Monday, October 26, 2015

Playing catch-up in Africa

Harsh V. Pant,

It is not only the West but also China which has challenged the Indian profile in Africa in recent years
Image from article, with caption: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host leaders of 40 African countries and representatives of 14 others during the India-Africa Forum Summit 2015 on 26-29 October.

With his trademark panache, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be hosting the largest gathering of African leaders on Indian soil this week. Though India was indeed marginal to the developments in Africa during the Cold War years, its political commitment to the nonaligned movement (NAM) and its at least rhetorical emphasis on South-South cooperation, especially coupled with its consistent diplomatic support for African nationalist movements, left it well positioned to take up its engagements across the continent and forge new ties. ...
India is now giving new attention to Africa, opening diplomatic missions on the continent as well as regular high-level political interactions. India is promising loans on easy terms to those nations willing to trade with India and is contributing towards education, railways and peacekeeping. India has substantially increased its aid and assistance to Africa. India’s partnership with Africa is wide-ranging and is now focused on human resources and institutional capacity building. It is building economic and commercial ties with Africa even as it is contributing to the development of African countries through cooperation and technical assistance.
Despite India’s strengths, China has enjoyed a much higher profile in Africa in recent years.
For many African nations, the most attractive aspect of Chinese involvement in their continent is its no-strings attached aid policy. The aid from the West is often linked to good governance and human rights clauses which the political leaders in Africa find unpalatable and describe as ‘neo-colonialism’, an approach aimed at imposing western political values on them. China has so far tended to ignore the global lending standards intended to fight corruption in the region. China has made ‘non-interference in other states’ internal affairs’ a central tenet of its foreign policy. This has as much to do with making China an attractive partner for the Africans as it has to do with China’s own sensitivities towards interference in its domestic politics.
China’s soft power has also been in the ascendant in Africa. It is being viewed as a land of opportunities and prosperity, replacing the role that the US and Europe have long played in the consciousness of the people of Africa. African students are going to China in larger numbers than ever before. China is leveraging its soft power—culture, investment, academia, foreign aid and public diplomacy—more effectively than before to influence Africa and other regions in the developing world. Beijing’s policy of using financial and military aid to secure oilfields in Africa has resulted in New Delhi losing out.
The fear of lagging behind China in its quest for global influence is forcing India to shape up. But in many ways it might already be too late. Despite India’s long-standing cultural and commercial ties with Africa, India now finds itself catching up to China as it ignored the continent during the 1990s. New Delhi has been tardy in seizing new opportunities in Africa and capitalizing on its long history of engagement with the continent. ...

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