short-term future lies with the Asia; long-term growth and development is bound to depend on the African continent. This potential region has the capacity to support the juggernaut of Asian progress. India, having this context into consideration, rightly made a move to extend cooperation toward Africa through the Indo-Africa Forum, a well thought-out program and diplomatic move, to establish better understanding with the second most populous region on this planet.
Since, April (4-8) 2008, when the first Summit was held in New Delhi, a lot of water has been flown not only from the Indian establishment but also through Africa. Both have covered a long journey from the financial crisis to the recent oil market upheavals in a short period of seven years. So, the next rotational Indo-Africa Forum Summit is going to be held from 26-30 October 2015 in New Delhi with a new hope. Though, it was scheduled for December 2014 but could not take place due to ‘Ebola’ outbreak in many West African countries or any undisclosed reasons. This is going to be the largest summit as representatives or heads of states of 54 nations are expected to attend the five days meet.
The world’s second largest continent has got attention not only by India; China and many other countries are also having a focus to reach out in the region for various reasons. Recently, Commonwealth Games of 2022 have been awarded to Durban and that has become the first city in Africa to host a multi-sports event of this kind. The sports diplomacy of 71 countries of the Commonwealth Games Federation was only the extension of the reaching out programs of other continents where the first FIFA World Cup was held in Africa in 2010 and the Rugby World Cup in 1995.
Therefore, India’s effort to reach out Africa is a timely and intelligent move to make future better secure and sound. This year in May, a visit of India’s External Affairs Minister to South Africa was only an additional step to show the significance of this region and focus in country’s diplomacy. Moreover, its extension was experienced in Ufa, where Prime Minister met with President Zuma of South Africa as well. The personal invitation given by the Prime Minister to President Zuma for the India-Africa Form Summit had again shown India’s interest in the region. Other heads of state are well aware of the fact that this would be not only an opportunity to discuss issues on a multilateral platform, it could be a new opening bilaterally as well in various fields; e.g. sustainable development, climate change, environment, poverty alleviation, energy efficiency and innovation or trade, professional and cultural education, science and technology, space, and various bilateral issues. In fact, from 14 nations (1st Summit) and 15 nations (2nd summit) to more than fifty nations is going to be the largest diplomatic outreach to the new government in India.
Since, poverty driven many African nations do not find a proper voice for their grievances at various big multilateral forums, it could be a suitable place to table the subject in their own context. Though, it looks new stand to discuss individual problems and bilateral or multilateral issues, but in historical terms, it has the legacy of the Asia-Africa Conference that was held in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955. Leaders of 29 states, mostly belonged to former colonies and two continents of Asia and Africa discussed their common concerns and focused on developing common and joint policies in world affairs. At the time ‘Nehru-Soekarno-Nasser,’ the trio led the conference. Leaders of the third world shared and discussed their similar problems to resist the pressure of regional, super, and major powers. Opposing colonialism and neo-colonialism, along with maintaining their own freedom from western powers and domination was the big concern. This led the opening of the Non-Aligned Movement, which paved the way for many poor and developing countries to cooperate on the basis of shared principles.
However, in the current situation, if India desires a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council; the whole African continent is not being represented at the same fora. This issue could be a strong meeting point to cement the India-Africa Forum at the United Nations as well. There is no need to say that the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summit’ and its established tradition are very helpful in dealing with many countries as far as this new government and especially Prime Minister Modi is concerned. Either the issue of asking support for India’s membership for the Nuclear Suppliers Group is concerned wherein South Africa is ready to support India on the issue or support for the permanent seat at the United Nation’s Security Council is concerned, the relation and the legacy of Gujarat forum have helped a lot to deal with various heads of state and reconstruct the foreign policy rules (?) to the Prime Minister Modi specifically. In other areas like defense and naval, joint exercises or joint defense productions may focus on security as well as foreign direct investments. Since, Africa is rich in natural resources; mining could be a special focus while focusing on Yoga could provide an opportunity to discuss holistic health for all. So, the third summit of the India-Africa Forum at the Indira Gandhi Stadium Complex in New Delhi would be a golden opportunity before the new government to extend cooperation with various African nations in different fields and to compete with other stakeholders in the potential and growing region.
As far as financial and economic potential of this region is concerned, it could well be understood by the growing strength of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, which is the largest one in Africa and had the market capitalization value of US$ 1,007 billion in 2013. Since fluctuation oil and food prices have been a constant concern of Indian and African leaders, it could become a focal issue in this Summit to invest in the long term. However, India is more focused on the South African and alike markets where the market value has been projected to expand to roughly $1.4 trillion by 2020, though it was only $860 billion in 2008, when the first Summit was held in New Delhi. In fact, various nations of this growing continent have perceived ‘Make-in-India’ initiative to boost trade with India along with attracting huge Indian investments to the natural resource-rich continent. In this context, Ghana’s High Commissioner Samuel Panyin Yalley’s comment is pertinent to highlight that “Source raw material from Africa, Make in India and sell in Africa.” It is true that 54 countries of this continent have potential to offer big opportunities regarding raw material sourcing and final product marketing in a wider market of these nations. Africa has rightly been observed as a ‘New Frontier’ of trade for old as well as prospective investors. Agro-processing industry, BPO services, and many others have a decent opportunity to lure investment in more than fifty cities having a population of over one million. India rightly acknowledged Africa as its extended neighborhood and ready for economic engagements. It is interested in the region’s growth and integration with the world economy. India is looking for the extension of Duty-Free Tariff Preference (DETP) scheme to the least developed nations. The new government focuses on various issues to be taken at the forthcoming Summit; e.g. various capacity building programs to make human resource development more effective, infrastructure development, agriculture along with food processing industry, maritime security engagement to create an atmosphere of economic growth, investment and development. India has launched the ‘Make in India’ program to facilitate investment, protect intellectual property, foster innovation, and build high-class manufacturing infrastructure. It is necessary for the knowledge economy. India has five prime concerns to be addressed at the Summit; i.e. development, security, capacity building, maritime dimension, and a new global order. India is bound to strengthen and deepen the African strategic partnerships in a globalized world.