Week Eight: India in Africa

This week focuses specifically on Indo-African relations. India’s Rise in Africa, an article by Ian Taylor, gives, as its title might suggest, some foundational insights into India’s rise in Africa. We learn that India’s presence in the continent is mostly commercially driven and with the private sector, rather than with the public sector. We also learn that India’s involvement with Africa might be motivated by some desire to increase its geo-political strategic position — most notably by making a case for a permanent seat on the UNSC. Taylor also juxtaposes China’s role in Africa with India’s role.

He concedes to some similarities in the two countries’ Africa policy, but also points out some glaring differences, including, as mentioned earlier, India’s focus on private sector (whereas China deals mainly with the public sector). We also learn from this article of the origins of Indo-African ties. As with China, this relationship was founded upon the idealistic rhetoric of south-south solidarity. But, as the relationship between Indians and Africans continued to change dynamically, this idealistic rhetoric was left behind for a more pragmatic, commercial, and somewhat nationalistic approach.

As with the discussion on China’s role in Africa, India’s role in Africa brings forth several questions. For example, what agency are African countries afforded when interacting with these foreign bodies? Are they able to secure enough bargaining power to ensure that these “strangers” have their best interest at heart? Is India’s involvement in Africa just another example of how Africa, as Paul Zeleza put it, is a “hapless tabula-rasa” upon which imperialist visions of other countries are tested?

Nevertheless, one must be careful when answering these questions not to be speculative or fall for simplistic rhetoric and conspiracy theories. But, for Africa to truly benefit from its involvement with foreign countries, be it China or India or France or America, it must first make rigorous changes to its political, social, and economic structure. Perhaps it can be said that the only way to do this sustainably is by interacting in many different ways with other nations. But perhaps it can be said that because many African countries lack the structure to have high bargaining power in bi-lateral or multilateral foreign relations, any such relation will be at the expense of sustainable development in the African country in question.

Moyosore Arewa

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