Bottom up advantage

Why democracy in Africa is in India’s interests

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Mint‘s opinion page editor, has gotten himself into An Awkward Corner…by jumping in headlong into the blogosphere.

In today’s post Niranjan discusses reports of the increase in the number of Chinese nationals in Africa and the tensions this is causing in many countries. He points out that since Indian firms tend to hire local labour, “we could also be making more friends among ordinary Africans but relatively fewer friends in governments.”

That’s perhaps true.

As discussed in a previous post, 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 (and the diaspora) were engaged in Africa for a long time. Indian foreign policy has begun to leverage this. But more can be done.

Given China’s investments in resource extraction, development assistance and “non-interference” in their internal affairs, Beijing will have relatively more friends in African capitals. So while the “Coddle Your Favourite Dictator” game goes on—and India can’t entirely refuse to play this game—India’s engagement pattern suggests that it stands to make relative gains under democratic governments than under autocratic regimes. So there is a case for Indian foreign policy to work towards building institutional democracies in Africa.