With an independent government in the centre, the world now has a newfound respect for India. Countries like the United States, Europe and Japan are now eager to partner with India in joint infrastructure projects in Africa. Earlier China used to be the preferred partner for foreign countries for such projects but in recent years India developed goodwill among African nations while China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) got pushback from these countries. “France, Germany, UK and Italy have expressed interest in partnering India in third-country projects in Africa. These countries are expected to outline specific projects where they are interested in partnering with India,” said an official. Morocco, Africa’s second largest economy is also in talks with India regarding the joint development of infrastructure projects in western Africa.
China is facing setback despite being big loan provider to African countries. Sierra Leone, a resource-rich, poor country in western Africa scrapped 318 million dollars Chinese airport project outside its capital, Freetown. The African countries are heavily indebted to China. According to an article in the China Daily, Beijing has helped Africa build more than 6,500 Km of railways, over 6,000 km of highways, more than 200 schools, 80 stadiums, dozens of the government office buildings and a large number of airports and ports. China is the largest trading partner of Africa with bilateral trade amounting 200 billion dollars in 2014 in comparison to 52 billion dollars in 2016-17. China’s total foreign direct investment in Africa is 100 billion dollars in comparison to 40 billion dollars of India. China has given loans worth 124 billion dollars to Africa in the period from 2000 to 2016. But now countries around the world including those with few alternatives view Chinese loans with suspicion. “Countries around the world are now rethinking the readily available loans offered by China for infrastructure projects in their countries, after fearing they could fall prey to Beijing’s debt-trap diplomacy. China-funded projects also require the hiring of Chinese-owned contractors rather than local companies and workers. Chinese loans, with interest rates of 2-3 per cent, are 1,100 per cent more expensive than those from Japan, at only 0.25-0.75 per cent,” the Daily Inquirer, a leading Philippine newspaper reported.
On the other hand, India enjoys trust among African countries is due to historical reasons, well-organized diaspora and its ‘soft approach’. “New Delhi may not be able to compete or match the kind of financial support or gifts that Beijing offers since China has much deeper pockets but most nations are aware that more often than not, there are strings, conditional clauses, expectations with Chinese gifts,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, strategic analyst and Director of the Society for Policy Studies.
India’s engagement with the continent goes hundreds of centuries back with a rich history of trade between the old African civilizations and empires in the Indian peninsula. According to Strabo, a Greek geographer who lived before Christ “At any rate, when Gallus was prefect of Egypt, I accompanied him and ascended the Nile as far as Syene and the frontiers of Kingdom of Aksum, and I learned that as many as one hundred and twenty vessels were sailing from Myos Hormos to India, whereas formerly, under the Ptolemies, only a very few ventured to undertake the voyage and to carry on traffic in Indian merchandise.” The engagement increased further in the colonial period when the Subcontinent was under British control and a large chunk of African landmass was also controlled by the same colonial hegemon. A large Indian Diaspora could be still found in nation-states of Africa. The common bridge of English as administrative language also goes in favour of India. India’s soft power and closer cultural links give a clear advantage to India.
Indian model of funding African countries has proved more beneficial to African countries. The Line of Credit (LoC), India offers is driven by the demands of recipient countries and follows more of bottom-up management style rather than the top-down model of China. India also looks after the timely completion of the projects and has involved Indian corporate houses for this. Earlier dubious African companies harmed India’s monetary and strategic interest in Africa and therefore the decision to involve Indian corporates was taken.
PM Modi visited Africa a few months back. In his address to Ugandan parliament, he said “our development partnership currently includes implementation of 180 lines of credit worth about $11 billion in over 40 African countries. At the last India Africa Forum Summit (in New Delhi in 2015), we had committed a concessional line of credit of $10 billion and $600 million in grant assistance.” The government efforts to increase engagement will balance growing Chinese presence. The partnership with capital rich countries like the United States, Europe and Japan will solve the problem of shortage of funds in India’s involvement in the development of Africa. The resource-rich country is the next big market and it also has an abundant amount of natural resources and minerals which India needs. Therefore a greater involvement will be beneficial for India as well as for Africa.
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