India and Africa Relations


  • Africa is considered a foreign policy priority by India. The current government designed a forward-looking strategy to deepen relations with African countries. 

  • The the policy implementation needs a critical review re-energising India’s Africa Policy.

The macro picture

  • The latest economic data confirms what was apprehended by experts: India-Africa trade is on a decline.
  • Bilateral trade valued at $55.9 billion in 2020-21, fell by $10.8 billion compared to 2019-20, and $15.5 billion compared to the peak year of 2014-15.
  • Total investments over 25 years, from 1996 to March 2021, are now just $70.7 billion, which is about one-third of China’s investment in Africa.
  • COVID-19 has caused an adverse impact on the Indian and African economies.
  • India’s top five markets today are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and Togo. The countries from which India imports the most are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Angola and Guinea.
  • India’s top three exports to Africa are mineral fuels and oils (processed petroleum products), pharmaceutical products and vehicles.
  • Mineral fuels and oils, (essentially crude oil) and pearls, precious or semi-precious stones are the top two imports accounting for over 77% of our imports from Africa.

Global competition

  • These latest trends in bilateral economic relations should be assessed against two broad developments.
  • COVID-19 has brought misery to Africa.  Africans have been deeply affected and remain ill-equipped.
  • A recent World Health Organization survey revealed that 41 African countries had fewer than 2,000 working ventilators among them. Despite these shortcomings, Africa has not done so badly.
  • Experts suggest that the strength of community networks and the continuing relevance of extended family play an important supportive role
  • Sadly though, with much of the world caught up in coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic’s ill effects, flows of assistance and investment to Africa have decreased.
  • Recent Gateway House study showed, Africa experienced a sharpened international competition, known as ‘the third scramble’, in the first two decades of the 21st century.

    India and Africa Relations
    Source: Gateway House
  • Nations from the Americas, Europe and Asia have striven to assist Africa in resolving the continent’s political and social challenges and, in turn, to benefit from Africa’s marketsminerals, hydrocarbons and oceanic resources, and thereby to expand their geopolitical influence.
  • While China has successfully used the pandemic to expand its footprint by increasing the outflow of its vaccines, unfortunately India’s ‘vax diplomacy’ has suffered a setback.
  • The imperative to consolidate its position in the Indo-Pacific region have compelled New Delhi to concentrate on its ties with the United Kingdom, the EU, and the Quad powers, particularly the U.S.
  • Consequently, the attention normally paid to Africa lost out.

India’s role

  • This must now change. For mutual benefit, Africa and India should remain optimally engaged
  • Touching on politico-diplomatic dimensions, the foriegn secretary  regretted that “the voice of Africa is not given its proper due” in the Security Council.
  • The foreign minister highlighted India’s role in peacekeeping in Africa, in lending support to African counter-terrorism operations, and contributing to African institutions through training and capacity-enhancing assistance.
  •  His visit to Kenya has helped to re-establish communication with Africa at a political level.
  • It is time to seize the opportunity and restore Africa to its primary position in India’s diplomacy and economic engagement.
  • The fourth India- Africa summit, pending since last year, should be held as soon as possible, even if in a virtual format.
  • Fresh financial resources for grants and concessional loans to Africa must be allocated, as previous allocations stand almost fully exhausted.

Areas with promise

  • The promotion of economic relations demands a higher priority.
  • Industry representatives should be consulted about their grievances and challenges in the COVID-19 era.
  • Developing and deepening collaborations in health, space and digital technologies.
  • Finally, to overcome the China challenge in Africa, increased cooperation between India and its international allies, rates priority.
  • The recent India-EU Summit has identified Africa as a region where a partnership-based approach will be followed.
  • Similarly, in summit of the Quad powers is held in Washington, a robust partnership plan for Africa should be announced.

Back to Basics

India and Africa Relations

  • India and Africa Relations refers to the historical, political, economic, and cultural connections between India and the African continent.
  • Historical relations concerned mainly India and East Africa. However, in modern days—and with the expansion of diplomatic and commercial representations— India has now developed ties with most of the African nations.

Historical background

  • Since achieving independence, India has consistently supported anti-colonial and anti-racist liberation struggles in Africa.
  • Africa and India are separated by the Indian Ocean. The geographical proximity between the Horn of Africa and the Indian subcontinent has played an important role in the development of the relationship since ancient times.
    • Indo-African relations date back to the Bronze Age period of the Indus Valley civilization, Pearl millet first domesticated in Africa have been discovered from the site of Chanhu Daro.
    • Relations attained stronger levels during medieval times due to the development of trade routes between the Mediterranean and Asia, through Arabia. Zheng He, a Chinese admiral met with the Malindi envoy present in Bengal.
    • The stay of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa between 1893 and 1915 remains one of the main events which paved the road to the modern-day political relations.

Political Relations

  • The development of modern-day relations has gone through two main periods. During the period of colonialism and liberation wars, political relations became stronger. At the wake of the Cold War, many African countries joined the non-aligned movement pioneered by Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia.
  • During the years of decolonisation, India exerted considerable political and ideological influence in Africa as a role model and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.
  • The India-Africa Forum Summit, which was held from April 4 to April 8, 2008 in New Delhi, India for the first time, constitutes the basic framework for the relations under the South-South Cooperation platform.
  • There are numerous of Indians and Africans of Indian descent living in Africa, mainly in the eastern and southern coast in places such as Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa.
  • From 2014 onwards, there have been a total of 29 visits to African countries from the Indian side at the level of President, Vice President, and Prime Minister, apart from several ministerial level visits.

Economic relations

  • India is currently Africa’s 3rd-largest trading partner, and Africa’s third-largest export destination. 
  • Indian government initiatives like Focus Africa (2002), TEAM-9 (2004), Duty-Free Tariff Preference Scheme for Least Developed Countries (2008), and the institution of the India Africa Forum Summit (held in 2008, 2011, 2015), have succeeded in lifting bilateral trade and investment flows to new heights
  • After South Asia, Africa is the second-largest recipient of Indian overseas assistance with Lines of Credit (LOC) worth nearly $10 billion (42 per cent of the total) spread over 100 projects in 41 countries. 
  • Ties were boosted at the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in 2015. Forty per cent of all training and capacity building slots under the ITEC programme have traditionally been reserved for Africa.

People to people contact

  • There are more than three million people of Indian origin in Africa today.
  • Forty percent of all training and capacity building slots under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme have traditionally been reserved for Africa. India provides about 50,000 scholarships to African students each year. 

Techno-Economic Approach for Africa–India Movement (TEAM–9)

  • It was launched by India in 2004 together with eight energy and resource-rich West African countries viz. Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and India. 
  • Engaging the underdeveloped, yet resource-wealthy countries of West Africa, which required both low-cost technology and investment to develop their infrastructure.

Peacekeeping, defence and security cooperation

  • Approximately 6,000 Indian soldiers are deployed in UN peace-keeping missions in five conflict zones in Africa. 
  • The first-ever India Africa Defence Ministers conclave in February this year on the margins of the Defence Expo 2020. 
  • Capacity building and training of African military officers in Indian institutes has long remained a cornerstone of defence ties. Africa-India conducted Field Training Exercise-2019, called AFINDEX-19.
    • If India wants to become a reliable defence and security partner of African countries India can consider exporting Akash Surface to Air Missile System, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Tejas), Offshore Patrol Vessels, Dornier Do-228 aircraft, Sport Utility Vehicles, Dhanush Artillery Gun System, light arms and ammunitions, and night vision equipment to African states that share a common vision. This will not only strengthen India’s partnership with Africa but will also enhance African capabilities to tackle terrorism.

Self Help Group and Africa

  • Ethiopia and South Africa are working with Kudumbashree, a self-help group movement created by the Government of Kerala aimed at eradicating poverty and empowering women.

Cyber Security and Digital Revolution

  • India signed MoUs/joint statements with six African countries on the subject — i.e., Morocco, Egypt, Seychelles, South Africa, Kenya, and Mauritius.


  • India’s digital cooperation with Africa is the Pan African e-Network (PAeN) project on tele-education and tele-medicine, launched in 2004. 
  • India’s Ministry of External Affairs launched a new network project – e-VidyaBharati and e-ArogyaBharati (e-VBAB). The PAeN project operates on satellite-based technology and it will establish two separate web-based portals – one each for tele-education and tele-medicine.

International collaboration

  • Africa and International Solar Alliance (ISA): Even in the International Solar Alliance (ISA), out of the 48 countries that have signed and ratified the ISA Framework Agreement, 25 countries are from the African continent. India Africa Forum Summit (2015): The India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) is the official platform for the African-Indian relations. India announced a line of credit to help financing the projects in African countries, capacity building, IT education, and higher education.
  • Asia-Africa Growth Corridor: It is an economic cooperation agreement between India and Japan which envisages closer engagement between Asia and Africa for “sustainable and innovative development” and will be anchored by these  pillars.
  • Paradiplomacy: Now, Organizations and State governments have also been crafting independent relationships with African counterparts. For example, Kerala is planning on importing cashew from African countries for its processing plants that are running low on raw material.
  • India and Africa have often held common positions in global platforms and worked together to guard the interests of other developing countries. They have moved joint proposals, such as the Agricultural Framework Proposal and Protection of Geographical Indications, at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organisation, and have worked towards protecting the food and livelihood concerns of farmers at the Doha Development Round of WTO negotiations.
  • India and South Africa are also currently pressing for a waiver of certain provisions of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights for COVID-19 treatment and vaccines.

Vaccine Maitri

  • Beyond loans and investments, India has also aided Africa in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Jaishankar, India “has gifted 150 [metric tons] of medical aid to 25 [African] countries. Under the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ initiative, India have supplied 24.7 million doses of Made in India COVID vaccines as grants, and commercial and COVAX supplies to 42 countries in Africa.”

Significance of India-Africa relations

  • Resurging Africa and Rising India : It can give a strong impetus to South-South Cooperation, especially in areas like clean technology, climate-resilient agriculture, maritime security, connectivity, and Blue economy.
  • Energy security: Africa will be helpful for India to diversify its energy basket. India is seeking diversification of its oil supplies away from the Middle East and Africa can play an important role in India’s energy matrix.
  • Convergence of interest in WTO: India and Africa are aligned on the outstanding issues at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are in favor of multilateral trading systems. At the Bali Ministerial in 2013 too, Africa and India had united in seeking an interim mechanism for safeguarding minimum support prices to farmers against WTO caps till a permanent solution is found and adopted. 
  • Cooperation to tackle terrorism: India strongly advocated stepped-up cooperation through intelligence exchange and training with 54 African countries. 
  • Cooperation on climate change between India and Africa, both who had “contributed the least to global warming”. 
  • Open and Free Oceans: 
    • India aims to enhance cooperation with African countries in order to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. 
    • India and Africa Maritime strategy: Indian Navy’s 2015 Maritime Strategy document and the African Union’s 2050 Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS 2050) aim for a free and open Indian ocean.
    • Complemented by  India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and SAGARMALA (port development) initiatives, the AAGC (Asia Africa Growth Corridor), with Africa being an equal partner, can potentially be a game-changer in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Non traditional threats: Addressing non-traditional threats in the Indian Ocean Region and Higher incidences of natural disasters and regional instabilities in the past decade have necessitated increased deployment of Indian Navy for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations.
  • New Global Order: The institutions of global governance that were created after the Second World War, like the UN, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation, failed to adapt to the changing global scenario and adequately represent the voice of the developing world.
    • India —the world’s largest democracy representing one-sixth of humanity, and Africa — with more than a quarter of UN members, cannot be kept out of the decision-making table.

Key Associated Challenges

  • India and China are competing with each other to build a stronger relationship with Africa. China even built up its first overseas military base in Djibouti.
    • China’s predatory and exploitative engagement of Africa
    • Chinese infrastructure projects like the 1,860 km Tanzania-Zambia railway line in 1975, and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti and Mombasa-Nairobi lines more recently, China is now eyeing to develop the vast East Africa Master Railway Plan.
      • It is also developing the Trans-Maghreb Highway, the Mambilla Hydropower Plant in Nigeria, the Walvis Bay Container Terminal in Windhoek and the Caculo Cabaca Hydropower project in Angola. 
    • At the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (COCAC) in 2018, China set aside $60 billion in developmental assistance, followed by a whopping $1 billion Belt and Road (BRI) Infrastructure Fund for Africa. 
    • Health sector diplomacy in the wake of the pandemic, but its image has been tarnished by defective supplies of PPE gear and discriminatory behaviour against Africans in Guangzhou, leading to an embarrassing diplomatic row.
  • India cannot compete with China or the U.S. Some of the African countries, even the richer ones like Nigeria, expect India to invest in Africa under the India Africa Forum Summit. However, India asserts for joint endeavor for better development. eg: Asia Africa growth Corridor.
  • The poor quality of education in India is the primary reason it is not the foreign destination of choice for African students.
    • China, on the other hand, has been viewed as a more attractive destination for higher studies to African students.
  • The World Bank’s Africa’s Pulse, a biannual analysis of the near-term macroeconomic outlook for the region, in its report, assessed that the COVID-19 outbreak has sparked off the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region’s first recession in 25 years. 
  • Growth is expected to plummet to between -2.1 and -5.1 per cent in 2020, from a modest 2.4 per cent in 2019. 
  • The steep decline in commodity prices has spelt disaster for the economies of Nigeria, Zambia and Angola.
  • With high rates of HIV, malaria, diabetes, hypertension and malnourishment prevalent, a large number of Africans were already faced with a health and economic crisis. 
  • According to the World Bank, the SSA region paid $35.8 billion in total debt service in 2018, 2.1 percent of regional gross domestic product (GDP). 
  • There has been an extraordinary increase in terrorist attacks by extremists connected to al-Qaida and ISIS across Africa over the recent years.
  • Financial and human resource capacity constraints, along with lack of political will, presents significant challenges.

Way Forward

With its limited resources, India can try to make its development cooperation with Africa more impactful in the following ways:

  • Clear strategy for African development
    • It should prepare a focused Africa strategy for the next decade and identify a few areas for closer cooperation. Targeting a few important areas like food and health security, climate change adaptation and gender equality will help improve development outcomes and make India’s development cooperation programme more effective.
  • Continue the current focus on capacity building
    • Investment in human capital is the key to development in Africa. The current focus on capacity building is in line with Africa’s needs given the continent’s huge youth population that need skills and jobs.
  • Harness Indian civil society organisations, NGOs, and Indian diaspora
    • Some Indian organisations like Pratham and Barefoot College are also playing an important role in Africa. The Indian government should explore greater collaboration with these organisations to implement development projects in Africa at low costs.
  • Promote development-friendly private investments
    •  India should try to support Indian companies making investment in development-friendly projects for mutual benefit.
  • Timely completion of projects
    • Though some improvement in project implementation has occurred in recent years, India’s overall record is poor. Efforts must be made to expedite the LoC projects. Lessons should be drawn from other countries that have a much better record in implementation.
  • Address concerns about academic experience in India
    • India must make largescale investments in its own higher education sector to project itself as an education hub for neighbouring countries and Africa.
  • Improve the experiences of Africans in India
    • Indian government should ensure that Africans studying or working in India are safe and enjoy their stay in the country. Efforts should also be made to educate Indians about Africa so that people-to-people connections between India and Africa flourish.
  • Pandemic help: 
    • The Ministry of External Affairs has already extended the e-ITEC course on “COVID-19 Pandemic: Prevention and Management Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals” to healthcare workers in Africa. 
    • The Aarogya Setu App and the E-Gram Swaraj App for rural areas for mapping COVID-19 are technological achievements that could be shared with Africa. 
  • Food and agricultural collaboration
    • With the locust scourge devastating the Horn of Africa and the pandemic worsening the food crisis, India could ramp up its collaboration in this sector.
  • India could also create a new fund for Africa and adapt its grant-in-aid assistance to reflect the current priorities. This could include support for new investment projects by Indian entrepreneurs especially in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors in Africa.
  • Issues such as counter-terrorism, and combatting violent extremism and transnational crimes, are focus areas that align with the Agenda 2063 along with India’s Africa agenda.


  • India must chart out a roadmap for its development cooperation programme in Africa that outlines a long-term strategy and delineates how it will deploy state capacity to pursue common development goals. Doing so will become even more important for India in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic given the harsh economic impacts and the resultant inability to keep increasing its development cooperation budget without any tangible outcomes.
  • Both India and Japan share a common interest in forging a partnership for Africa’s development. The COVID-19 crisis has nudged many countries to engage in new formats. It is time for the Quad Plus, in which the US, India, Japan and Australia have recently engaged other countries such as the ROK, Vietnam, New Zealand, Israel and Brazil, to exchange views and propose cooperation with select African countries abutting the Indian Ocean. After all, the Indo-Pacific straddles the entire maritime space of the Indian Ocean. The pandemic is a colossal challenge but it may create fresh opportunities to bring India and Africa closer together.

Source: TH

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