Africa as a continent in last few decades has been a hot topic in global arena owing to investment spree
in the continent
. India has also embarked upon the investment and trade journey in the African countries.

India is not only conjoined with Africa geographically and historically, but has interests intersecting over a wide range of areas. As Former Vice President of India Hamid Ansari said, “India shares Africa’s dreams and India Africa cooperation is genuine Two-Way street partnership”.

When traced historically, India-Africa relations had many ups and downs. Post-independence, there was
solidarity and support for Africa during decolonization efforts. African countries supported and strengthened Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). During 1970s-90s, there was neglect of Africa because of India’s attention on South Asia and inward-looking policies. India in this phase continued to support Africa against Apartheid.

But in spite of historical ties and ideological affinity, the African continent was relatively marginal in India’s foreign policy and diplomacy until 1990s. Post 1990 was the phase of re-engagement with Africa where private sector from India has made huge investments in the continent.

African Union
  • The African Union is an international organisation consisting of all 55 African member states.
  • It was launched in Durban on July 10, 2002, replacing the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
  • In 1999, the Heads of State/Government of the OAU issued the Sirte Declaration calling for establishing an African Union to accelerate the process of integration in the African Continent.
  • Its headquarters is located in Addis Ababa.
India-Africa Forum Summit
  • Since 2008, relations have been institutionalized. The first ever India-Africa Forum Summit was held in New Delhi in April 2008.
  • Leaders of 14 African counties and the African Union Commission participated. The India-Africa Forum Summit process that began in 2008 is a much needed intergovernmental attempt to give direction and thrust to bilateral synergies. It represented a turning point in the India- Africa relations.
  • The Second Africa-lndia Forum Summit took place in Addis Ababa in May 2011. The 3rd India-Africa Forum Summit in India in Oct., 2015

Rising Africa

Africa, often called ‘the only remaining economic Eldorado’ for its fast-growing population, increasing prosperity, and its untapped mineral and agricultural wealth, has been rising for following factors:

  1. Political stability due to improving governance;
  2. Human resources and rise in consumers due to a rapidly growing population;
  3. Growing urbanization;
  4. A better-educated and skilled workforce; and,
  5. Global demographics that will enable Africa, like India, to remain a young continent in an ageing world.

Significance of Africa-lndia Relations

  • India and African countries were past colonies of European countries. Slave trade and indentured laborers
    led to presence of Indian population in the continent.
  • Nelson Mandela, who was often dubbed as the ‘Gandhi of South Africa’, had strong Indian connections and striking similarities with India’s ‘Father of Nation’. The anti-apartheid icon shared a special bond for India and he chose the land of Gandhi whom he called his ‘political guru’ and a ‘role model’, as his first destination abroad in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars.
  • Nelson Mandela was awarded Bharat Ratna in 1990 even before he was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Significance of Africa-lndia Relations


  • Terrorism: The collapse of Libya in 2010and the general unrest in North Africa has caused instability all through the Sahel region now flooded with arms, illicit drugs and terrorist groups. Africa has faced terror attacks from terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Boko Haram , which has a strong presence in Nigeria, has now spread its tentacles to the neighbouring countries, leading to a joint coalition of troops combating the group in the region. India has sought the support of African countries for the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT). Sea Lane of Communication: Important sea lines of communication pass through Africa e.g. Strait of Hormuz , Suez Canal, etc. which are important chokes points. Ensuring freedom of navigation and security in the region is important for Indian trade and investment.
  • India Ocean Region: India and Africa share a sizeable maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean Region. Many of the African countries in the region are of strategic importance to India. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has some East African countries as member states. The platform provides for engagement in strengthening maritime cooperation for a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indian Ocean.
  • Piracy: On the other hand, Africa is critical to India’s security, especially the Horn of Africa region, because of its proximity with India. The threat of radicalism, piracy, organized crime emerges from this region. A
    peaceful Indian ocean will be helpful for both.
  • UNSC: Support of African countries is important for India’s aim of gaining a permanent seat in UNSC.
  • Nuclear Energy: India needs Uranium for meeting energy requirement. Namibia is the fourth largest producer of Uranium in the world. India signed an agreement on cooperation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy with Namibia in 2009 for long term supply of Uranium to feed its nuclear reactors. However, being a member of the Treaty of Pelindaba, Namibia could not ratify the agreement and hence cannot trade in uranium with India as India is not a member of the NPT. India needs African countries to relax commitment to the Pelindaba Treaty which controls supply of uranium from key mineral hubs of Africa to the rest of the world.
  • Mineral Resources: India has deep historic relationship with many mineral resource rich African countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania. The presence of rich metallic resources like iron, copper, aluminum, zinc in Africa has made the continent important for meeting the needs of Indian industries.
Pelindaba Treaty
  • The Pelindaba Treaty signed in 1996, also known as the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty, aims at preventing nuclear proliferation and preventing strategic minerals of Africa from being exported freely.


  • Trade and Investment:
    • India is the fifth-biggest investor in Africa with investments over the past 20 years amounting to $54 billion or 19.2% of Africa’s foreign direct investment.
    • The China’s support to economic development through liberal grants and aid has made it easy for its government-owned and private enterprises to become dominant owners of industrial minerals and energy resources in many African countries.
    • Pharmaceuticals, ICT and services, the automobile sector and the power sector could help boost Indian trade and investment in the continent. The bilateral trade stood at $ 62 billion in 2017-18 and the goal of hitting $ 100 billion is still distant.
  • A huge population of Africa can serve as an attractive destination for exports and investment under ‘Make in India’.
  • Africa can help in diversifying India’s energy sources, which is one of the stated objectives of our Integrated Energy Policy.
  • African nations such as Mozambique and Ethiopia help meeting pulses requirement of India.
  • Africa has ample agricultural land which can address India’s food security. India is looking at leasing land in Africa to overcome the land deficit that we face in terms of arable land.
  • As Africa is growing, it needs support from other countries which can enable it to prosper rather than serving their vested interests and propagating exploitative tendencies. India would be a natural choice for Africa as compared to USA or China.
  • WTO: The economic interests of India and African countries are best served by a universal, multilaterally negotiated, rules based global trade regime under the WTO. Mutual cooperation between the two sides is necessary to find ways and means to finalize the Doha round and prevent the fragmentation of the global economy.
Significance of India-Africa Relationship


  • India has been actively involved in peace and stability of African countries through UN Peace keeping operations. India is involved in capacity building of African countries.
  • Africa, through forums such as BRICS and IBSA, can voice the concerns of developing and least developed countries at international climate change conferences and investment summits.
  • Indian aid to Africa: India must revive the infrastructure projects already going on in Africa through its aid.
  • India being a peaceful democratic nation can help African countries to establish political stability.

Soft Power

  • India commands a significant degree of soft power across the continent. It is amplified by the presence of Indian Diaspora in countries like Mauritius.
  • This helps in building trust between the nations and effective implementation of joint projects. 
  • Women consist of 90% of Africa’s labor force in the informal sector, engaged mainly in education, healthcare, and tertiary services.
  • India’s efforts in these areas under AfCFTA would enhance its brand image across the continent.

Common Agendas

  • Most African nations are developing in nature just like India which creates a common understanding on multiple issues.
  • India and Africa share common grounds on reformation of the UNSC, Climate change agreements, Trade Issues and WTO negotiations etc.

China in Africa

  • As for India and China in Africa, in terms of investment and trade statistics, there is little competition. In 2014, China’s trade with Africa was at $200 billion, while trade between India and Africa was at $70 billion.
  • Beijing pitches vast trade, assistance, and investment deals on frequent trips to resource-rich countries, and retains an almost unparalleled ability to provide low-cost financing and cheap labor for infrastructure projects.
  • China has boosted African oil and mining sectors in exchange for advantageous trade deals. Chinese companies are also diversifying their business pursuits in Africa, in infrastructure, manufacturing, telecommunications, and agricultural sectors.
  • China’s second-largest source of crude imports after the Middle East is Africa, especially Angola, the Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
  • Beijing has steadily diversified its business interests in Africa. China has participated in energy, mining, and telecommunications industries and financed the construction of roads, railways, ports, airports, hospitals, schools, and stadiums. Investment from a mixture of state and private funds has also set up tobacco, rubber, sugar, and sisal plantations. Domestic economic conditions drove Chinese firms to break into new markets for its consumer goods and excess industrial capacity as part of China’s “going out” or “going global” strategy.
  • Still, China’s presence in Africa has not been without controversy. Some countries have pushed back against China’s development activities. Grievances range from poor compliance with safety and environmental standards to unfair business practices and violations of local laws.

Present Status of India’s Presence

  • While China has been in Africa’s infrastructure, mining, oil and natural gas sectors for many years, India, despite moving late, has worked through training, education and capacity-building programmes – which have been very well-received by the countries.
    • Over the last 15 years, India-Africa trade has gone up 20 times, and reached, according to the government, $ 70 billion (2014). Indian investment in Africa is around $ 30-35 billion.
    • India has given concessional credit to the tune of $ 7.4 billion of which $ 3.5 billon has been disbursed. The credit lines have helped create 137 projects in 41 countries.
    • A Pan-African e-Network for education and health is functional in 48 countries. Since 2008, India has extended 40,000 scholarships to African countries.
  • Recently, the Union Cabinet has approved the opening of 18 new Indian Missions in Africa over a four-year period from 2018-2021. This move is seen as a major boost to India-Africa relations.
  • India had offered Duty Free Quota Free access to LDCs of Africa.
  • Increased people to people contact as observed in the increasing flow of medical tourists, students, trainees, and Indian entrepreneurs and experts.
  • India is also seeking to reinvigorate its cultural links with East Africa under the rubric of Project ‘Mausam’ which seeks to revive lost linkages with the Indian Ocean ‘world’ (East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia).
  • India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) process has also given a boost to cultural and information contact and mutual awareness.
india-africa relations trade

Challenges and Opportunities for India


  • Although, on paper, Indian investment in the continent tops $50 billion – almost twice that of China – 90 per cent of that goes into Mauritius, from where it is round-tripped back to India, to evade taxes.
  • Indian firms, moreover, are concerned about investing as growth slows, particularly since many are saddled with dangerously high levels of debt.
  • City-to-city connectivity between India and Africa is virtually non-existent. Better connectivity will boost people-to-people links, a weak link in the growing trans-continental relationship.
  • India needs to address the concerns of African citizens who consider investments by Indian companies tantamount to colonization. E.g. Land deals in Ethiopia
  • Racial Attacks: Incidents of racial attacks on African nationals have severely dented India’s image. If untreated, this could be a potential source of tension between India and Africa and damage the goodwill India currently enjoys in the continent. 
  • While Africa is now the focus of India’s foreign policy, it is not the primary focus, given India’s growing economic and security cooperation with the US, the EU and its Asian neighbours
  • In terms of cheque book diplomacy, India cannot compete with China or U.S. Some of the African countries, even the richer ones like Nigeria, expect India to bear gifts for them under IAFS. However, India asserts for joint endeavor for better development.
  • India is facing the challenges of low disbursement rates and slow delivery even with the commitments it has made.
  • India abrogates its responsibility in terms of mid stream and downstream delivery processes, instead relying on multilateral agencies like African Union. This leads to India losing credit for a project despite the financial and technological backing it gives.
  • India contributed a lot more than other countries in terms of Ebola relief but did not highlight it. Indian assistance was largely through multilateral forums and in a piecemeal manner.
  • India’ s role in peacekeeping in Africa: Eighty per cent of India’s peacekeepers are presently serving in Africa, and 70 per cent of all casualties have been sustained there. UN missions serve as the bedrock of India’s military engagement and assistance to Africa. However, there is growing debate on the efficacy of these missions, and benefits for India from its continued participation.
  • Ability and commitment of the troops to protect civilian lives questioned. Developing countries which mainly provide the troops, lament that they are not considered adequately in formulating peacekeeping.


  • Africa is no longer just about resources. A 2010 McKinsey report, entitled “Lions on the Move”, found that in the first decade of the 21st century, growing consumer spending contributed more to the growth of African economies than the commodities boom of that decade. This is one reason the World Bank and other institutions still remain optimistic about Africa’s economic rise despite the end of the ‘commodities super cycle’ – the long-term decline in commodity prices, especially oil.
  • Indian businesses have been betting big on Africa’s rise. Many big Indian companies (such as Bharati Airtel) have already invested in opportunities presented by Africa and, contrary to the widespread perceptions, India is ahead of China at least in terms of private corporate investment. Greenfield projects involving investments from India are twice the number of such projects funded by investment from China, according to a recent report of the African Development Bank.
  • Business-to-business links between India and several African nations across the continent and including key markets in the eastern, southern and western regions of Africa, have become increasingly important and are driving the government-to government relationship.
  • Investment from India accounted for six percent compared to three percent from China – of all Greenfield projects in Africa in the period 2009- While Europe and North America continue to dominate investment into the continent and still account for over 50 per cent of such projects, their share has been declining over the years, while that of China and India has been rising.

Other Forums of Cooperation

  • BRICS: The involvement of BRICS in Africa is fast changing the dynamics of the continent’s relationship with the rest of the world. According to the Goldman Sachs Report, “BRICS’ engagement with Africa is not a unilateral act of goodwill; it makes perfect economic and strategic sense”.
  • Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC): The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor is an India-Japan economic cooperation agreement aimed at the socio-economic development of Asia and Africa. The aim of the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor is to develop infrastructure and digital connectivity in Africa through Indo-Japan collaboration.
  • AAGC vis a vis OBOR: Unlike China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project about which India has raised several concerns, the Asia Africa Growth Corridor is conceived as a more open and inclusive programme that will be based on more consultations and keep people as the centre piece rather than just trade and economic ties.
  • Climate Change: In the absence of adaptation and mitigation measures, African countries and India will be impacted adversely from climate change. Cooperation in international forums for adequate financing and technology transfer is desired to meet the INDCs.
  • Solar Energy: The International Solar Alliance (ISA) initiative was launched at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris on 30 November 2015. The ISA is conceived as a coalition of solar resource rich countries to address their special energy needs and will provide a platform to collaborate on addressing the identified gaps through a common, agreed approach. An India Africa partnership in the International Solar Alliance (ISA) was launched to share the latest technology in renewable energy to bring electricity to the remotest corners of Africa.
  • Science & Technology: During the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008, India committed substantial support towards science and technology development in Africa. The Department of Science and Technology is implementing a number of programmes and activities under the India-Africa Science and Technology Initiative. The CV Raman Fellowship for African researchers was started in 2010 with the objective of providing opportunities to engage in collaborative research in science and technology in Indian universities and institutions under eminent Indian scientists.
  • Agriculture: ICRISAT has established agri-business incubators and value-chain incubators in countries like Angola, Cameroon. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) leads India-Africa cooperation in agriculture.

Way Forward

  • India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) process needs to better leverage two strong assets that have hitherto remained untapped: the vibrant Indian private sector and the Indian diaspora in Africa.
  • A lot can be done to improve the last mile of the delivery chain to ensure efficacy. For instance, the $150 million Pan Africa e-Network project has often received only limited interest because the actual providers had no personal incentive.
  • India needs to make more vigorous efforts to inform its African friends about its contributions. (Example, in Ebola crisis). A better organized, more coherent and faster responding mechanism accompanied by an appropriate media campaign is desirable. To this end, having a dedicated, commercially-driven Indian television channel for African countries may be a good beginning.
  • India and Africa need to embark on a serious discussion on the future of UN-Peace keeping operations in Africa. Criticisms like the failure to protect civilians or allegations of misbehaviour and corruption need to be tackled head on. Discussions should focus on steps to increase the overall effectiveness of peacekeeping missions.
  • India should consider scaling up its security assistance to African countries. In 2011, at Africa India Forum Summit, India announced a contribution of $2 million towards African Union Mission to Somalia (Amisom). This should be increased by a considerable degree, especially since this mission is involved in intense combat operations. In addition, India should enhance its military training teams in Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho and the Seychelles, and also work towards including other countries who express an interest
  • Indian government should also take cognizance of the attacks on Africans in India and take corrective actions.


  • The diversity of the African growth experience, and of the continent’s geo-economic and geopolitical evolution in the post-Cold War period, has opened up new opportunities for Indian diplomacy and business.
  • To be sure, other rising and major powers are also busy engaging with an aspirational Africa. What this means is that the opportunity that presents itself to India requires careful nurturing and much investment at all levels.

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