The Echo of India 10 July 2016
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s current Africa safari, covering Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya, is more than an exercise at deepening bilateral relationship with these countries. India had all along been a strong supporter of the decolonization movement in Africa, post Second-World War. Africa also figured prominently in Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment Policy. A long time has elapsed since then and the international situation has undergone a sea change. For India, the need to strengthen ties with the African countries has acquired an added urgency in the context of India-China rivalry.
The Chinese challenge to India is not just military but also economic. China is increasing its influence in Asia and Africa as a big aid-giver, but it has published very little data about its overseas aid. India has now woken up to the necessity of stepping up its assistance to Africa. Last year, at the India-Africa summit in New Delhi, the Prime Minister offered Africa a concessional credit of $10 billion over the next five years and a grant assistance of $600 million. However, this is nothing compared to the Chinese funding of $94.3 billion between 2000 and 2013, against the United States’ $107.9 billion during the same period.
What has raised New Delhi’s hackles in recent months is the report that China is setting up its first overseas military base – a naval facility – in the small African country of Djibouti which is strategically located at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden. China will station a few thousand troops here. This is the area through which passes nearly one-third of world’s commercial shipping. The intention is clear: China wants to assert its position as a global military power and throw a challenge to both the USA and India in the Asia-Pacific region. China is concerned with India’s growing defence cooperation with the US, trying to neutralize China’s goal of encircling India by the so-called ‘String of Pearls’ policy. Thus, apart from trade with the African countries, the African continent is occupying an important place in India’s geopolitical policy.
The value of India’s exports to Africa rose by over 100 per cent between 2008 and 2013, overtaking the United States in African markets. India’s major exports to Africa are high-end products. Crude oil and raw cotton are some of the major items of India’s import from Africa. There is enough scope of expanding and diversifying bilateral trade with the African countries. The importance of the Prime Minister’s visit will have to be viewed in the global context, with India and China emerging as two regional powers contending for supremacy.