Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy

India and Africa: Shared Cultures, entwined destinies

February 03, 2014

By Manish Chand

It’s an unending journey, laden with history, nostalgia and cross-cultural intermingling. If the two-way trade between India and Africa is now racing to touch $100 billion by 2015, it all goes back centuries ago when enterprising Gujarati traders from Kutch smelt spices and profits in a distant Indian Ocean island located thousands of miles away.

Zanzibar: A Spicy Affair

Centuries hence, India and Indians continue to permeate the spirit of Zanzibar, better known for its stunningly picturesque beaches and thriving spice trade. In many ways, Zanzibar, home to a sizeable Indian community, has emerged as a miniature of India’s engagement with Africa, which revolves around the trinity of trade, training and technology transfer.This colourful history of India’s multifarious connections with Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, frames the nine-day visit (Feb 1-9) of President Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein to India.(In Pic: President Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein arrives in New Delhi on 02 February 2014)

He is accompanied by senior ministers and a delegation of high-profile businessmen, who are travelling with him to Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Bolstering business ties, cooperation in capacity building and cultural exchanges top the agenda of Dr. Shein’s India visit.

Gift of Light, the ITEC way

Given the burgeoning hunger for education and training in his province and across Africa, it’s not surprising that the Zanzibar leader has begun his India journey with a trip to Barefoot College in Rajasthan, which has emerged as a beacon of light and hope for hundreds of rural women from Africa, Latin America and Pacific island nations. They learn the craft of solar engineering in Tilonia in Rajasthan, and go on to light up their far-flung villages when they return home. Back home, the Zanzibar leader has seen first-hand the subtlety and dexterity of the Zanzibari rural women in assembling, installing and maintaining solar lamps for providing electric power to nearly 100 homes. This gift of light they had received in their training under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme, popularly called ITEC, which lies at the core of India’s partnership with Africa in the sphere of human resource development. Inspired by this act of self-fashioning and transformation, the Zanzibar leader now wants to replicate such training facilities in his province. (In Pic: Barefoot Solar Grandmothers from Least Developed Countries underwent training under the Ministry’s ITEC Programme and celebrated International Women’s Day on March 08, 2013)

Knowledge Power

In a sense, solar grandmoms, as they are called, have become emblems of India’s development-centric partnership with Africa. Training and capacity building are core thrusts of India’s engagement with Africa. Given Africa’s overwhelmingly young population, the continent is poised to reap a demographic dividend, and India sees itself as a partner in this quest for empowerment and transformation. This explains why India has promised to set up over 100 training institutes across Africa encompassing diverse areas ranging from agriculture, rural development and food processing to information technology, vocational training, English language centres, and entrepreneurial development institutes. These training institutes are poised to be a game-changer in Africa’s ongoing resurgence and its ambition to become a knowledge-driven society. Preliminary work on these training institutes has already started, and India is hoping that at least some of them will be up and running by the time New Delhi hosts the third India-Africa Forum Summit later this year. This focus on human resource nurturing is also evident in over 20,000 scholarships India has given to African students. India is also home to over 20,000 African students, with most of them paying for themselves.

The heart of the burgeoning India-Africa partnership remains the kindred quest for growth, equity and inclusive development. In the spirit of South-South cooperation and its focus on partnering the African resurgence, India has pledged around $8 billion soft loans (lines of credit) for a host of development projects in the resource-rich and infrastructure-hungry continent. India, as Manmohan Singh said, 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 globalisation.

Scaling a New Summit

Marking an important milestone in their relationship, India and Africa began the process of summit meetings in 2008, which provide an overarching architecture for top-level engagement between the two sides on the basis of the Banjul formula. The summit meeting is now held every three years and entails the African Union choosing participating African countries for the gathering of heads of state/government of India and Africa. The two summits held so far in New Delhi and Addis Ababa in 2008 and 2011 respectively have underscored unique and enduring features of India's engagement which is animated by a response to Africa' "needs, requests and priorities.” "In accordance with Africa's own priorities, we have decided to significantly enhance support for institutional capacity building, technical assistance and training programmes for human resource development in Africa," Manmohan Singh said at the India-Africa Forum Summit in Addis Ababa. "The similarity of our development experiences and circumstances has made India-Africa cooperation a genuine two-way street. This is its true strength and its distinctive feature,” he underlined.

Two-Way Street

Indeed, the India-Africa relationship is increasingly becoming a two-way street and a partnership of equals as the India story increasingly intersects an unfolding narrative of Afro-optimism. In the economic sphere, there is a perceptible surge of enthusiasm on both sides to intensify trade and investment. The resurgent African continent is generating a wave of Afro-optimism, with the continent expected to clock the growth rate of 6 per cent this year. India and Africa, with a combined gross domestic product of nearly $3 trillion and healthy growth rates, are rapidly emerging as a bulwark against the corroding downturn. Building upon this new business alchemy, bilateral trade between has exceeded $60 billion. The two sides are now confident of scaling trade to $100 billion by 2015.

A global partnership

With their growing economic prowess and a shared vision of crafting an inclusive world order, it’s not surprising that India and Africa are now complementing their economic ties with strategic orientation. "We believe that a new vision is required for Africa's development and participation in global affairs,” Manmohan Singh said to applause of African leaders in Addis Ababa in 2011. India and Africa are on "the right side of history,” he said with an uncanny prescience.

Pushing the envelope, India and Africa are proactively seeking to collaborate on a slew of global issues, ranging from jointly combating terrorism and piracy to close coordination in global fora over the UN reforms, climate change and the WTO negotiations. In the days to come, one can expect India and Africa to come closer to achieve reform of political, security and economic institutions of governance.

People Power

The deepening of economic and strategic ties between India and Africa, home to over two billion people and some of the fastest-growing economies, is indeed an exhilarating story. But at the end of it all, the enduring strength of India-Africa relations remains a sense of deep-rooted empathy, solidarity and people-to-people contacts. And it is the strengthening of this popular and cultural base, which holds the key to the continued vibrancy of this important diplomatic relationship of the 21st century.

India and Africa: A Shared Journey - a short film

(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes (, an online magazine and journal focused on international affairs. He has edited Africa Quarterly; Two Billion Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship; and co-edited Engaging with A Resurgent Africa)

Views expressed here are the personal views of the author.


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