India-Africa Relations

India-Africa Relations

This article deals with ‘India-Africa Relations .’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’, which is an important pillar of the GS-2 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.

Brief History

  • Geographically speaking, peninsular India and Africa were once part of ‘Gondwanaland’.  
  • Asia and Africa have historically enjoyed trade and cultural relations dating over a millennium. Monsoon wind has helped to develop commercial ties between India and Africa. Sailors from India sailed using South East monsoonal winds to reach Africa (from June to September) and the North Eastern monsoonal winds (from December to March) to sail back. The written evidence of trade can be found in a 10th-century book named ‘Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’.
  • The Father of the nation, i.e. Mahatma Gandhi, had a close connection with Africa. In 1893, Gandhi went on an assignment to Africa. During his stay in Africa, he witnessed severe racial discrimination. He evolved in South Africa and practised the concept of Satyagraha, which eventually emerged as a technique of mass mobilization in India.
  • After independence, India raised its voice for the liberation of African colonies at international forums such as the UN. E.g., India accorded full diplomatic recognition to the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), which was fighting for Namibia’s independence and provided material assistance in the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. 
  • During Cold War Era, newly independent African nations and India were part of the Non-Aligned Movement. 

Natural Allies

India and Africa are natural allies because 

  • Both fought big wars against imperialism.
  • Both were fighting against the capitalist system / neo-colonialism.
  • Both have diverse cultures, languages etc.
  • Both have underutilization of resources, although they are rich in resources.
  • India and African nations have similar interests in WTO and other multilateral organizations.
  • India and African nations also cooperate on issues pertaining to climate change & Paris Accord.
  • India has always emphasized ‘South-South Cooperation’, and Africa is an important component of that scheme.

Why Africa is important?

1. Political changes 

With the end of debilitating conflicts like those in Sudan, South Africa etc., African countries are now embracing the value of democracy and good governance.  

2. Economic importance 

  • Africa is resource-rich and is endowed with 10% of the world’s oil and 40% of the world’s gold.
  • Africa is the fastest-growing continent. According to a World Bank report, out of the 15 fastest-growing economies, 7 are from Africa. 
  • Due to economic development, the New middle class is emerging in Africa, creating a potential market.

3. Energy needs

  • African countries have rich oil deposits, which can help India diversify its oil imports. 
  • In 2017, India organized the India-Africa Hydrocarbons Conference to showcase its expertise in oil exploration, refining and drilling technology.

4. Strategic Location

  • The location of Africa is strategic as it helps India to connect to Central and South Americas through the Cape of Good Hope and to West Asia through the African Maghreb.

5. Maritime  interests

  • India and African nations can collaborate to protect Sea Lanes of Commerce, especially against piracy in Somali waters. Somalia is an easy base for piracy due to the absence of a stable government.

6. Diplomatic Reasons

  • India needs the votes of African nations in her favour to get things done at international forums. At international forums, the value of Burundi’s vote is equal to the USA’s vote. 

Indian Investments in Africa

1. Energy

Various private and public Indian corporations are involved in energy projects in Africa. These include

  • ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) has invested in Sudan, Ivory Coast, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria and Gabon. 
  • Reliance has invested in equity oil in Sudan. 
  • Essar has procured blocks in Madagascar and Nigeria. 
  • India has completed a $200 million pipeline from Khartoum to Port Sudan on the Red sea.
  • ONGC has invested in Mozambique’s Rovuma Basin.
  • India has entered into a Joint Venture for manufacturing Phosphate Fertilizers in Morocco  (Morocco has 75% of the world’s phosphate reserves).

2. HRD and capacity building

3. Funding

  • At India Africa Forum Summit (2015), India announced a US$ 10 billion line of credit to help finance the projects in African countries.
  • India is Africa’s fifth largest foreign investor, with investments amounting to $54 billion.
  • Cooperation with African Development Bank (AfDB): India joined AfDB in 1983 and has contributed to its General Capital.
  • India has initiated a Namaskar Africa program to showcase its domestic strengths in the sectors where it can assist Africa. 

4. Pharmaceutical and health

  • India is known as the ‘Pharmacy of the Third World ‘. Africans rely heavily on Indian generic drugs in their fight against HIV and other diseases on the continent. 
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, India assisted African countries by supplying the vaccine.

5. IT technology

  • India has built  Pan-African E-Network. It was launched in 2006 with the aim of providing satellite connectivity, tele-education and telemedicine services to African countries.
  • Indian IT firms like Tata Consultancy, HCL, NIIT and Aptech have launched their operations across Africa.

6. Agriculture

  • India is helping African nations to replicate the Indian “green revolution model” in Africa. 
  • Kirloskar Brothers Ltd. and Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) are engaged in water management projects across Africa. 
  • India imports pulses from Mozambique.  

7. Defence Diplomacy

  • African military cadets are trained at NDA & IMA.

8. Diaspora

  • In 1833, slavery was abolished in Britain. After this, a new system, called the indentured labour system, evolved. The British brought bonded labour from India to work on sugar plantations and cotton plantations. During the colonial period, an estimated 7.7 lakh Indians migrated to Mauritius, South Africa, Reunion Island, Seychelles, and East-African.

9. Deepening the democracy

  • India provides a valuable model for African nations of democratic development. India is helping African countries set up democratic institutions such as Election Commission. 

10. Sub-national & State  Collaborations

Governments of Indian states and African nations are also collaborating on various issues. Examples in this regard include 

  • Ethiopia and South Africa are working with Kudumbashree (SHG movement of the Government of Kerala ).
  • Punjabi farmers have been invited by countries like Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania to scientifically cultivate the lands in these countries. 

11. Climate Change

African nations are one of the lowest contributors of GHG emissions but the biggest sufferers of climate channel. India can assist African nations in dealing with the problem.

12. Others

  • A large number of Indian companies are already operational in Africa. These include Taj Group, Bharti Airtel, Essar’s Yu brand in Kenyan Telecom, Ranbaxy, Vedanta, Tata Coffee, Mahindra, Ashok Leyland, Maruti etc. 
  • India has sent Peace Keeping Forces (PKFs) to Namibia, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Congo and Sudan.
  • Indian assistance is seen positively because all the assistance is provided without any conditionality and is driven to help Africans grow. While assisting the African development process, India does not follow the white man’s burden approach but intends to share its own knowledge and developmental experiences with Africa for the mutual benefit of both.


1. Instability and governance issues

  • African nations have political instability and weak institutional capacity to enforce the rule of law. Hence, Indian corporations hesitate to make long-term investments in African countries. 

2. China factor

Chinese Investments in Africa
Chinese Investments in Africa
  • As the Chinese economy began to grow by the 1990s, it also began to search for resources. Africa, being a resource-rich region, was a natural choice. Moreover, China also found Africa to be a favourable market for its goods. Hence, China launched the ‘Going Out’ Policy in 2001, encouraging Chinese corporations to set up bases in Africa to gain access to natural resources and tap the local markets for Chinese goods. Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an enhanced version of the ‘Going Out’ policy. 
  • China is favoured by a large number of authoritarian regimes in Africa because China follows a no-strings-attached aid policy. 
  • African countries have witnessed a phenomenal increase in trade with China, from $7 billion in 2000 to $ 220 billion in 2019 (compared to India’s $70 billion).
  • China is investing in massive infrastructure projects, especially under Maritime Silk Road. eg 
    • Mombasa Port in Kenya 
    • Djibouti – Addis Ababa Railway line, 
    • Transcontinental Railway Line
India-Africa Relations
Chinese Projects in Africa
  • Countries like Zimbabwe have declared that Chinese RENMINBI can be used as legal tender.
  • The first Chinese Military base has become operational in Djibouti.
  • Many Chinese are visiting Africa, giving impetus to the African Tourism sector.


  • China concentrates on infrastructure and cheque-book diplomacy, whereas Indian programmes focus on developing Africa’s human resources.  
  • Chinese philosophy can be summarised as China goes to an African nation, sets up industries and factories, exports Chinese labour to Africa, digs out resources from the nation, and brings the resources back using the infrastructure they have created to connect the industry to the port. In this entire Chinese model, the African country does not stand to gain anything except very little monetary profit in the form of taxation. It has led to a lot of disenchantment in the local people, ultimately leading to hatred against the Chinese presence.

3. Rise of Islamic Terrorism in Africa

  • Extremist groups like Boko Haram, Al-Qaida and ISIS have become active in countries like Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan etc.

4. Financial Implications

  • In terms of chequebook diplomacy and providing aid to African nations, India cannot compete with China or the US.  

5. Africans in India

  • Indians stereotype Africans as drug dealers and prostitutes. The stereotyping leads to racial attacks on Africans living in India. 

6. Others

  • Africa is facing  Dutch Disease (i.e. over-dependence on natural resource exports harms the growth of the non-resource sector.)  

Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)

  • It is an Indo-Japanese Project aimed at the socioeconomic development of Asia and Africa.

What is Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC)? 

  • AAGC is India and Japan’s economic cooperation agreement which aims to create a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” by rediscovering ancient sea routes and creating new sea corridors to link Africa & Asia.

Key elements of AAGC

  • Building quality infrastructure
  • Enhancing capacities and skills
  • People-to-people partnership.
  • Development and cooperation projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro-processing farming, manufacturing and disaster management.

A challenge to Chinese OBOR

  • AAGC is an initiative led by India and Japan to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. 
  • But AAGC differs from China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project because it is more open and inclusive. The projects taken up under AAGC will be based on consultations with the local population. It will keep people as the centrepiece. 
  • Besides, AAGC will focus on building sea corridors connecting Asia and Africa in contrast to OBOR, which also has land-based components. 

Recommendations / Way Forward

  • Recognize diversity: Africa is not a monolith but a continent representing 54 countries. India should recognize diversity while formulating its African foreign policy.
  • Avoid emulating the Chinese, as there are pitfalls in that approach. China’s mercantilist approach has left many Africans disenchanted.
  • Rope in the Indian Diaspora: More than three million people of Indian origin live in Africa. India should use its diaspora to further its interests in Africa. 
  • Using Indian soft power: During the Ebola epidemic, India gave the maximum donations among all nations. Besides, India has spent $150 million on Pan Africa e-Network. But nobody in Africa knows about these initiatives. A better media campaign is desirable.  
  • Being one of the largest democracies in the world, India can share its democratic experience and provide training on electronic voting systems, parliamentary procedures and federal governance.

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