External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday held up India as Africa’s most steadfast partner, whose projects would “empower rather than extract from local communities” and ensure sustainable development.
Jaishankar didn’t refer to other countries involved in the development of Africa in his remarks, made during a virtual event organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry, but it appeared he was comparing India’s track record to that of China.
Describing maritime security as the new frontier in cooperation between the two sides, he said India offers Africa “an honest partnership and room to maximise its space under the sun and multiply its options” in all spheres.
“Africa is, of course, not without its options and by no stretch does India claim to be the only one. However, what we can promise is to be Africa’s most steadfast partner,” he said in his speech at the CII-Exim Bank digital conclave on the India-Africa project partnership.
Pointing to India’s partnership with Africa, Jaishankar said the country has implemented 194 developmental projects in 37 African countries and is working on 77 more in 29 countries with a total outlay $11.6 billion. These projects, which are in sectors such as infrastructure, ICT, power generation, water, roads, railways and agriculture, foster entrepreneurship and “empower rather than extract from local communities”, he said.
The projects also marry transparency and technology with imperatives of social and ecological sustainability, he said. “This is the template we offer our African friends,” he added.
In recent years, China has faced criticism for bringing in large numbers of its nationals to work on projects in Africa and for “debt trap” financing of projects under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Against the backdrop of the border standoff in Ladakh, India has stepped up developmental assistance and projects for countries in its immediate neighbourhood.
Jaishankar also highlighted the importance of the Indian Ocean in ties between India and Africa, saying it has “acquired even greater salience” and the two sides “need to cooperate to preserve and protect it”.
In the field of trade, the minister noted that India is Africa’s third-largest export and Indian investments in the continent total $54 billion. He also welcomed the coming into force of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement because of the possibility of increased business. India’s oil and gas firms have invested $7 billion in a gas field in Mozambique and $0.5 billion in South Sudan, and these make Africa a “crucial energy partner for India”, he said.
Jaishankar also pointed to India’s maintenance of critical supply chains to provide medical supplies to Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic as another instance of its reliability as a partner. Describing the pandemic as the most debilitating global event of the past 80 years, he said it posed a challenge to the global economy, reliability of supply chains and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.
“For India, Africa’s rise as one of the global system’s poles is not just desirable, it is absolutely necessary. In fact, it is fundamental to our foreign policy thinking. Broader global rebalancing is incomplete without the genuine emergence of Africa. Only then will the world’s strategic diversity come into full play,” he said.