From darkness to light: India-Africa trade corridor offers multiple opportunities

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa (File Photo). Photograph:( WION )

Gurgaon, Haryana, India Feb 08, 2019, 10.35 AM (IST) Pushpesh Pant

An old almost forgotten Sanskrit prayer has evocative Words tamaso ma jyotir gamaya that translates lead me from darkness to light. India has taken quite long to move into what the imperialist colonisers derisive called the ‘Dark Continent’.

Even after Independence, we have let stereotypes dominate our perceptions. It is in this context that one should welcome the sudden spurt of zeal in 'initiatives’ focusing on hitherto neglected countries in that resource-rich and strategically significant continent.

First of all, we must understand that countries on the eastern seaboard of Africa and particularly those situated in the Horn of Africa are our close neighbours with whom we have had millennia-old trade and cultural ties. This is where the non-violent weapon of Satyagraha was forged that was effectively deployed to liberate India from the colonial yoke. Nelson Mandela was inspired by Gandhi’s vision and his life. This has resulted in South Africa hogging the limelight most of the time.  

Francophone Africa and the territories under Portuguese and Belgian control have been neglected in comparison to the detriment of our national interest. 

What has awakened India from a stupor is the Chinese expansion on a frightening scale. The term ‘frightening’ may sound alarmist to some but the bitter truth is that it reflects ground reality. India has pledged $400 million in aid, and though, the figure appears large but it pales into insignificance to what China has been pouring in Africa since 2015. It has secured a naval base in Djibouti and competes with India in every arena from food to energy security. India simply can’t expect to match China in foreign or technical aid. Nor does our emphasis on Soft Power allowed us to gain any traction. 

We have not given due importance even to oil producing countries, with the exception of Nigeria, and have been unnecessarily squeamish and sanctimonious about dealing with countries in grip of violent strife bilaterally though Indian men in uniform have played a critical role under the flag of United Nations. We have canvassed support in Africa chasing the mirage of a permanent seat in the Security Council or other elections in international fora. We have failed to assess commercial and strategic opportunities until China has gained a first mover advantage blocking us effectively.

Its said ‘better late than never’ and this seems to be the only consolation we can derive from the recent announcement from the South Block that India is raising its diplomatic representation in several countries that till now were put in charge of concurrently accredited envoys ensconced in more hospitable Capitals. Be it the state visit of the President or the Prime Minister what is required is to follow up on promises and expeditious execution of projects.

Let’s not forget that over a million Indians live in African Diaspora and Africa provides a useful gateway to Latin America. It's time we looked beyond the BRICS. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)
 

Pushpesh Pant

Pushpesh Pant is a noted Indian academic and historian.

Story highlights

China has gained a first mover advantage blocking us effectively. It's time we looked beyond the BRICS.