In October 2015, India hosted the third India-Africa Summit, which is held every three years. In the past, only a select number of African nations were invited to attend. This time, however, was different. All 54 African nations participated and, interestingly, it was the first time that an event of this magnitude was held in India since the Non-Aligned Summit in 1983. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the commonalities between Africa and India saying, “From the memory of our common struggles, and the tide of our collective hopes, from the richness of our heritage…this is not a new journey, nor a new beginning. But, this is a new promise of a great future for an ancient relationship.”
Indeed, the interaction between India and Africa is historically more intimate than that between China and Africa. During pre-colonial times, there were economic ties between India and East Africa. And of course, during the colonial era, British colonialists brought indentured Indian labor to Africa to work on projects such as the East African Railway in the late 19th Century. The presence of Indians in East Africa is robust in the economic sector, as they have long been business owners and merchants. Although accurate data is hard to attain, contestable reports suggest that 8 percent to 12 percent of the global Indian diaspora currently resides in Africa. Many members of the Indian diaspora also have African citizenships, seemingly paving the way for Africa-India relations.
During the above mentioned landmark summit, India committed 10 billion USD in lines of credit and a grant assistance (aid) of 600 million USD to be used for development until 2020. The grant also includes 50,000 scholarships for African students and an India-Africa Health Fund consisting of 10 million USD. Of course, this is much lower than China’s commitments to Africa (as discussed above). However, for India-Africa relations, it is a milestone as it presents a very big increase in India’s financial aid to Africa. The amount promised at this summit was more than the combined amount in concessional financing and grants committed by India over the previous two India-Africa Summits.
India’s attempts to bring African leaders into its fold was also bolstered in July 2016 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a state visit to various African nations. Again, PM Modi invoked the similarities between India’s past and Africa’s bygone days. Upon arriving in South Africa, he insisted, “For me personally, this visit is an opportunity to pay homage to two of the greatest human souls to have ever walked this Earth.—Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.” Modi even retraced Gandhi’s footsteps in South Africa, where the great leader was thrown out of the first class coach in a train station in Durban when a white man objected to his presence despite the fact he had a ticket. This was indeed a symbolic gesture to remind all involved that both India and South Africa had fought and won against brutal colonialism.
During his trip, PM Modi visited four African nations—Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa, all bordering the Indian Ocean on their eastern coasts. These countries have a thriving Indian diaspora and during his visit, Modi centered the members of the diaspora as a crucial part in India’s relationship with Africa. During an event in Durban, South Africa, he praised the Indian diaspora saying, “You are part of the flourishing global Indian family…a bond on which we are building the promise of our prosperous future.” Indeed, in many of these countries, members of the Indian diaspora are influential citizens of their African homes, with some serving as civil servants and government officials.
Despite having the diaspora advantage, India still lags behind China in trade and commercial engagement with Africa. Compared to the past, however, India has much to celebrate with regards to its trade with the continent. For instance, its trade with the continent has grown from 1 billion USD in 1995 to 35 billion USD in 2008 and almost doubling this last amount to 70 billion in 2015. This is of course, is dwarfed by China’s 179 billion USD trade with African nations.
Although India’s investments in Africa are significant (about 50 billion USD as of 2014), the vast majority of this amount goes to the tax haven African nation, Mauritius. But this does not mean that India has not invested in other African countries. In South Africa for example, the government reported that Indian companies have created more than 10,000 jobs mainly in technology and financial services. Indian companies are also active in a range of industries in Africa including automobiles, telecom, finance, pharmaceuticals, resource extraction and construction.