CANBERRA – The third India-Africa Forum summit was held in New Delhi from Oct. 26 to 29, with 41 of 54 Africa’s heads of government or state (and officials from the other 13) attending the last two days.
This was the largest diplomatic event in India since the 1983 Nonaligned Movement summit in New Delhi, when around 100 leaders were hosted by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The India-Africa summit was among the largest gatherings of African leaders in a foreign country, eclipsing the 35 leaders who went to Beijing in November 2006 for the third ministerial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that was elevated to a summit; and matching the number who attended the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama.
The New Delhi summit of African leaders marks the continuing rise of India, its search for African markets and resources, and its late and relatively modest competition with the other two Asian giants China and Japan. For example TICAD is co-organized with the U.N. Development Program and the U.N. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa. Both U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong-kim attended TICAD V, during which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a five-year $32 billion package to support infrastructure development and boost economic growth in Africa.
China has doubled its financing commitment to Africa during the past three FOCAC meetings: $5 billion in 2006, $10 billion in 2009 and $20 billion in 2012. Few would be surprised if Beijing doubled its already impressive line of credit for Africa at the next FOCAC meeting — also elevated to a summit — on Dec. 4 and 5 in Johannesburg. India’s $10 billion pledge is not quite in the same league, even if it marks a doubling from the first two summits in New Delhi (2008) and Addis Ababa (2011).
While India’s trade with Africa has increased from a paltry $1 billion in 1995 to more than $70 billion, this is only one-third of China’s $220 billion. One simple statistic by itself starkly highlights the impact of China’s growth on world trade. More than 120 countries have China as their biggest trading partner, twice the U.S. number. The volume of China’s trade with Africa is thrice that of the United States. China’s total development aid projects in Africa just in this century so far is touching $100 billion, generating some backlash about the employment of a million Chinese workers (that is, taking jobs from Africans) and a neocolonial relationship in which China extracts Africa’s resources and then sells value-added products back to Africans.
But where China and Japan are continents apart from Africa, India is just across the shared Indian Ocean. The growing attraction of Australia’s security elite to the term “Indo-Pacific” rather than “Asia-Pacific” is owed in no small measure to the desire to incorporate India into Australia’s strategic frame of reference. But of course the Indian Ocean rim is “Indo-African.” Africa has accounted for the overwhelming bulk of U.N. peace operations and India has been among the U.N.’s biggest troop contributors. Its military has underwritten global public good in Africa since the 1950s, and in the 1960s peacekeeping soldiers stayed in the Congo despite the disastrous border war with China. India’s growing naval clout also means it has the most substantial power projection capability in the Indian Ocean rim.
With 90 percent of India’s trade by volume being sea-borne (and 70 percent by value), India has a huge vested interest in keeping the Indian Ocean’s sea lanes of communication open, safe and secure. There is nothing comparable to the competitive jostling and military-capable airfields being built on reclaimed land in disputed territorial seas as in the South China Sea, with a resulting requirement to undertake freedom of navigation patrols.
India’s “good international citizenship” has been amply demonstrated with anti-piracy operations. Its scientific expertise, economic heft and geopolitical clout have worked to the advantage of millions of Africans with the development of generic life-saving drugs in a direct challenge to the rapacious profiteering of Big Pharma. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is proving particularly adept at tapping into the emotional attachments of the Indian diaspora, 3 million of whom are in Africa.
In return, Africa may prove crucial to India’s efforts to diversify its energy security basket. Several African countries share anxieties about terrorism. The Kenyan and Nigerian presidents, for example, raised the Westgate Mall and Boko Haram attacks. The India-Africa summit also holds diplomatic significance. So far Africa is the only missing continent on Modi’s already extensive overseas destinations. The 2005 push for permanent U.N. Security Council membership by Brazil, Germany, India and Japan (the G-4) foundered ultimately on the African Union’s internal divisions, as it votes en bloc. While some African leaders at this year’s summit agreed with the call for U.N. reforms, few voiced backing for India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the Security Council.
The presence of Sudan Pesident Omar al-Bashir — under international indictment — was a challenge to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the U.N. Security Council. Superficially, this signified disrespect for the rule of law. In reality, it is a rebellion against a normative enterprise of international criminal justice being subverted into a political project by the previously powerful West to maintain control over the rest despite the shifting global power balance.
Anyone indicted by the ICC is required to be arrested and handed over to the court if he travels abroad. Al-Bashir has been to several countries, most recently South Africa, whose government defied its own courts in permitting him to leave peacefully. Over 100 international and African NGOs expressed “deep disappointment” with Pretoria.
Unlike South Africa, India is not an ICC party. The office of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (an impressive African criminal lawyer) pointed to Security Council Resolution 1593 (2005) calling on all states — including non-parties like India — to cooperate fully with the ICC. “By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects,” the statement added, “India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes.” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were among 21 international and African NGOs calling on India to arrest al-Bashir.
India’s official position was that Resolution 1593 is not binding for ICC nonstate parties. India was happy to comply with its “statutory international legal obligations,” but not necessarily other directives. The dean of African ambassadors in New Delhi, Ethiopia’s Gennet Zewide, said South Africa’s actions in June were correct and the ICC could not decide on matters of sovereignty. And a South African deputy minister, Obed Bapela, said the ICC had “lost its direction” and the ruling African National Congress intended to withdraw from it.
Recalling that Prime Minister Modi himself was under a 12-year travel ban to Western countries at the instigation of human rights activists, one wonders at his private reactions to their demand to arrest al-Bashir. One hint perhaps: al-Bashir held bilateral talks with Modi on the sidelines of the summit and Modi’s office tweeted a photo of the meeting.
Ramesh Thakur is a professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.
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