For all the historical anecdotes, common anti-liberation struggles, diasporic linkages, and the common aim of prioritising the voice of the Global South, the India-Africa partnership is set to face a crucial test. As India is on the verge of taking over the Group of 20 (G20) Presidency from Indonesia from 1st December 2022 till 30th November 2023, it must work to ensure the African Union (AU) – comprising of 54 diverse, sovereign, and innovative economies - is formally admitted to the G20 as a permanent, full-time member, thereby making the G20 a G21.
Too often, discussions revolving around India and Africa tend to get lost in the debate around how historical our relations are. While history matters, it is equally important to look forward and find pragmatic ways of collaborating. India has a chance to do exactly that by making the African region more representative in a forum for international economic cooperation that shapes and strengthens global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues.
With its forthcoming Presidency, India now has a golden chance to push for G20’s engagement with organisations like the AU, African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD), ASEAN, and in the process, mainstream the needs of emerging, developing, and vulnerable regions.
The G20, comprises the world’s major developed and developing economies, accounting for nearly 85 percent of global GDP and two-thirds of the world population. Naturally then, leaving out Africa, which represents the voice of 1.37 billion people and is the world’s eighth-largest economy, from the decision-making table would be detrimental to global sustainable economic growth. By continuing to view Africa as a subject and not as an agent would impede the achievement of common developmental priorities.
The inclusion of the AU will echo the type of representation that the European Union (EU) reflects as a member of the G20, in addition to individual members like France, Germany and Italy. On the other hand, South Africa, being the sole African member of the G20, often finds it difficult to balance its own domestic interests with that of other African countries which have vastly different demography and national priorities. Unfortunately, despite featuring regularly in the G20’s discussions, the African continent still continues to remain severely underrepresented. This affects African efforts toward promoting African voices, agency, and interests within the G20.
The Indian imperative
For India, Africa’s development is fundamental to its foreign policy goals and is a prerequisite if the world is to truly become multipolar. India has always been a vocal proponent of supporting African representation in multilateral organisations. External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar emphasised the Indian position when he stated that “India believes that Africa’s growth and progress are intrinsic to global rebalancing.” This sentiment is even more important at a time when the world is witnessing sharpening polarisation between democratic nations led by the United States and authoritarian regimes coalescing around China. The unintended consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the accompanying challenges of rising fuel and food prices, inflation, financial instability and energy crisis, are forcing African leaders to make tough choices.
Fortunately, India’s engagement with Africa has been sustained and regular in recent years. The continent’s growing role in Indian foreign and economic policy is reflected in our expanding diplomatic footprint which currently covers 43 African countries. The numbers speak for themselves: $12.37 billion lines of credit (LOC); $89.5 billion in trade; and $73.9 billion in cumulative investments, thereby making India the fifth-largest investor in Africa. The capacity-building and skill development aspect of the relationship is equally strong as more than 32,000 of the proposed 50,000 scholarships back in 2015 have been availed by African nationals to undertake various graduate and post-graduate courses in Indian institutions.
The fact that India sources nearly 18% of its crude oil from Africa, especially from countries like Nigeria, Angola, and South Sudan, and 20% of its coal from the continent is a testament to the vitality of our partnership. Moreover, almost 90% of Indian imports of cashew nuts are from Africa, in addition to 90% of phosphates. India’s entire fertiliser industry is based on what it procures from countries like Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal.
Africa’s tryst with G20
The G20’s focus on Africa is not new. The initial reference was made back in 2010 at the Toronto Summit during which financial support through concessional lending to the African Development Bank (AfDB) was promised, despite the financial crisis of 2008. Following this, the twin objective of infrastructure building and regional economic integration through trade facilitation was emphasised during the Seoul Summit in 2010. Since then, African countries have consistently been invited to G20 summits. The engagement coalesced into a G20 Compact with Africa (CwA) under the German G20 Presidency in 2017.
The compact aimed to highlight the need for joint measures to enhance sustainable infrastructure, support education and capacity building, coordinate country-specific reform agendas, and promote private investments in Africa. Presently, 12 African countries are members of the compact. More importantly, the compact seeks to diversify the focus beyond established continental players like South Africa and Nigeria to smaller African countries. The fact that each African country is unique and has varied infrastructure requirements informed the rationale behind the G20 Compact with Africa.
Don’t lose the momentum
India’s Presidency of the G20 is poised to come at a tumultuous time. The US-China divisions, following Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is at a glaring high. Chinese ships and jets are breaching the median line at the Taiwan Strait while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues unabated. While these uncertainties continue to rear their ugly side, it is equally important to acknowledge the positive strides India has taken in its effort to elevate its partnership with Africa – a continent and a partner that will make a difference.
The 17th edition of the Conclave on India-Africa Project Partnership was jointly held by CII and EXIM Bank recently in New Delhi. The ensuing discussions pointed toward a serious push by the Indian private sector and businesses to export Indian innovations to Africa. Hopefully, the fourth edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) takes place at the first possible opportunity in 2023. India needs to encash this ‘Africa Opportunity’ by facilitating the induction of the AU as a permanent member of the G20 under its presidency.
The zeal and intent from the Indian side have always been there, as reflected in our strong support of the Common African Position, which is stated in the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration. PM Modi has strongly advocated for a ‘Reformed Multilateralism’ that essentially calls for constructive reforms of multilateral forums like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Africa has enough credentials to demand two permanent and five non-permanent seats at the UNSC.
The moment is now for India to step up its game and distinguish itself as Africa’s partner with a difference. Until then, India will unwaveringly respond to African priorities, as defined by Africans themselves. Unlike our neighbour up north, this support would continue to be without conditionalities, cooperative, collaborative, and in line with African expectations.