New Delhi will be a host to the third edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit from October 26-29. Africa is the second largest continent in the world but it is home to more countries than both Asia and Europe. With an estimated population of 1.1 billion, Africa also happens to be the second most populous continent in the world. Ironically, the population of the entire African continent is less than the population of India. In fact it is less than even 50 per cent of the combined population of Asian giants China and India.
Despite that one cannot overlook the importance of Africa as a continent simply because of its size and the population it supports. Fortunately, the upcoming summit in New Delhi will witness participation from 54 recognised African states. News reports have suggested that nearly 40 heads of state will be in attendance at the summit. This is indeed a big achievement because the previous summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, saw participation from only 14 African states. “India is proud to host @indiaafrica2015. The Summit reflects India & Africa’s desire to engage more intensively for a better future,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the lead up to the summit.
Considering India’s growing keenness for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, which became evident during PM Modi’s trip to the United States last month, it is incumbent upon India to foster good relations with African nations. The support of the African countries as a whole would be vital for bringing in reform at the UNSC. The developing countries have to come together and pressurize the P-5 into expanding the Security Council thereby making it more geographically representative and reflective of the new economic world order.
If India-Africa ties improve exponentially then the larger international picture is bound to transform. Besides acting together on the global stage, India and Africa should also develop deep bilateral relations. As far as India’s role in the African continent is concerned, Prime Minister Modi must realise that India has to be a friend of the African people and not the African leaders. Though Modi believes in building strong personal relations with international leaders like President Obama, it is important for him to realise that many of the African leaders are undemocratic despots who’ve ruled their respective nations for decades without doing much for the welfare of their people.Take the case of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who has been in power since 1987 and is the incumbent chairperson of the African Union. As per World Bank estimates, when Mugabe assumed power the average life expectancy in Zimbabwe was 61.11 years. In 2012, it was down to 58.05 years. The Zimbabwean economy is in a mess after having witnessed years of hyperinflation. Zimbabwe’s neighbour in southern Africa, the oil rich nation of Angola, is led by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos. President Santos has served in office since 1979. While his own daughter Isabel Dos Santos happens to be a billionaire, Angola happens to be the deadliest country in the world for children. Ground reportage from Angola by the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof showed that Angolan hospitals do not have medicines for dying children. In his column titled “Deadliest country for kids”, Kristof wrote that “one child in six in this country will die by the age of six” and “150,000 Angolan children die annually”. All of this conveniently occurs at a time when the president’s own daughter earns billions while the children of the commoners are left to die.
There are several African leaders like Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, all of whom find place in the list of “World’s Worst Dictators” by David Wallechinsky, who have ruled since more than three decades now. Indian foreign policy should not seek to extend the undemocratic rule of such men. Neither should it take an interventionist shape. Change has to come from within and all our country can do is be a friend of the African people as stated earlier instead of being a friend of the African leaders who lack credibility.
Shared history and challenges
The African Union is a successor body to the Organisation for African Unity whose primary objectives were to fight colonialism and apartheid in the African continent. The AU which was launched on July 9, 2002, focuses more on democracy, peace, prosperity, security and human rights. The rise of terror groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and Lord’s Resistance Army poses a serious threat to the peace and stability in the African continent. The Indian security forces have an experience of dealing with terrorism in several places including regions of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the northeast. The Indian forces should help train and better equip the African troops to fight the terror groups operating in Africa.
Many of the victims of the mayhem unleashed by African terrorist groups are young women and children. LRA, led by Joseph Kony, is notorious for pushing children into sex slavery and turning them into child soldiers. LRA does so in the name of religion with Kony pretending to be a prophet of God. Boko Haram has also been utilising religion to ferment unrest in Nigeria. They are ideologically opposed to western education and have abducted young schoolgirls in the past and forcefully converted them to Islam. Al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab is another threat which cannot be overlooked and so is the Islamic State as it plans to spread its tentacles across Africa.We cannot breathe easy here in India as long as terror groups continue creating havoc in Africa. India should proactively lend its military expertise in terms of intelligence sharing and sophisticated weapons to African nations in their quest to wipe out monstrous groups like Boko Haram and LRA. African nations also have a lot to learn from India’s secular model of democracy. Countries like Nigeria and Central African Republic are embroiled in bloody religious conflicts. Though India has its own share of religious conflicts to resolve yet the Indian model of pluralism and secular democracy can serve as a lesson for those in Africa who truly believe in coexistence and multiculturalism.
India must throw open the doors of its universities to African students. Such an arrangement would be beneficial both ways. Young Africans will get an opportunity to transform their lives by gaining access to affordable education and at the same time India’s university campuses will get foreign students which they seriously lack. More hostels would have to be created to accommodate African students and the government will have to arrange for credit and scholarship facilities for them.
Our country will also have to cleanse itself of racism. The fact that many Africans living in India face racial discrimination on a day to day basis cannot be denied. A visit to Khirki village in New Delhi will make one realize how Indians refer to African migrants as hapshis or cannibals. They are stereotyped and accused of being involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. Such vices have no place in a pluralistic society. Racism against Africans living in India has to be tackled with utmost seriousness. We cannot allow autowalas and real estate brokers to overcharge Africans for their services simply because they can’t understand the local language or are unaware of the fundamentals of the local economy. But what we have to be wary about is regarding the involvement of some Africans in drug trade. The proliferation of drugs on Indian soil capable of endangering the lives of our young minds will not be tolerated.
These issues will surely come up for discussion in the upcoming India-Africa Forum Summit. But the most vital talking point would be of trade, investment and business.
In the past few days a number of statistics have been thrown around to give a sense of the size of Indo-Africa trade relations. As per a Press Trust of India report, India’s trade with Africa is worth USD 75 billion. The figure is expected to rise as a number of memorandums of understanding would surely be signed during the summit between the Indian and African leadership. But India needs to be sure of one thing i.e. that we shouldn’t go inside African territory with the intention of looting Africa.
No scramble for power
Africa’s tragedy rests in the fact that its resources and people were looted by the European colonial powers. In the 21st century, we are witnessing the evils of neo-liberalism and multinational corporations. Some of our own companies are exploiting our wealth and resources in states like Chhattisgarh and Odisha. We cannot allow them to do in Africa what they have been trying to do at home. Any trade relationship between India and Africa has to be premised on the notion of egalitarianism. Strict rules and regulations would have to be devised to prevent the loot and theft of Africa’s oil, emeralds, pearls, gas and mineral wealth.
Economic justice and fair distribution of wealth are often ignored in the blind pursuit of prosperity. India-Africa trade relations should negate any trade activity which impinges upon economic justice. Progress should be mutual and its benefits must necessarily flow down to the citizens of both India and Africa instead of being limited to the ruling elite in both the regions. The task ahead for India and Africa’s political and business leadership is overwhelmingly difficult but with the resilience and spirit of our people it is a feat which can certainly be achieved.
Martin Luther King Jr once dreamt of an America free from racial bias, an America which practised racial integration instead of racial segregation. The people of India and Africa too have a dream. They dream of well-built roads and residential complexes instead of broken pathways and slum houses. They dream of affordable schools, colleges and hospitals which would lead to education becoming a right instead of a privilege. They dream of becoming self sufficient in terms of food production and safeguarding themselves from epidemics like AIDS and Ebola. They dream of a nation where life expectancy would be high and salaries paid to workers would be in the spirit of optimum remuneration and mindful of the prevailing price rise. They dream of a time when people of all religions, sects, tribes and castes would live together in peace.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)