Africa has been ignored for decades. It did not have a standing of its own for centuries. In the age of colonialism, it was a source of cheap bonded labor and in the post-colonial period, it was ignored. However, the rise of the new power centers like India and China have altered the focus countries. For India and China, the continent is an important source of raw material. Both of these countries seek to exploit the rich landscape of Africa for benefit of the continent and of their own. European powers only exploited people and natural resources of Africa for selfish interests and the relation was that of domination rather than cooperation.
India’s engagement with the continent goes hundreds of centuries back with a rich history of trade between the old African civilizations and empires in Indian peninsula. China, a late-comer to the continent started increasing its engagement after its newfound wealth in post-economic liberalization period. The hunger for raw material among Chinese corporate brought the country to African continent. The deep pockets of China allowed it to expand more rapidly than India and invested 220 billion dollars between 2005 and 2018. The influence of India on the continent became limited in last few decades.
However, under Modi government, the country again started increasing engagement with the African continent through various projects in the field of electricity, agriculture, and telecommunication. India and Japan announced Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) for human resource development and capacity building in Africa. India has partnered with Japan to build cancer hospital in Kenya, a country on eastern seaboard of Africa. India would also set up an ICT center in Ethiopia with help of UAE. China has been major influencer in various African nations in last one and a half decade, India is trying to counter balance this under Modi government.
India has also planned fiber optics and wireless networks between India and countries of African union. India would provide assistance to African countries in the field of e-governance, e-commerce, and infotainment.
There is no doubt that China currently enjoys deeper clout over Africa than India. This is due to deep pockets of China which allowed it to expand its feet as well as cold efforts by previous Indian government to engage with Africa. But in the long term, India’s soft power and closer cultural links give an advantage to India. Bollywood movies are very popular in Africa with huge black as well as white market. English is administrative language in both countries and there is a large organized Indian Diaspora on the continent.
The growing economy will provide India fiscal space for closer African engagement in near future. Modi government has taken steps to increase its presence in Africa. PM Modi visited Africa a few months back. In his address to Ugandan parliament he said “our development partnership currently includes implementation of 180 lines of credit worth about $11 billion in over 40 African countries. At the last India Africa Forum Summit (in New Delhi in 2015), we had committed a concessional line of credit of $10 billion and $600 million in grant assistance.” The government’s efforts to increase engagement will balance growing Chinese presence. Africa is next big market and it also has abundant amount of natural resources which India needs. Therefore a greater involvement will be beneficial for India as well as for Africa.