Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury
The vigilantism of Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti against African nationals in Khirki Extension undermines the basis of India-Africa ties: our resolve to fight prejudices and racism jointly. Our founding fathers believed India’s freedom would remain incomplete as long as Africa remained in bondage. India imposed a trade embargo on apartheid South Africa in 1946 and took the lead in placing apartheid on the agenda of the very first session of the UN General Assembly. This was the edifice of the partnership that was built over decades from Independence. Recent years have seen ties transformed to cover several aspects of mutual interest. The countries of Africa found a dependable friend in India, but Bharti’s action has dealt a blow. India’s partnership with Africa is anchored on the principles of equality, mutual respect and benefit that should, we hope, serve to redefine the contours of the international order on more egalitarian lines. Beginning with the fight against imperialism and colonialism in the 1950s, India’s ties with Africa today cover a variety of areas: development initiatives, education, culture, trade and investments, security partnerships and, most important, people-to-people ties. Several countries in eastern and southern Africa, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, have housed India-origin people for centuries. This is the homeland for them and despite actions by despots like Idi Amin in Uganda in the 1970s, Indian-origin people have returned and prospered there. Recent years have seen the transformation of bilateral partnership between India and the 54-nation African continent. The two entities now hold summit-level meetings to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues. The first edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit was held in Delhi in 2008, followed by the second summit in Addis Ababa in 2011. The third summit will be held in India this year. In the global economic downturn, Africa is a success story with a growing middle class. India, viewed as a reliable partner, has connected 40 countries in the continent through a pan-African e-network project. It is a pioneering initiative that seeks to bridge the digital divide in the continent and bring benefits of tele-education and tele-medicine to African people. India has also assured to set up over 100 training institutes across Africa. Bilateral trade between India and Africa has increased from less than $1 billion barely two decades ago to $68 billion in 2011-12. At the third India-Africa Trade Ministers’ meeting last year, the trade target was set at $100 billion for 2015. India’s trade with African countries has nearly doubled to 7.7% of its total trade between 1990-91 and 2006-07. The government has extended lines of credit for various projects in the continent. In 2011, India extended $5 billion of credit over three years and increased aid for development projects in Africa. Indian private and public sector enterprises do business across Africa. The list includes Tatas, Mahindras, Ranbaxy Laboratories, Fortis, Vedanta, Kirloskar, Bharti Airtel, Essar, Ashok Leyland, Larsen and Toubro, NIIT Technologies, Karuturi Global, Escort and Apollo Hospitals. Public sector companies such as ONGC Videsh, Rites, Konkan Railways and Bank of Baroda are also active in Africa. The India-Africa partnership is also acquiring a strategic dimension with increased cooperation in combating piracy and international terrorism. The focus will be on maritime security cooperation at the third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2014. More than 6,500 Indian soldiers are engaged in peacekeeping in different countries in Africa under the UN banner. India is home to around 15,000 African students. By 2014, it is expected the number will go up to 22,000. Today, the India-Africa cooperation is a two-way avenue. However, vigilante action at home, driven by racial prejudices, poses a major risk. What if African nations retaliated against people of Indian origin or our business interests in Africa? The natural synergy between the continent and the subcontinent cannot be allowed to be frittered away by such irresponsible behaviour.