“A New Scramble for Africa?” India vs. China

On 30 October, the third India-Africa Summit formally concluded, representing one of the largest landmark events in the history of relations amongst emerging powers. With 54 heads of state and government officials from across African nations descending on New Delhi for what promised to be the most comprehensive summit since its inception in 2008, [1] it is no wonder that global critics have begun to name India as a potential challenger to China’s dominance in the region.

Image courtesy of GovernmentZA, © 2015, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of GovernmentZA, © 2015, some rights reserved.

The summit, held in India’s capital, sought to tackle issues ranging from fashion shows to mobile phones in addition to four key political and economic initiatives which seek to foster a partnership ‘anchored in the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit.’[2] First on the list for discussion was India-Africa partnership in the push for political reform of the United Nations.  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to seek African support for Indian candidacy in an application for a position in the United Nations Security Council, a move which would provide a more equal reflection of today’s geopolitical realities within the UNSC. In terms of defence and security, the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya and the continuing raids by Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighbouring states were raised by the Kenyan and Nigerian Presidents respectively, along with more transnational security issues such as cyber security, maritime security and inter-continental defence co-operation. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also called on the assembled African leaders to join the alliance of solar-rich countries at this month’s COP21 Paris climate change conference, where a successor to the Kyoto protocol will hopefully be determined.

However, the real concern for global critics was centred on the economic and trading possibilities discussed, for it seems that this, although not posing a direct threat to China’s dominance amongst African nations, could at least prove to be a thorn in the Politburo’s side. This summit witnessed Indian economic support for African nations increase on an unprecedented scale, with Prime Minister Modi promising $10 billion (£6.6 billion) in new credit and $600 million (£363 billion) in grant aid to African countries.[3] The money, which will supplement local development initiatives in over 20 African nations, constitutes only a small fraction of the trade and investment India has committed to the African continent since the summit’s launch in 2008. In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has determined that the value of India’s exports to Africa has increased by over 100 per cent from 2008 to 2013—meaning that India has now forged ahead of the US in African markets.[4] Yet, the $72 billion Indian investment on the continent since 2007 pales in comparison when viewed next to China’s $222 billion investment last year alone.[5]

It is clear then, that India is not in a position to challenge China on sheer economic scale for influence on the continent, nor is it likely to be able to for some time. So why all the media hype? What does India have to offer the African nations that would inch it ahead in investment opinion polls?

First, it must be recognised that India-Africa relations were not simply forged with the launch of the 2008 Summit. Documentation of the historical, political and socio-economic ties between India and the African continent has been present since the first millennia, with the first recorded trade between the Kingdom of Aksum (current Ethiopia) and Ancient India made possible by the monsoon winds. Indeed, geographical proximity between the Indian subcontinent and the Horn of Africa, which provided the first of such trans-continental trade routes, afforded India a stronger socio-economic presence in particularly southern and eastern African nations than China has ever managed to garner. These political and social ties, underpinned by the existence of large south Asian diasporas in East and South Africa,[6] hold serious diplomatic levers which Indian Prime Minister Modi will not hesitate to pull.[7] On a political level, the ties between India and the southern African nations are reinforced by trans-continental co-operation in the face of colonisation, political oppression and atrocities such as apartheid, which serves to strengthen diplomatic, political and in some instances cultural affinities between the two, forming a platform from which economic reform can spring. [8] As well as this, 53 of the 54 recognised African nations belong to the Non-Aligned Movement, of which a key pioneer was India demonstrating the strength of pre-existing political ties.

But today, it is India’s soft power which is seen as most advantageous in the struggle for influence on the continent, as the largest difference between Indian and Chinese investment would be India’s more corporate approach to business, with the employment of the private sector featuring heavily in its trade manifesto. Whereas many Chinese investments include the export of Chinese work forces to African nations, Indian investment and industry in companies such as Tata (an Indian multinational conglomerate) seek to employ local populations. The Tata industry assembly line in Senegal, the first of its kind in Western Africa, is a case in point, with local employees working on the production of public buses since its launch in 2009.[9]India has also doubled its lines of credit (LOC) since 2007, opened up niches in the areas of human resource development, technical training and capacity building, energy cooperation, established a pan-African e-network and propagated the transfer of low-cost appropriate technology,[10] all demonstrating a more effective corporate approach to African investment.

Indeed, when stripped of this soft power rhetoric, the trading relationships of China and India in Africa seem to be uncannily similar. Both nations’ trading natures are characterised by the demands for resource security, trade and investment opportunities and the forging of strategic partnerships and African-Asian solidarity.[11] Yet, despite the fact that both China and India actively engaged in importing Sudanese crude oil, the former received international condemnation given Sudan’s blatant human rights abuse record, whilst liberal, democratic India’s investment went largely uncriticised. [12]  It is thus this soft power, that separates Indian investment from Chinese, and can been seen as most advantageous in the struggle for influence on the continent. With China no longer booming and the economic downturn already affecting Chinese investment in South Africa,[13] the India-Africa summit could not have come at a better time to fuel speculation of a renewed and embittered competition to win the hearts of the African nations.

It is clear, then, that this ‘scramble for Africa’ is anything but new. To class India as a threat to Chinese economic investment in Africa is a clear overstatement, but in terms of diplomatic leverage, regional political influence and soft power capabilities, India isn’t far behind in becoming one of the most prominent figures in African investment of the decade. And in amongst all this flexing of economic muscle, the African nations could stand to either benefit greatly or suffer deeply from this rivalry between global economic powers.

[1] India-Africa Forum Summit 2015 available at: http://www.iafs.in/home.php

[2] Ibid.

[3] ‘Narendra Modi: India pledges $600m to help Africa’ article available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-34664626

[4] IMF DOTs available at : http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/africa-in-focus/posts/2015/10/23-trends-indo-african-trade-investment-sy#.ViqRj-eB0GI.twitter

[5] Al Jazeera, India’s rising power in Africa, (interview) http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/countingthecost/2015/10/india-rising-power-africa-151031083435780.html

[6] Mawdsley, E & McCann, G: India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power, Pambazuka Press, Cape Town, 2011 pp3-4

[7] Dickinson, J: Articulating an Indian diaspora in South Africa: The Consulate General of India, diaspora associations and practices of collaboration, Elsevier Ltd, 2015 p83

[8] http://www.iafs.in/home.php

[9] Oxford Business Group: The Report: Senegal, 2009. pp131-2

[10] Mawdsley, E & McCann, G. Op cit., p14

[11] Ibid., pp15-16

[12] Mawdsley,  E & McCann, G. Op cit., p3

[13] South africa rand down