Rising India and Resurgent Africa: It’s Time to Tango

In times of distress, hope springs in the most unusual places. Just when the developed world, specially the eurozone, is reeling from the blowback of the festering global recession, a renascent Africa has emerged as a fountain of hope. Shattering past stereotypes of gloom and doom, the 54-nation African continent is expected to grow at a healthy 6 per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The upbeat predictions about Africa’s economic fortunes coincides with hopes of political transformation, a process that has been accelerated by the redemptive upheavals of the so-called Arab Spring that toppled the long-entrenched autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and promises to carry its contagion of freedom to other parts of the Sub-Saharan Africa. Whichever way one looks at it, Africa is rising, and so is India and their emergence is part of the larger process of the seismic shift of power from the West to the rest. In the second decade of the 21st century, Africa has become an important pole of a new global discourse that sees the resource-rich continent as the next big thing or the next Asia, and the African and Indian dreams are increasingly intersecting each other.

Mapping African resurgence

While statistics can sometimes lie and the most well-meaning prophecies can go awry, the overwhelming optimism about Africa’s economic outlook is ineluctable. The African resurgence is, therefore, no longer an Afro-optimist’s delusion, but it is for real. Some of the larger African countries are expected to record double-digit growth while most African countries are expected to average 5-6 per cent this year. And, significantly, this projected boom is not simply going to come from regional behemoths like Nigeria and South Africa or the famously rich oil-producing countries. It may come as a surprise to many but Sierra Leone, a West African country with a population one-third that of Delhi, is expected to grow by 51.4 per cent in 2012, according to the IMF. The IMF predicts that Niger, a uranium-rich West African country, is set to grow by more than 12 per cent, thanks to new uranium mines coming online and a new oil rig. Angola, Africa’s second-biggest oil producer after Nigeria, will continue its high-growth trajectory, with a projected GDP increase of 10.8 percent. Ghana recorded an impressive 13.6 percent growth rate in 2011 and is expected to continue its winning onward march this year as well. Mozambique is set to remain a star performer in Africa: its economy expanded at an average rate of close to eight per cent over the last decade and is likely to grow by more than seven per cent in 2012, says Standard Chartered in a review. But it’s not just the resource-rich countries which are going to prosper, but also countries displaying a can-do attitude in developing the much-needed infrastructure and a burgeoning middle class which will drive the growth in the continent.

Another good news story shaping up is the rise of Middle Africa. The middle class in Sub-Saharan Africa has been growing steadily, and depending upon benchmarks, the middle class is estimated to be between 100 million to 300 million. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa’s middle class, which spends around $2-$20 every day, rose to 313 million people in 2010, 34% of the continent’s population, from 111 million (26%) in 1980. The bank says that many living on $2-$4 a day are “floating” and calculated the stable middle class to be 123 million, 13% of the population. What is more striking is the redoubtable optimism about the trajectory of the middle class in Africa, which AfDB’s chief economist Mthuli Ncube, describes as “unstoppable.” By 2060, the African middle class will grow to 1.1 billion (42% of the population).

Trendy multi-storied malls flaunting premium brands are proliferating by the day, breeding a consumer culture that is attracting top international brands like Walmart, Pizza Hut and Victoria’s Secret to the continent. Be it slick cars, TVs, fridge or the latest mobile, the African middle class consumer is no longer resigned to be a have-not in the globalised marketplace. A mobile revolution has swept Africa, with over half a billion subscribers. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the consumer spending is expected to more than double to $1.4 trillion in 2020 from about $860bn in 2008. “It is a trend marked by changing lifestyles, greater spending power, more recreational time, the harnessing of technology and a new political assertiveness and cultural self-confidence,” says a news report in The Guardian (David Smith and Lucy Lamble in The Guardian).

These tectonic changes are rapidly morphing the geo-economic landscape of the continent and are also transforming the public image of Africa, creating a new narrative of Rs – resurgence, renaissance and renewal – replacing the dead clichés of the four Cs: crisis, catastrophe, conflicts and coups. The turnaround in the image of Africa was strikingly demonstrated in the December 2011 cover story of The Economist, a powerful barometer of elite intellectual opinion in the West, that flaunted the tagline: ‘The hopeful continent’ and regretted its earlier description of ‘The Hopeless Continent’ in 2000. “This is the Africa of opportunity…the Africa where people take charge of their own futures… the Africa where people are looking for partnerships,” says IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. The poverty rate in Africa has declined from nearly 60 percent to just over 50 percent in the 10 years up to 2005, says the World Bank in a report. Although the commodities boom in the last decade or so, buoyed by surging demand from large emerging economies like China, India and other emerging economies, has certainly helped, commodities are clearly not the whole story about the ongoing African resurgence.

Despite the festering famine in parts of the Horn of Africa and political brinkmanship in some countries, the untold story in the last decade has been the quiet embrace of democracy by a majority of African countries. From 1980, when there were just four democracies, there are now more than 30 functioning democracies with several important countries like Senegal, Kenya, Mali and Zimbabwe going to the polls this year. Many African countries have willingly accepted the African Peer Review Mechanism, a redoubtable sign that calls for transparency and accountability can’t go unheeded any more in this age of multi-media transfusion and the new media 24×7 chatter. “Better governance and macroeconomic policies, with greater political stability in a number of African countries, have contributed to a significant improvement in the overall economic performance of the continent,” says John Coulter, JPMorgan’s senior country officer for sub-Saharan Africa. “As a consequence, Africa is being taken more seriously as an investment and business destination,” he says.

Rising Africa and Resurgent India

What does this ongoing African renaissance mean for India, the world’s most populous democracy and one of the fastest growing economies navigating its transition to a global power? Can India dovetail its growth story with that of Africa and create a new era of Afro-Asian solidarity, a new Bandung, against the backdrop of the tectonic shift of power from the North to the South and the West to the East? How can India and Africa leverage their respective core strengths and capabilities to transform the lives of over two billion people and to shape an emerging world order? These are large overwhelming questions that deserve a close scrutiny, but there is no getting away from the fact that India is uniquely poised to leverage the African resurgence and quicken the blossoming of a re-awakened continent of a billion people with its proven prowess in knowledge industries, capacity building and IT.

History, cultural affinity, economic synergy and kindred worldviews are set to drive India and Africa, which were once part of the same geological landmass called Gondwanaland, closer and closer in days to come.

The relations date back centuries from the time enterprising Indian traders set sail in dhows to explore fresh business opportunities in the littoral states of the African continent. The same spirit of enterprise found its modern incarnation in the 19th century that brought traders, mostly from Gujarat, to East Africa. Thousands of Indians were also brought in the late 19th century as indentured labourers to sugar plantations in Mauritius and South Africa, among other nations, and to work on East Africa’s Mombasa-Kampala rail link. While building the rail-link they chanted ‘Har Har Ambee,’ (praise to Goddess Durga, a Hindu deity), an expression that so impressed Kenyan leader Jomo Kenyatta that he deployed it as a metaphor for collectively building a new nation. In Swahili, the Harambee now means “all pull together” and denote the community spirit. This effortless cultural transfusion and intermingling is reflected in generous improvisation of Indian-origin words in Swahili. So one can eat chapattis and samosas in Africa and take a gaddi (vehicle) to go to your favourite haunt. And biryanis, it appears, are forever, as no wedding in Africa is complete without serving biryani. Now, there is a nearly a 2.5 million-strong Indian diaspora in Africa, which is well-networked and amalgamated into their adopted societies, and has the potential to serve as an agent to spur the transformation of the India-Africa relationship in the 21st century.

The bonds were deepened during the struggle against colonialism and apartheid, with African and Asian leaders taking the lead to forge the Bandung spirit and the Non-Aligned Movement. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, counted leading African leaders like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nassar, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta as personal friends. Due to domestic preoccupations and the shifting geopolitics of the Cold War, Africa, however, momentarily lost its importance in India’s foreign policy priorities somewhere between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, but the resource-rich and people-rich continent bounced back in the reckoning with India’s policy makers in the new millennium with the launch of the Focus Africa policy in 2002 and a host of signature initiatives like the launch of the Team-9 initiative (focused on West Africa) in the years ahead.

With India’s economy steadily expanding in the 2000s and Africa benefiting from a commodities boom, India’s budding multinationals and globally ambitious corporates started rapidly developing their footprints across Africa. In fact, a wave of Afro-optimism has swept India Inc with big as well as small and medium enterprises vying with each other to invest in Africa. The seven CII-EXIM Bank project partnership conclaves India has hosted has brought hordes of African and Indian business leaders and policy makers on a common platform to forge joint collaborations and investment plans. Projects over $80 billion have been discussed in these conclaves. The perception has changed radically from the risks of being in Africa to the risks of not being in Africa. The approved cumulative India’s investments in Africa during 1996-2011 are estimated to be $16.3 billion. Investments by auto majors like Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra and pharmaceutical majors like Ranbaxy, Cipla and Dr. Reddy’s have steadily grown in size. While oil is seen as a key driver of India’s foray into Africa, the investments are spread over a wide swathe of areas ranging from IT, telecom, mining and infrastructure to hotels, agriculture, banking, real estate, education and services. ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of India’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission, operates $2.1 billion oil assets in Libya, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt.

Although India’s bilateral trade with Africa is now a little over $50 billion – less than half of bilateral trade of China and the US with the continent – the two sides are confident of surpassing $70 billion trade by 2015. An India-Africa Business Council comprising CEOs of major corporations is in the process of being formed. Besides investment in oil and minerals, Indian consumer brands like Bharti Airtel, which has a presence in 16 African countries following its $10.3 billion investment, Tata Motors, Mahindra Jeep and Maruti are creating an emotional connect with African buyers. However, the increased foray by the private sector also underlines the need for greater caution in ensuring that multinationals of the south do not replicate some of exploitative practices of the MNCs of the North. Many Indian companies operating in Africa have, therefore, woven corporate social responsibility into their business strategy by starting schools and community projects, but there is need to ensure constant self-scrutiny so that the ruthless pursuit of profit does not blanket out all other considerations and attract the tag of a neo-colonial predator, a charge that is sometimes levellled against Chinese companies operating in Africa.

Beyond Summits

Seeking to provide an institutional coherence to its engagement with Africa, India has set up the mechanism of the India-Africa Forum Summit, based on the 2006 Banjul Formula where African countries participate as heads of regional economic communities and are chosen by the African Union. The two India-Africa Forum summits held in New Delhi in 2008 and in Addis Ababa in 2011 have firmed up a template for taking this relationship into a higher trajectory and reemphasized the need to stretch this partnership beyond the three Ts –Trade, Technology and Training – to a more ambitious global partnership. Broadly speaking, one can say that the heart is in the right place as India goes on to set up over 100 training institutes across the continent, a unique venture that has the potential to create a trained corps of technicians, IT professionals and a managerial class that is badly needed to accelerate and sustain the African resurgence. If Africa is to reap the demographic dividend of an overwhelmingly young population – much like India, more than half of Africa’s billion-strong population is between 18-35 – education and human resource development on a continental scale are vitally crucial. Otherwise, this huge untapped human capital may fall prey to the blight of survival crimes on the one hand and the seductions of radical ideologies on the other. In this backdrop, India, with its experience of building world class engineering and management institutes, can play the role of a catalyst in harnessing the energies of the continent’s growing young population. There have been some laudable efforts in this direction, including the ITEC training slots in thousands for students and mid-career professionals, a decision to scale up scholarships to African students to 22,000 and an ambitious plan to set up an India-Africa Virtual University.

But clearly more can be done in an area that has the potential to create enduring goodwill for India as well as provide the much-needed trained personnel for the Indian businesses which are set to come in still larger numbers to African countries. Maybe India should think of setting up four IIT, IIM-like institutes in the four regions of Africa, a costly proposition but one which also promises robust returns in the long run.

Another component of human resource development is health. With all the talk of African renaissance, the average life span remains stubbornly below 50 in most African countries and lifestyle diseases, too, are growing. India’s affordable generic drugs and its anti-HIV retrovirals have made a huge difference in Africa, but the Indian government should encourage leading hospital chains of India to set up world-class health care institutes in African countries. Apollo Enterprises, for example, is planning to set up a 300-bed superspecialty hospital in Tanzania. The India-assisted Pan-African e-network project is an example of how innovative thinking can harness Indian expertise for the development of Africa by bringing tele-medicine and tele-education to thousands of Africans who can get privileged advice/consultancy from top medical professionals in India. The experimental project has been so successful that the Ethiopian government has asked for special classes for its students via the e-network. The pioneering project has won plaudits and has been honored with a top European prize for innovation.

India versus China in Africa?

But while some of these successes are commendable, there is little room for smugness. It’s not just headline-hunting journalists, but also the discourse-obsessed academics and experts portray India as a laggard and point out that India has still a long distance to travel in Africa before it can come anywhere close to China’s $120 billion-plus trade with the continent. Faced with this gap, Indian policy-makers have resorted to clichéd formulations like India is not in any race and has even blamed the West for trying to conjure Africa as an arena of contention between India and China in Africa. But such assertions only conceal an unease at China’s success in the continent which has allegedly used “questionable methods” to win lucrative infrastructure deals and deepen its economic stranglehold in the continent. Although comparisons can be sometimes misleading, there are also a few things India can learn from China. There is a serious diplomacy deficit at the top level that needs to be scaled up. The visits by Indian prime ministers, presidents and foreign ministers to African countries are few and far between. It was not exactly music to one’s ears to find in Abuja in 2007 that Manmohan Singh was the first Indian prime minister to visit Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, after Nehru in 1956. The diplomatic infrastructure needs to be upgraded. An Indian ambassador is often accredited to more than two-three African countries. Right now, India has missions in a little over 30 African countries compared to China which has missions in 50 countries. On the flip side, India needs to avoid some of the mistakes made by Chinese companies like bringing in their own labour at Chinese facilities in African countries that have triggered a backlash in a few places and Beijing’s policy of doing deals with dictatorial regimes that slows down democratization of the continent.

The argument here is not really about India catching up with China in Africa, as the trajectories of their engagement with the continent follow different histories and imperatives, but how India, with its $1.8 trillion economy and a 300-million strong middle class, can partner Africa to achieve mutual empowerment and to spur mutual resurgence. And from this argument flows the need to address urgently gaps and issues of vision incoherence to achieve this eminently desirable goal.

A strategic vision

While the deepening trade and investment linkages will have multiple spin-off benefits for India’s relations with Africa, it’s time to have a larger strategic vision of the relationship that could be pivotal to the emerging world order. Is there a vision problem afflicting India’s Africa policy makers? Or more importantly, is there a grand overarching design behind multiple initiatives that underpin India’s Africa policy? Recognizing Africa as “a major emerging growth pole of the world in the 21st century,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled his vision of the India-Africa relationship at the Africa-India Forum Summit in Addis Ababa May 25, 2011. “India will work with Africa to realise its vast potential. We believe that a new vision is required for Africa’s development and participation in global affairs,” he said. “We do not have all the answers but we have some experience in nation building which we are happy to share with our African brothers and sisters,” he said. The Addis Ababa Declaration outlines a global strategic partnership based on a growing convergence of positions on international issues, ranging from jointly combating terrorism and piracy to close coordination in global fora over the UN reforms, climate change and the Doha round of WTO negotiations. The template of strategic cooperation has been firmed up, but one needs to put in place a multi-layered strategic dialogue that is spread throughout the year rather than be focused on just summits. With radical Islamists and al-Qaeda active in some parts of Africa and piracy becoming a chronic problem, security and counter-terror cooperation, for one, needs to be scaled up in a perceptible way. In Addis Ababa, the two sides not only supported each other’s claim for permanent seat in the UN Security Council, but also acknowledged “the imperative of urgent and comprehensive reform of the UN system,” and sought “a new spirit of solidarity among developing countries” to remould the global governance architecture. With the text-based negotiations for the UN reforms gathering pace, Africa and India need to redouble their efforts collectively to achieve a reformed Security Council that reflects the ongoing shift of power from the developed West to emerging countries/regions of the North and East.

The Road Ahead

The ongoing resurgence of both India and Africa amid the global recession has thrown up a host of new opportunities for both sides to cement their bonds and rethink the next steps in their evolving partnership. The Indian model that has so far revolved around trade, capacity building and human resource development has its heart in the right place, but New Delhi needs to scale up its efforts in all these areas. The mantra for the future is more, more and more as Africa’s continuing growth offers fresh opportunities every passing day. In particular, Indian diplomacy and enterprise has to expand its footprints in the Francophone and Lusophone countries that have in the past not received the attention this dynamic cluster richly deserves. The transformation of Senegal’s rice farming with Indian aid and technology is a success story that can be duplicated in other West African countries. Another important area which requires close attention is to ensure billions India is committing to Africa are being used prudently and adheres to international criteria of aid effectiveness. At the second summit in Addis Ababa, India announced $5.7 billion in lines of credit and grants for a host of training institutes and development projects. It’s imperative that New Delhi puts in a comprehensive institutional and legislative framework to ensure greater transparency and accountability in how this money is being spent and sets up an impact assessment panel to determine what visible results are being achieved on the ground.

Building knowledge bridge

The terrain of engagement also needs to be broadened and remapped by building an enduring knowledge and information bridge between the two billion people living in these fast-growing regions. Sadly, for all the talk about the burgeoning engagement, there is still a forbidding wall of misinformation and lack of credible knowledge about each other that obstructs efforts at mutual understanding. Can an enduring relationship be built through interpreters or a hazy understanding of each other’s tastes, histories, proclivities and sensitivities? Both India and Africa have changed dramatically over the last two decades, and people need to travel more, talk more, and read more to know how friends are doing and managing. Replenishing knowledge about each other’s society, culture and systems is vitally important in this wired world. The worldview needs updating as well. How many Indians can name 10 countries in Africa? But many of them will surely be able to tell you names of 10 states of the United States of Africa! The media needs to shed its obsession with a few headline-grabbing countries, and turn its ears to new narratives and new stories of redemption emerging from the once dark continent, but now a promised land for creativity, enterprise and investment. It’s time to step up linkages and collaborations between intellectuals, authors, experts, think tanks and academia of both India and Africa. As Prof. Alpha Oumar Konare, the then chairperson of the African Union Commission, said at the first India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in April, 2008: “Today, Africa does not need a guiding hand. Between India and us, we do not need any intermediaries. Our civil societies, our businessmen, our youth, your women, our workers, our labour, our intellectuals, have to continue to talk amongst them to broaden the cooperation There is very little time now for Africa We do not want to waste any time. We have to make very major decisions now.” The operative word here is now, and it’s time both sides move beyond rhetoric to take tangible initiatives to accelerate civil society dialogue.


Above all, as a renascent Africa attracts increased global interest, there is also a compelling need to invest the relationship with strategic depth and to brand and distinguish India’s engagement from those of other traditional and emerging powers in the continent. Whether you call it a neo-scramble for Africa or not, the competition for Africa’s resources, markets and diplomatic influence is going to intensify. Gone are the days when Africa had no takers except the diktat-wielding Western donors and their favoured IMF-World Bank combine (ironically, the same institutions are now cheerleading for a new Africa). Africa has now multiple suitors, and it is she who will decide whom to partner for its resurgence. It’s, therefore, crucial for India, which boasts a centuries-old relationship and a history of anti-colonial South-South solidarity, to develop and sustain a discourse about its multi-faceted engagement and save it from potential misrepresentation by its rivals and competitors. Marrying African resources and Indian expertise, as former Ghana president John Kufuor says, is a win-win combination. “The African continent is now searching for new opportunities to partner with India to build the right capacity for a new prosperous, hunger-free, disease-free and poverty-free Africa. This is achievable through the transfer of human skills and technology from India to Africa,” says Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika in ‘Sharing the African Dream’. (Two Billion Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship). India has, therefore, many winning cards in Africa – there is no Chinese equivalent to Bollywood yet and Mahatma Gandhi had a more powerful influence than Chairman Mao, as Ali Mazrui points out – but New Delhi needs to reinforce its development-centric model with more vigorous diplomacy, quicker delivery systems and a broadened strategic dialogue that complements its growing trade and investment in the continent.

Compared to the Washington consensus and Beijing Consensus, is there a New Delhi way in Africa? Or is there a new Southern consensus in the making? The conditions are indeed propitious for burnishing and deftly marketing ‘Brand India,” an attractive mix of democracy, free market, technological innovation and enterprise that makes it a role model for many African countries. But the problem with role models is that one could also grow disillusioned as quickly if promises are not backed with time-bound action. Constant self-scrutiny and a relentless two-way dialogue, however, can keep the fire burning. To wit Mahatama Gandhi, the commerce in goods and services is fine and even necessary, but can dry up in the long run if there is not enough commerce and trafficking in ideas. “The 21st century is often described as the Asian century. India wishes to see the 21st century as the Century of Asia and Africa with the people of the two continents working together to promote inclusive globalization,” said Manmohan Singh at the first forum summit in New Delhi in 2008. The African dream and Indian dream can meld and create a new mosaic of world order. But to make this prophecy real, India needs greater audacity to think big, dream big and to bet big on the Africa growth story. “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all,” says an African proverb.

(Manish Chand is Editor of Africa Quarterly. He has presented papers at international seminars and written widely on issues relating to the emergence of Asian powers in Africa and the African renaissance.)

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.