The Indian difference in Africa

It’s about 53 countries, not one continent

It is, no doubt, a convenient shorthand to refer to “Africa policy”. But it is really about developing relations with over 50 countries that make up the African continent. There are signs that India is recognising this relatively better than other countries.

In an op-ed in Mint, Mukul Asher and Sushant Singh argue that the India and African countries should build “a long-haul developmental partnership, based on application of knowledge economy, development of human resources and deeper domestic linkages…(that will diversify) their global risks (and increase) their leverage in the global affairs.”


India’s economic and strategic diplomacy towards Africa has been consistent. Many initiatives launched in the final years of the National Democratic Alliance government have not only continued but also flourished during the United Progressive Alliance regime.

India’s academic and research institutions, however, need to develop much greater understanding of individual African countries and broaden linkages with their counterparts in Africa. There is also an urgent need to create a larger pool of Indians in all spheres with familiarities with languages spoken in Africa. Such familiarity and empathy for Africa’s challenges can provide India with valuable competitive edge.

India’s economic model and its approach to engaging Africa is consistent with what former World Bank economist William Easterly, in his 2006 book The White Man’s Burden, called “searchers”. They, unlike “planners”, eschew global blueprints and seek to meet the demand of customers in a way that uses decentralized and customized approaches, while applying an existing stock of knowledge in a practical way to reduce resource costs and improve efficiency. [Mint]

Related Links: Wages of hyphenation; India in West Africa

4 thoughts on “The Indian difference in Africa”

  1. I’ve been enjoying your blog. With the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday and the likelihood that Zimbabwe will be on the agenda, I wondered if you would comment on India’s likely position?

    When the Security Council discussed Zimbabwe after “Operation Cleanup”, India vetoed.

    I would be interested to hear your analysis which is much deeper and more useful than we see in the British papers.


  2. Scotchcart,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I’m not sure which vote you are referring to: but India is not at the UNSC and certainly does not have a veto. But it is likely to have voted against censuring Zimbabwe at the UNGA (farce #1) and the UN Human Rights Council (farce #2). Shameful as those votes are, they don’t mean much either way. (This business of votes becomes one of “what’s the west doing with Pakistan and China” and “what’s India doing with Burma” and frankly leaves no one without a red face).

    I hear that the Indian cricket team won’t be traveling to Zimbabwe later this year, because, it turns out, of a busy schedule. The ICC too has become another UN type of organisation; with its own “geopolitics”.

    The point Harry Broadman, Mukul Asher and Sushant Singh are making is that India’s pattern of engagement is different. Democracy, entrepreneurship and free enterprise allows Indian citizens, businesses and institutions to engage Africa at decentralised, non-governmental, broad-based levels. In many cases this engagement proceeds regardless of government’s official engagement policies. For instance, Indian businesses (with historical/Diaspora linkages) were engaged in Africa for a long time. Indian foreign policy is (and should) leverage this.

    So while the “Coddle Your Favourite Dictator” game goes on—and India can’t refuse to play this game—India’s engagement pattern will be mutually beneficial in the long-term.

    In theory, I’d say India has greater justification to act amorally in Africa because if the UNSC P5 can act irresponsibly (remember they are required to act responsibly), then those without such responsibilities certainly can’t be held to higher standards.

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