The publication of two important books on India-Africa relations in early 2022 is a striking event. The authors are Foreign Service Africanists with multiple assignments on the Continent. They complement each other rather well.
Rajiv Bhatia addresses the wide historical canvas, and a range of political and other connections. His key message: ‘Africa’s leadership and elites need to shoulder the primary responsibility… But the world too has a special responsibility to assist Africa… Mutuality of interest (for India) dictates a deeper partnership’ (p. 11).
Sketching the historic India-Africa links, the author notes that by 2002 there were 2.6 million Indians in Africa. They were mainly descendants of indentured labour taken in colonial times, and were for the great part African citizens or held other nationalities. The number of recent migrants is smaller, mainly professionals and businessmen. Chapters three, four, five—‘Africa, Dancing with Global Actors’, ‘Africa-China Tango’ and ‘‘India-Africa Engagement in the 21st Century’ examine how world powers engaged with Africa, followed by a close study of the actions of China and India. Was there really a ‘scramble’ for the Continent? Africa’s mineral, forestry, other resources, actual and potential, ought to have produced a stronger push in our times. Clearly, China has been driven by a strategy and long-term vision, after the series of nine China-Africa ‘FOCAC’ conferences, commencing October 2000. India’s efforts, in the shape of three India-Africa Summits between 2008 and 2015, have been persistent, but not quite comparable, partly owing to India’s lower stock of investable funds, besides a less-than-fulsome response from Indian business. Closely examining India-Africa actions of 2000-19, the author concludes that while political relations were ‘closer and warmer’, both the economic pillar and people-to-people ties needed strengthening, more attention. He concludes that close ties should translate into economic and other mutually beneficial activities.