India, China Go their Own Way in Africa

China was a looming shadow at India's first summit with 14 African countries held in New Delhi recently that not only revealed the depth and diversity of their relationship but also provided clues to what could give New Delhi a competitive edge in the resource-rich continent.

But more than the summit per se that was high on deliverables as well as symbolism, what attracted attention, bordering on obsession, was the presumed competition between Asia's two emerging giants in the race for Africa's resources, specially oil. Comparisons, misleading as they were, between China's much bigger and grander summit with nearly 40 African countries in Beijing two years ago were bruited about to underline India's laggard approach to the continent where China is already swimming in so much oil and profits.

The debate has not ceased even after a pointed disclaimer by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the end of the summit that India is not in race with China or any other power in the African continent. Clearly, conjuring an India-China power game in the African continent is a seductive theory that sells in the crowded marketplace of ideas. But dig deeper and one finds a world of difference in the way India and China deal with the African continent.

A close scrutiny of the ambitious and all-encompassing Delhi Declaration and the India-Africa Framework for Cooperation - two documents that emerged from the two-day India-Africa Forum Summit - brings to the fore a different model for sustainable cooperation with the African continent. In a seminal sense, the Delhi Declaration outlined a pragmatic paradigm of the India-Africa partnership in the 21st century that takes into account winds of change and currents of resurgence in both sides to script a more equitable world with permanent place for each other in an expanded UN Security Council and closer cooperation to spur each other's economic resurgence.

In his inaugural address at the summit, Manmohan Singh stressed on the intensification of trade and investment, energy security, food security, capacity building and infrastructure development as key components of New Delhi's engagement with the continent that stands in contrast with China's commerce-driven, oil-oriented diplomacy in Africa. The framework of cooperation has "mutually beneficial economic development" at its heart and encompasses a broad canvas that includes, among other things, India sharing its experience and expertise to birth a green revolution in Africa and closer cooperation in social development and capacity building.

The tenor and content of these documents are enough to differentiate India's approach towards the continent. China does not talk in this language with African countries; it knows how to put money where its mouth is: oil, extractive resources, lucrative infrastructure projects that will give a competitive edge to Chinese business in Africa.

Besides, India's promise to be a partner in Africa's resurgence was reflected in a raft of initiatives announced at the summit that included granting duty-free and quote-free market access to exports from 34 least developed African countries and doubling financial package for development of the continent to $5.4 billion over the next five years. New Delhi pledged another half a billion dollars for investment in projects related to capacity building and human resource development and increased scholarships and training slots for African students.

On the other hand, Beijing's mercantile, profit-driven style of functioning - flooding African markets with cheap Chinese goods and bringing in their own labour for projects in Africa that do not generate local employment - has already crated resentment and backlash from a section of the African leadership and the African people. Two years ago, South African President Thabo Mbeki warned African countries against falling into the trap of China's "neo-colonial" relationship with Africa.

India, in contrast, has focused on value addition of resources and the creation of local jobs for the African people. Also, there is a fundamental difference in the nature of the engagement as China's approach is state-driven while the private sector leads India's forays into Africa. Harry Broadman, economic advisor on Africa to the World Bank, illuminates this difference in approach in an article in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs. He cites a 2006 study of 450 business owners in Africa that found that almost half of the respondents who were ethnically Indians had taken African nationalities, against only 4 per cent of owners who were ethnic Chinese.

Clearly, there is a huge gap between the level of India's engagement in Africa with that of China. India's trade with Africa is estimated to be around $30 billion which is half of that of China's $56 billion in the continent. China has also struck lucrative energy and infrastructure deals in oil-rich countries like Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria and Chad. Compared to that, India has a lot of catching up to do in Africa's hydrocarbons sector.

Aggressive Chinese diplomacy, reflected in whirlwind visits by the top Chinese leadership to various African countries, and the morally neutral attitude of the Chinese towards doing business with some oil-rich regimes in Africa with dubious human rights record, are some of the reasons that explain Beijing's success in the continent.

In contrast, India chose to take refuge in clich's of non-aligned movement and Afro-Asian solidarity in the post-colonial cold war world that created a gap between words and action on the ground. Where the Chinese were quick to provide hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to win energy and infrastructure deals, India harped on dated slogans that were out of sync with the aspirations curve in African countries. Also, the visits by Indian leaders to African countries were few and far between. But now that India has embarked on course correction, its Africa diplomacy is set for a big surge. India's blend of enhanced developmental package, technology transfers, human resource development and infrastructure development could prove to be its wining card in the continent in the long run.

That India is headed on a winning journey in Africa, although it may take a few more years to make it clear, was evident from the praise showered by African leaders on India's development-centric approach and their admiration for India as a rising economic and knowledge power. Mbeki lauded India for its help in the reconstruction of African countries and stressed on increased cooperation between the two sides in the area of the UN reforms. Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the African Union Commission, said India-Africa partnership will help African countries to achieve their millennium development goals. Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila stressed that the partnership will help Africa gain "a great deal from India's experience in poverty reduction, development, micro-credit and the development of the middle class.

If the string of enthusiastic remarks from African leaders are anything to go by, the summit has succeeded in not only laying out a firm blueprint for forging a more contemporary partnership between India and Africa but also differentiating India's long-term win-win formula in Africa. But India needs to back up this winning template with some concrete steps on the ground: more high-level visits by Indian leaders to African countries, opening of more missions in regions where it is underrepresented and sustained proactive diplomacy to encourage private sector to spur its investment in the continent. In the end, it takes two to tango. The 21st century, as Manmohan Singh said, will be the century of Asia and Africa, one in which the people of the two continents will work together to purge the world of its asymmetries and promote a more equitable world.

(Manish Chand writes on diplomatic and strategic affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)


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Views: 3331      Comments: 1

This is a very good article, great research. Keep up the good work

george davis
02-Feb-2012 18:50 PM

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