By: Shyam Saran
The strong sense of political affinity and solidarity between India and Africa dates back to the several decades of the twentieth century when the peoples of India and Africa were engaged in an unremitting struggle to gain independence from colonial rule and to become arbiters of their own destinies. Mahatma Gandhi forged Satyagraha or non-violent resistance to colonial rule, racial discrimination and oppression, during his sojourn in South Africa. After India gained its independence in 1947, it became a leading voice in the United Nations to promote decolonisation. The first UN resolution against apartheid in South Africa was sponsored by India. Even though in the early years, India itself was a poor country with limited resources, it nevertheless considered it its internationalist duty to share whatever it had to promote development in the newly independent African countries. African countries also became an influential voice at the Afro-Asian Summit convened in Bandung in Indonesia in 1955. This led to their participation subsequently in the Non-Aligned Movement initiated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, President Tito of Yugoslavia and President Nasser of Egypt in 1961. Without the active participation of independent African countries, the developing world represented by the Non-Aligned Movement would never have become the powerful force for international peace, cooperation and development that it evolved into in the decade of the sixties and the seventies of the previous century. The importance of the Movement should be gauged from the fact that it provided a powerful antidote to a world polarized between East and West, ideologically divided into opposing camps and under the growing threat of a nuclear war. It is this sense of solidarity, mutual trust and confidence born in the difficult days of the Cold War which continues to drive India-Africa cooperation to this day, enabling both sides to expand and enrich their cooperation, bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally.
Today, India and Africa are the most rapidly growing developing economies in the world. Africa is the continent of the future. India is a major emerging economy. As the global economy continues to recover only slowly from the global financial and economic crisis of 2007-8 and with signs that China may now be entering a phase of lower growth rates and more domestic oriented economic strategies, India and Africa together may well become the engines of growth for the entire world. India can contribute its capital, skills and technological capabilities to sustain Africa’s growth. Africa in turn can support India’s growth through mutually beneficial resource partnerships and easier access to each other’s expanding markets. Africa is already one of India’s fastest growing markets and investment destinations. This trend is likely to continue.
Our world is still best with debilitating poverty, disease and lack of opportunities for the youth who are entering the labour market in larger numbers. Resources available from traditional donors belonging to the OECD and from multilateral financial institutions are diminishing precisely at a time when the current United Nations session has adopted ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) . Development cooperation among developing countries themselves, the sharing of development experiences among them and ensuring that their development trajectories follow an ecologically sustainable path, these are new challenges confronting our world today. Whether or not SDGs are successfully achieved will critically depend upon what path countries like India and those in Africa take as they grow their economies. It is in this context that India-Africa development cooperation assumes an importance beyond the bilateral relations with individual African countries and regionally with Africa as a whole through the African Union and several sub-regional African organisations. India-Africa cooperation based as it is on mutuality of interests, with its emphasis on alignment with local priorities and on capacity building could well become the template on which the SDGs could be pursued globally. The forthcoming India-Africa Summit will be closely watched for this reason.
African countries and India are extraordinarily rich in bio-diversity, with species of rare flora and fauna which are threatened both by over-exploitation as well as by Climate Change. We need strong global rules to safeguard our bio-diversity. This requires coordinated positions in the deliberations under the Bio-diversity Convention. We share a common interest in a robust global Climate Change regime which enables us to develop in an ecologically sustainable manner. We will be the worst affected by the consequences of Climate Change and must, therefore, work closely together in the ongoing multilateral negotiations on Climate Change culminating in the Paris Climate Summit later this year.
The Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations have been stalled for several years now. In several regions of the world, including in Asia and Africa there is a trend towards establishing regional free trade agreements. However, we are now seeing a trend towards mega trade blocs and the recent conclusion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an ominous indication. TTP is likely to be followed by the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Neither India nor African countries are part of these new trade blocs which between the could corner more that 65% of global trade. The economic interests of India and African countries are best served by an universal, multilaterally negotiated, rules based global trade regime under the WTO. The two sides should consult each other and other like minded countries to find ways and means to revive the Doha round and prevent the fragmentation of the global economy. Such fragmentation could impact adversely on their economic prospects.
As the world becomes more globalized and inter-connected, the salience of global cross-cutting issues is rising. These issues cannot be resolved by a handful of powerful countries or even through regional efforts. They include issues such as Climate Change but also global public health challenges, drug-trafficking, trafficking of humans, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. There are newer domains of cyber security and space security. These are all issues on which the active participation of large and populous countries like India and those in Africa, becomes indispensable. This also creates an opportunity for the two sides to work closely together to promote collaborative responses to these challenges. One hopes that the forthcoming India-Africa Summit will have these emerging global challenges on its agenda and will work out a framework for cooperation to deal with them. There is no doubt that a very rich and varied agenda awaits Indian and African leaders as they meet at their fourth Summit in Delhi shortly.
Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary
He is currently Chairman, R.I.S. and Senior Fellow, CPR.