At a time of global challenges caused by Covid-19 and a changing geopolitical landscape, a resurging India and a rapidly progressing Africa can provide a boost to South-South cooperation.
Panelists addressing the first day of the Indo-Africa Summit, on November 4, agreed that India and Africa could address sustainable development that both regions needed in a mutually beneficial way, while driving trade at a time when the US and China remained at loggerheads.
The summit came at the most pressing and difficult time when economies around the world are reeling from the effects of Covid-19, which has caused a rise in economic uncertainty and presented a threat to global prosperity.
However, solutions for government and business to jointly combat this threat were within reach and needed to be embraced to avert economic crisis, the panellists said.
Trade between India and Africa has progressively grown from $5.3-billion in 2001 to $62-billion in 2018.
Many Indian firms have invested in diverse sectors across the African continent, such as energy, metals, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, banking and information and communication technology.
African exports to India have been growing at an average annual rate of about 32%, while Indian exports to Africa have been growing at an average annual rate of 24%.
The combined markets of India and Africa encompass 2.5-billion people and a gross domestic product of $5.5-trillion.
The well-established historic strategic partnership and cultural ties and commonalities between India and African countries could help realise great untapped potential for trade and investment, the panellists noted.
Nonprofit organisation Indian Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Rajiv Podar said India and Africa had among the most vibrant economies in the world and the regions shared a deep history of economic and political relations.
He added that India had long seen the value of investing in Africa, with it having extended 181 chains of credit, totalling $12-billion, to African countries for development of projects.
Kenyan Sports, Heritage and Culture Minister Amina Mohamed agreed, stating that evidence of the two regions’ bilateral relations dated back to the days when African travellers helped Vasco Da Gama navigate to India’s shores for the first time.
Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal stated that Covid-19 had brought into sharp focus the importance of global collaboration to combat health and economic crises.
“The more we work with care and concern for each other, the quicker we can emerge from the pandemic,” he believed.
ABN Group nonexecutive director Sam Bhembe added that the time for socioeconomic development had come, saying that the world was looking at moving in the same direction together, through beneficial relationships.
To this end, trade is a key tool to create an equitable and sustainable society, he noted.
Indian ambassador to Germany and former Indian ambassador to the African Union Professor Gurjit Singh commented that Covid-19 had “levelled up things in a way”, disrupting global alliances and giving rise to a new world order.
“The current global order is undergoing change owing to the withdrawal of the US from the affairs of the world and an advancement of China. India will rise in consonance with Africa to fight an uneven international landscape together.
“We want a peaceful and stable Africa and India likes to collaborate with its neighbours. India and Africa would like to keep the oceans full of trade and cooperation,” he noted.
Of particular interest to India were the African countries and islands bordering the Indian Ocean, since many of them did not take a strategic view of the ocean and neither have naval components, to which India “can be the best benign partner”.
Singh explained that India had assisted many countries with, for example, ocean clean-ups and Indian naval power has been used to establish friendly relations with neighbours in East and Southern Africa.
Hospital chain Narayana Health independent director Arun Seth said it was a given that US and China trade tension would continue and agreed that India and Africa’s commonalities stretch beyond its having fallen under colonial rule to its current socioeconomic situation.
He remarked that the regions could cooperate more on medical services, agriculture and digital technologies to narrow inequality and empower more people with online education.
“For Africa to make a dent in its inequality, it has to move away from partners that do not create local employment in a country.”
Gauteng provincial government head of policy Mduduzi Mbada said government realised during Covid-19 that South Africa’s response to the pandemic needed partnerships with domestic companies, as well as foreign firms, and Indian firms were well placed to make the medical and digital contributions the country needed at present.
“Covid-19 is saying to us we cannot continue doing things the same way; we are not maximising the potential of our economies and people. We have to transcend beyond borders and ask critical questions of how countries can collaborate to establish creative industries that better people’s lives,” he explained.
Horn of Africa special envoy for the United Nations secretary general Parfait Onanga-Anyanga concured that Africa and India were natural partners beyond geographical proximity.
“It is important that India not see Africa as a collection of 54 countries, but rather as a place where it could scale up investment with a view to meeting Africa’s integration agenda and projects that could ensure that the new huge market that Africa has established through the African Continental Free Trade Area can benefit all partners and member States,” he pointed out.
Onanga-Anyanga added that, although each African country was still pursuing its own growth agenda, it would still be beneficial for a partner such as India to look at Africa through the continental lens and help meet bigger strategic objectives and form a new blueprint for Africa’s development.