India-Africa Relationship – Explained, pointwise

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India-Africa Relationship has a long and rich history. India’s freedom movement became an inspiration for African nationalists in their desire for independence from colonialism. India shares close and friendly relationship with many African countries that are built on mutual trust and confidence. Leveraging this, countries have managed to collaborate on various fields like trade, education, skill, health etc. In present times, both India and Africa desire a mutually beneficial relationship through greater trade and investment partnerships.  The ongoing 17th Confederation of Indian Industry-Exim Bank Conclave on the India-Africa Growth Partnership offers an opportunity to take the relationship to next level. However, this would require overcoming the challenges between them and harnessing each other’s strength. 

What is the history of India-Africa Relationship?

India has a long history of partnership with Africa. The solidarity and political affinity goes back to the early 1920s when both regions were fighting against colonial rule and oppression. India’s freedom movement had an internationalist outlook; many Indian nationalists viewed the struggle for independence as part of the worldwide movement against imperialism. 

After India gained independence, it became a leading voice in support of African decolonisation at the United Nations. Independent India, though extremely poor, strived to share its limited resources with African countries under the banner of South-South cooperation. 

In 1964, India launched the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme to provide technical assistance through human resource development to other developing countries. African countries became the greatest beneficiaries of it.

What is the current status of India-Africa Relationship?

Economic: According to the Confederation of Indian Industry, in 2020-21, India’s exports to and imports from Africa stood at US$ 27.7 billion and US$ 28.2 billion respectively. Top 5 markets for Indian exports in Africa are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya and Togo. India’s top importers are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Angola and Guinea. 

India’s top three exports to Africa are mineral fuels and oils (processed petroleum products), pharmaceutical products and vehicles. Mineral fuels and oils, (essentially crude oil) and pearls, precious or semi-precious stones are the top imports accounting for over 77% of India’s imports from Africa.

India’s cumulative investments in Africa stand at US$ 70 billion. Lines of Credit (LoCs) worth US$ 12.26 billion have been extended to African countries that significantly impacted the development. For instance, India’s irrigation project in Senegal led to a six-fold increase in rice production.

Indian Investments in Africa India-Africa Relationship UPSC

Source: Brookings Institution

Social: In 2017, under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), ~50,000 scholarships had been granted to African students over 5 years. The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program is assisting Africa in giving people opportunities to learn new skills and acquire knowledge through training programs.

Security: Many African nations are members of the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) that aims to strengthen maritime safety and security of the Indian Ocean. Similarly, the first-ever India Africa Defence Ministers Conclave (IADMC) was held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in conjunction with DefExpo in 2020.

Digital Cooperation: The Pan African e-Network, launched in 2009, was a groundbreaking initiative to extend Indian expertise in IT to provide better healthcare and education facilities in 53 African countries. The second phase of this programme, e-VidyaBharti and e-ArogyaBharti (e-VBAB), was started in 2018. It aims to provide free tele-education to 4,000 African students each year for five years and medical education for 1000 African doctors, paramedical staff, and nurses.

International Cooperation: India and Africa have often held common positions at various global platforms and worked together to guard the interests of other developing countries. They have moved joint proposals, such as the Agricultural Framework Proposal and Protection of Geographical Indications, at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

What is the significance of India-Africa Relationship?

Huge Economic Potential: The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) provides a wide scope to create the largest free trade area in the world by geography and an opportunity to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty. It can help promote India-Africa bilateral trade and investment under AfCFTA.

There are opportunities in services trade with Africa in the fields of Information Technology (IT), Mobile payment solutions, banking, and financial services. India’s success in manufacturing vaccines and pharmaceuticals, and advances in telemedicine, can open up new opportunities in the pharmaceuticals and the healthcare sector.

Top 10 Economies in Africa India Africa Relationship UPSC

Top 10 Economies in Africa, 2019 estimates

Infrastructure Development in the African Continent: India has the world’s third-largest start-up ecosystem. Thus, it could count on its strengths to fortify the digital infrastructure in Africa, thereby contributing to the achievement of the continent’s Agenda 2063.

The AfCFTA seeks to facilitate international supply chains for food, pharmaceuticals, and various other essential products. India can help in building important infrastructure for cross-border supply chains. It will help Indian industries to operate efficiently in Africa.

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.

What are the challenges associated with India-Africa relationship?

Flaws in India’s development strategy in Africa: Firstly, India is not actively pursuing any specific development goals. An assessment of India’s development cooperation instruments (LoCs, grants, and capacity building projects like ITEC) reflect the absence of a plan for Africa. Indian LoCs have not been designed to achieve a larger development goal such as food security, health security, clean energy or education for all. 

Secondly, there is no synchronisation between different development instruments. LoCs, grants and capacity building initiatives operate as standalone instruments of development cooperation, with almost no links with each other. As a result, the overall development impact of India’s development cooperation is small and difficult to measure. Moreover, implementation has been a key constraint for Indian LoCs, with poor disbursal rates and project completion record. 

Increased presence of China: China has successfully used the pandemic to expand its footprint by increasing the outflow of its vaccines. Unfortunately, India’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ faced challenges like COVID-19 second wave, shortage of vaccine raw materials from the U.S., etc.  

Lack of Focus: Geopolitical tensions in Asia and the imperative to consolidate its position in the Indo-Pacific region have compelled India to deviate from greater focus on the India-Africa relationship. Instead, India concentrated on its ties with the United Kingdom, the EU, and the Quad powers, particularly the US.

Competition from Peers: A dozen nations from America, Europe and Asia have come forward to assist Africa in resolving the continent’s political and social challenges. It has created intense competition among nations, especially the United States, the European Union (EU), China, Japan and India. For instance, China is currently the second most popular destination for African students after France, which hosts about 95,000 African students. The poor quality of education in India restricts African students despite huge scholarships provided to them.

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. 

What steps can be taken to enhance India-Africa Relationship?

Clear strategy for African development: India should prepare a focused Africa strategy for the next decade and identify a few areas for closer cooperation. Targeting a few important areas like food and health security, climate change adaptation and gender equality will help improve development outcomes and make India’s development cooperation programme more effective.

Continue the current focus on capacity building: A simple focus on building physical infrastructure and economic growth will not contribute to a stable and prosperous Africa. Investment in human capital is the key to development in Africa. The current focus on capacity building is in line with Africa’s needs given the continent’s huge youth population that need skills and jobs.

Harness Indian civil society organizations, NGOs, and Indian diaspora: The Government should explore greater collaboration with them to implement development projects in Africa at low costs. Some Indian organizations like Pratham and Barefoot College are already playing an important role in Africa.

Timely completion of projects: Efforts must be made to expedite the LoC projects. Lessons should be drawn from other countries that have a much better record in implementation.

Address concerns about academic experience in India: India must make large-scale investments in domestic higher education sector to project itself as an education hub for neighbouring countries and Africa.

Improve the experiences of Africans in India: Indian government should ensure that Africans studying or working in India are safe and enjoy their stay in the country. Efforts should also be made to educate Indians about Africa so that people-to-people connections between India and Africa flourish.


The future development partnership should be guided keeping in mind Africa’s priorities. It should be on terms that are comfortable for Africa, liberate its potential and not constrain its future. India should cooperate with the African nations as per the Gujral Doctrine of Generosity rather than Reciprocity.

Syllabus: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests, India and its neighbourhood relations.

Source: Mint, The Times of India, NewsOnAir, ORF, Brookings

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