India in Africa: past and present
by Come Carpentier de Gourdon on 22 Feb 2010 3 Comments

India at independence in 1947 was left with a British colonial legacy that included deep ties to a number of East and Southern African countries within the Empire, which were to emerge as free nations in the ensuing years. The traditional expatriation of Indian traders mostly from Gujarat combined with “export” of indentured labourers by the British Indian administration to build large and industrious Indian communities all the way from the Horn of Africa to the Cape.


Thus South Africa and the future states of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Botswana, not to mention Rhodesia (future Zimbabwe) and the Afro-Asian island Mauritius, all had a substantial presence from the subcontinent. But the English colonial role in the creation of this diaspora made many forget that India and Africa have had a cultural and economic relationship for centuries, if not millennia. These links extended both across the Indian Ocean, where they were supported by the Trade winds, and the Middle Eastern land bridge which provides an uninterrupted route, interspersed with very ancient and illustrious civilisational oases, for travellers from the Indus Valley to the Nile delta.


It is hence vain at this point to assign a date, however vague, to the origins of this age-old relationship between the African continent and the Indian subcontinent which share many similar geological, climatic, botanical, zoological, anthropological and even cultural characteristics. Madagascar in particular is believed to have broken away from what is now South India some 80 to 100 million years ago.


The exploration of the common heritage was one of the goals of the 2006 Gondwanaland Expedition that a group of Indian explorers and scientists undertook from the Himalayas and along the Great Rift Valley to Cape Agulhas on the Southern tip of the African continent. A few indices may be noted as road posts on this immemorial journey.


First signs of Afro-Asian links


Mankind is generally held to have originated in Africa, from where it emigrated to other parts of the world, but first to South Asia across the Arabian peninsula and Southern Iran, supposedly around 80000 years ago, according to genetic evidence analysed by L Cavalli Sforza and S Oppenheimer.


The connection seems to have endured over the millennia since there are traces of more recent population movements, albeit limited in number, between the African Eastern coast and Asia’s South and South East, which may be linked with the introduction of Asian vegetal (plantain, yam and water yam) and animal (Indian zebu or “Bos Indicus”) species into the Black Continent. The earliest urban settlements in Africa have been located in Ethiopia and in Egypt. The Tarsian and Badarian archeological sites in the upper Nile valley seem to have been founded by settlers from the Middle East who brought certain crops from the Fertile Crescent with them about 4500 years BC, in particular wheat and barley.


In proto-historic times, Austronesian navigators from the Indo-Malayan archipelago settled in several islands near the coast of Africa and probably reached it as well. Some may already have absorbed elements of Indian civilisation from the subcontinent, which seems to have extended its influence over South East Asia by then.


Later, during the first millennium of the Common Era, Madagascar was settled by South East Asian seafarers, the Merina, with an “Indic” culture, endowed with an elaborate caste hierarchy and a Samsrkt-related language. Also in the first millennium, the prosperous kingdom of Axum on the Red Sea, extending to Yemen and often identified as the realm of the legendary Queen of Sheba of Biblical fame, had a large merchant navy which traded with India and China. From Axum caravans took many goods along the Nile and other routes to other regions of Africa (Ashton Jones, Arnott and Oronto, 1998). It may not be a coincidence that the script of the Amharic language is closest, among semitic writing systems, to the Indic native ones which are all derived from Brahmi that seems to have appeared in the third century BC.


Along the centuries, the merchant kingdoms of Sindh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Konkan and Kerala (Malabar) carried out trading with East Africa and competed or fought with the Muslim states of Arabia, Persia, the Ottoman Empire and in particular with the Imamate of Muscat (Oman), an heir of mythical Sheba, that spread its power from the mouth of the Persian Gulf and Makran (in modern Pakistan) to the coastal regions down to Mozambique, along which merchant states such as Barawa, Kismayu, Kilwa, Sofala and Mombasa prospered on the maritime south-north trade route to the Silk Road.


Oman held fortified island depots such as Zanzibar, Lamu, Pemba and the Comoros of which a few eventually became independent sultanates. The Indian silver rupee was the main currency in that sprawling area and kept this status under centuries of successive Portuguese, Dutch, French and British dominance. Kiswahili developed as a lingua franca throughout Eastern Africa as a mixture of Arabic and native languages with many borrowings from Hindustani. It is likely that some of the gold mined in Zimbabwe since antiquity and exported by caravans to the Mozambique coast was sold to Indian merchants.


So prevalent was the influence of India through the ocean that carries its name that the fifteenth century Portuguese thought that the Indies began at the Cape which Bartholomew Dias reached in 1488, and which was later given the name “Good Hope” by King John II. The 1865 romantic opera “L’Africaine” by Meyerbeer and Scribe, loosely inspired by Camoens’s “Lusiades”, Portugal’s national epic, indeed imagines that Vasco de Gama came in contact there with an Indian goddess and discovered a Hindu land. What appears now as a geographical confusion originated with the legend of the Emperor of the East, Prester John, located rather vaguely both in Africa or in Asia by European medieval chroniclers, though he is now generally held to have been the Emperor (Negus Negusi) of Ethiopia, but the ancient Syrian Orthodox communities in Kerala and Central Asian Nestorians were also connected with the origins of this tradition as their existence accredited the belief in a vast Eastern Christian Kingdom.


Vasco de Gama, guided by a pilot from Malindi (now in Kenya) where he had found a large Indian merchant colony, reached Kozhikode (Calicut) in 1498 on the Malabar Coast and did usher in the Europeans who were finally able to bypass the Arab and Persian intermediaries in their quest for pepper, other spices and coveted goods from the East Indies. They quickly sought to eliminate rival traders and eventually blocked the ships from the Persian Gulf and Red Sea states from reaching South India and Ceylon, and in the endeavour to control the Ocean’s commercial lanes they set up outposts on the Somali coast and thereby became embroiled in the power struggles in East Africa where they supported the Ethiopian Negus against the Adal Amir of Harar, Ahmed the Gragn. The Portuguese contingent sent to assist the beleaguered Ethiopians in 1541, after the death of Emperor Dawit II, was led by Cristovao de Gama, a son of the more famous “discoverer” of Kerala who was captured and killed by the Harar army at the battle of Wofla in 1543.


The Portuguese empire created new and enduring religious and cultural linkages between India (where the Catholic Patriarchate in Goa was seen as the Eastern Vatican) and its main African provinces of Angola and Mozambique.


The Portuguese dominance of the Indian Ocean and the African contra costa however did not put an end to the passage of mercenaries and slaves from Eritrea and Somalia to India where they were known as Habshis (Abyssinians) or Maliks and served the feuding Indian states as soldiers and sailors. Camoens refers to the naval battle fought by his countrymen against allied Gujarati and Egyptian fleets at Diu, off the coast of Saurashtra. The Habshis generally fought in the service of the relatively new Muslim states of the subcontinent and some became their generals, like the famous Malik Kafur, as they were feared warriors and expert seamen.


In the sixteenth century, the Mughal rulers who as Central Asian tribesmen were unfamiliar with maritime matters, delegated to a few mercenary dynasties the supervision of the West Indian coastline and the Sidi House of Janjira, for one, held until the breakdown of the Turkic Empire the hereditary charge of Admiral of the sea from the island fortress in Janjira and other states which the British allowed them to keep and where they preserved the tradition of the East African island sultanates. A number of Muslim Indian princes kept African slaves and guards in their employ right until Indian Independence in 1947 and those migrants maintained their separate identity and traditions to our day.


This brief survey allows us to appreciate that the connections between India and the western shores of the ocean that carries her name are deeper, older and more numerous than either China’s or Europe’s that are late comers in East Africa by comparison. As pointed out earlier, the British used this old bond when organizing large-scale Indian emigration to their African colonies in order to control and develop the region extending from “Cairo to the Cape”, according to the ambitious plan promoted by Cecil Rhodes for the creation of a British vertical axis along the Black Continent, buttressing the de facto status of the Indian Ocean as a British Lake.


Post-Independence Relations


India’s independence from colonial rule preceded the liberation of most of Africa by at least ten years and was thus seen as a beacon of hope for the Black Continent. Mahatma Gandhi’s important legacy in South Africa, where he began his anti-colonial struggle, was a bond and Nehru’s longstanding activity as a member of the international socialist and trade union movement had made him the friend of some of the future leaders of the new African states who shared his commitment to the Afro-Asian solidarity movement that gave rise to the Non-Aligned Organization and later to the Group of 77 for a New International Economic Order (NIEO).


President Nkwame Nkrumah of Ghana with his ambitious vision for African unity was, with Nehru, a founding father of Non-Alignment. A “brother in arms” was President Nasser of Egypt, another country historically tied with India, especially since the Suez Canal had turned it into the gateway to the Indian Ocean for Europeans and even for North Americans. Algeria became another non-aligned state at independence and its revolutionary leaders often recognized their debt for India’s unambiguous support at the UN and other fora during their freedom struggle.


A little known effect of the connections formed between certain African countries and India is manifested by the gradual conversion of more than 10,000 Ghanaians to a syncretistic form of Hinduism by an autochthonous spiritual leader Swami Ghanananda Saraswati, which shows the growing influence of Indian civilization in an area where hitherto only Christianity and Islam were proselytising, but where Hinduism shares many traits with native faiths and has a natural affinity with them. In the profane domain, Indian Bollywood films and popular songs enjoy an enduring and widespread popularity in many parts of Africa.


Many of the initial national leaders on the Black Continent deplored the political borders inherited from the colonizers which often cut across tribal, religious and ecological regions, and envied post-partition India’s political unity in view of the fact that its diversity matched Africa’s in terms of languages (2000 in Africa, 400 in India), religions and ethnic groups and it shared many of Africa’s problems and curses, such as widespread poverty and illiteracy, hunger and malnutrition (South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa together account the highest number of under-nourished people in the world), poor or embryonic internal communications and infrastructure, tropical and water-borne diseases, an economy focused on meetings the former colonizers’ needs, inter-religious conflicts and a number of border problems and internal insurgencies.


One cannot forget either that poorer tropical regions are going to be the most gravely affected by the effects of the ongoing climate change on ocean levels, water supply, loss of forest cover and arable soil, natural disasters and old or new pandemics. There is indeed no lack for issues on which consultation and cooperation are advisable.


Nkrumah’s consciencism doctrine, though defined as rooted in indigenous tradition, was related to the principled policies advocated by both Gandhi and Nehru; so were Tanzanian President Nyerere’s Ujjamaa (appropriate development) and Zambian leader Kaunda’s Humanism. There were thus several admirers of India’s freedom struggle and path to development among heads of state on the continent, and the close relations were maintained by Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi in spite of the relatively small economic role played by India in Africa due to her severe financial limitations and the latter’s generally difficult circumstances. Bonds were also held together by the Commonwealth which India never abandoned and where it was in regular contact with other English-speaking former colonies such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Gambia, irrespective of political orientations and alliances.


The most prestigious state in Africa after the second World War, a member of the League of Nations, charter signatory to the UN Declaration of 1942 and the herald of the Black Continent’s unity as the principal founder of the OAU, was the Ethiopian empire, proud of its 3000 years of history, which had never been colonized and had fought for its freedom throughout the short ill-fated Italian occupation. The last Negus Haile Selassie was born in his father’s palace in Harar which was the former home of a Hindu merchant, and he had throughout his life friendly relations with Indians, including Syriac Christian leaders from the Kerala Church, and various Maharajas. He was well aware of his nation’s ancient links with Hindustan. He promoted a number of cooperative projects between the two countries in the areas of education, health, agriculture and technical training.


India’s support to the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa and Rhodesia was unfailing and, contrary to China’s which in some cases like Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa or Congo, supported the US and their local allies against African revolutionary movements that were close to the USSR, then Beijing’s arch-enemy, India’s leaders did not play politics for economic advantage and steadfastly sided with the freedom fighters irrespective of their ideology. Nelson Mandela, who took much inspiration from Gandhi and whose African National Congress has close ideological and historic with its Indian predecessor the Indian National Congress, and his colleagues in the freedom struggle were reinforced in their sympathy for India. Several members of the South African Indian community, such as Ahmad Mohamed Kathrada, SR Maharaj, Abdullah (Dullah) Omar and Frene Ginwala were either members of the ANC’s leadership throughout the struggle against Apartheid or figured prominently in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and the Transitional Executive Council (TEC).


While many African governments were connected with their Indian counterpart by bonds of ideological kinship and personal friendship, the rapport between African populations and the Indian communities there were not always cordial as the South Asian settlers, naturally conservative as expatriates often are and used to staying within the borders of their caste, tended to look down upon the local people and remained an unassimilated minority whose prosperity and self-segregation attracted envy and resentment. Idi Amin enjoyed the support of many black Ugandans when he expelled Indians in 1972, including 60,000 who were citizens of the country; faced with hostility and insecurity, many persons of Indian origin from East Africa emigrated to Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa or returned to India in that period.


In South Africa, where the largest population of Indian origin on the continent is established (more than a million, 2.5% of the population), the equation between Black and Indian citizens is complex and the latter have reasons to fear native animosity against those who came along with the White colonizers and served or cooperated with them. Indians tend to be prejudiced against Blacks, whom even a young MK Gandhi during his stay there regarded as inferiors, although he said in his more mature years that India and Africa would eventually exchange ideas and services, not raw materials against manufactured goods, as was the case with the European colonizers.


Politically nowadays many Indian South Africans side with the Opposition “White” Parties, although they were given rather generous shares of portfolios in the successive national governments headed by the ruling ANC, as noted by SK Pradhan in an article in World Affairs (Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring 2009). In the Mandela-led Government of 1994, Frene Ginwala became Speaker of the National Assembly and Abdullah Omar was made Minister of Justice to supervise the writing of the New Constitution. In the province of Natal however, the Indian community has had to face often undisguised hostility from the Inkatha (IFP), the ethnic Zulu Party which sometimes invoked Idi Amin’s precedent for advocating the expulsion of PIOs from the country.


At the national level President Mbeki reduced the number of South African Indians in the cabinet, but still gave them a few portfolios including the Presidency, Environment and Tourism, Education and Transportation. However, under his watch tensions increased and the ANC, which had got a low percentage of PIO votes, often adopted a resentful tone towards Indians at a time when many of them were (and still are) being murdered or pushed out of their farms by native mobs inspired by the contemporary happenings in Zimbabwe.


Those ominous trends have only risen in recent years and one has to fear that South Africa, under the rather erratic rule of Jacob Zuma and due to a variety of economic and ethnic pressures, is becoming more violent and unruly by the day, and that tribal and racial loyalties will overwhelm the precarious post-colonial multi-cultural edifice. Indians would probably one of the most vulnerable communities in such a situation.


In India itself, there is no gainsaying that the private sector throughout the second half of the twentieth century had by and large little interest in Africa, despite the Government’s policies. The continent was not attractive either in cultural or economic terms to most Indians who gave priority to the former British overlord, to the United States, Canada and a few European and Asian countries which were prestigious and promising destinations for business and emigration. As a result of the fading away of the Communist ideology in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the rise of neo-liberalism, Africa’s links with India lost much of their meaning in the minds of economic planners who wished to integrate quickly into the affluent US-led “North”.


In the emerging multipolar world, this reciprocal neglect is being replaced by a genuine mutual commitment to cooperate, at a time when China has made massive strategic, investment and trading inroads all over Africa, and when many countries are interested in mitigating the rising influence of the Far Eastern giant. Even the USA and the EU view rather favourably India’s influence in Africa, given the country’s traditionally non-confrontational and purely civilian engagement which is not seen to pose the long-term challenge that Beijing represents for western predominance. New Delhi thus has been dealt a winning hand if it plays its cards well on a continent that Indians have a historical familiarity with and signs are that India is giving a high priority again to the African vector of its foreign and economic policies.


Some Indian initiatives in Africa


In his address to the Nigerian Parliament in 2007, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India has a shared destiny and common future with Africa and wished the “relationship… be brought to full bloom”. Priority is being given to capacity building and human resource development (HRD). Dr. Kamini Krishna from the University of Zambia points out in an article to be published in World Affairs that a multi-pronged approach has been taken, combining the extension of lines of credit with provision of expertise in a wide range of areas, from high tech projects to appropriate intermediate technologies. Under the Indian Technical and Educational Cooperation Programme (TECP), a growing number of Africans from several nations are being trained in India.


In recognition of its particularly old and close links with that region (highlighted by IBSA, the strategic trilateral partnership of India, Brazil and South Africa), made up of 14 states, and of the economic importance of the latter, New Delhi has set up the India-Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Forum. It has started talks with most of the seven other regional African economic communities: ECOWAS, ECCAS, COMESA and EAC which respectively represent the Western, Central and South-Eastern nations of the continent and has signed both Preferential Trade and Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements with Mauritius (called sometimes “Little India” because of its demographic composition) and the Southern African Custom Union (SACU). The latter PTA is about to become an FTA (Free Trade Agreement).


India has initiated a regular dialogue with French speaking nations on the continent where more than a million Indians live and work, but which were traditionally kept in the French sphere of neo-colonial influence and had scant official exchange with the world’s largest English speaking country. Bi-annual meetings between Francophone West African states and India started in 2005 in Abidjan and Dakar and have continued since. India has consciously chosen to keep in mind Paris’ sensitivity with regard to its African “garden plot” but is moving ahead with trade and technical cooperation initiatives.


In the public-private partnership sector, Kamini Krishna points out the interest of Indian major companies in participating in the Lagos-Algiers Trans-Sahara pipeline which was mooted by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).


Another important initiative is TEAM-9, or Techno-Economic Approach for (Africa-India) Movement which is meant to promote cooperation between India and nine West African countries, primarily for infrastructure building. A number of other Sub-Saharan nations are now candidates to join it. The Focus Africa Programme of India’s Commerce and Industry Ministry, started in 2002, was addressed primarily to seven states: South Africa, Nigeria, Mauritius, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia. In 2003 it was extended to all Sub-Saharan states where India has diplomatic relations and to the six North-African countries so that it has become Pan-African. A 500 million USD line of credit was extended by India to finance projects within the framework of this programme (Kamini Krishna, ibid.).


Similar lines of credit have also been available to NEPAD, ECOWAS and COMESA as well as several bilateral credit facilities (K. Krishna, ibid.). Priority areas for cooperation include higher scientific education, IT, R&D in renewable energy and sustainable agricultural technologies.


There is no doubt that India’s farming experience can be precious in much of Africa as its small land owners are more productive (in Africa the average farmer dedicates 1000 hours per year to working his land as against double or triple that in India and other Asian nations). Also, due to energy scarcity, small size of the holdings, unsuitable geography and dearth of capital the mechanization of agriculture is impractical and even counterproductive in many areas of Asia and Africa where dense populations favour labour low technology methods and use of local resources, including organic fertilizers and pest control methods, mixed crops, agro-forestry etc…


As Dr. Reji D Nair puts it in his book “Emerging Africa: Potential and Challenges” (New Delhi, 2009): “where labour is inexpensive, tractorization may only mean substituting high cost capital (and subsequent chronic indebtedness) for low cost labour”. This reality influenced the Ujjamaa doctrine adopted by President Nyerere and India has been led by the same imperatives to reopen many relevant pages in Gandhi’s book so to say. Bio-dynamic agriculture based on local traditions is a realm in which South Asia and Africa have a lot of knowledge and experience to share.


In March, the CII, EXIM Bank and Ministries of Commerce and External Affairs held in Delhi the largest ever Indo-African conclave, called the India Africa Project Partnership. Although not as large as the Preceding China-Africa Summit, 900 delegates from India and some 35 African countries attended and discussed more than 130 projects for an estimated value exceeding 10 billion USD. The goal was to raise the volume of bilateral trade to the equivalent of 70 billion USD by 2014.


Inevitably oil and gas are major factors in the economic dynamics. Nigeria is the second largest source of crude for India which is heavily involved in exploration and drilling in Angola, Sudan and other energy-rich nations. There is also an ambitious plan to build a North African pipeline from Algeria and Libya to a Red Sea terminal in Egypt, in order to pump gas and oil to be then shipped to India. In some of those countries, India and China are trying to work cooperatively in order to avoid costly competition in bidding for concessions and contracts.


In the private sector, both the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry have set up Joint Business Councils with many of their African national and regional counterparts. The ongoing merger/acquisition of MTN Group, a South Africa based telecommunication company that covers 21 countries with the Indian giant Bharti Airtel has made news internationally as it will create the world’s third largest telecommunications conglomerates. Airtel is also building the EIG (Europe-India-Gateway) a high speed connecting link that crosses North Africa and the Arabian peninsula, in partnership with the telecom corporations of several countries in that region.


A trail-blazing and vitally important programme was conceived by the then Indian President Dr. AJP Abdul Kalam and formally adopted in 2005, to set up a Pan-African communication network (PANP) for tele-education and tele-medicine, by fiberoptics and satellite which also provides video-conferencing and other state of the art facilities (such as VOIP) for the participating heads of state and government. The VSAT-based star network, with 116 terminals distributed equally among the 54 participating nations, links a number of major universities, research institutes, leading medical centres and remotely located hospitals across Africa and India. Under the terms of the agreement, India was to manage the project for 5 years before letting the African Union take it over.


In “India Africa Relations” (Delhi, 2008) Navdeep Singh Suri cites as some other successful examples of Indian aid - the IT Park in Mauritius, Entrepreneur Training and Development Centre in Senegal and Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in IT in Ghana. India’s recognized expertise in high quality technical and scientific education, hailed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her visit to Delhi in August of 2009, enables it to build advanced learning centres in the continent and the number of training slots extended to African students under the technical assistance program now exceeds 1600 per annum.


The Indian leadership is clearly trying to learn from the lessons provided by China’s more extensive and ambitious engagement with the “Dark Continent”, thereby avoiding some of the mistakes and pitfalls that have marred the PRC’s massive economic rush to Africa where it has attracted western opposition and the misgivings of many Africans by seeming too focused on economic results and commercial gains without always paying enough attention to cultural and political sensitivities. India is taking care not to threaten the strategic preponderance of Western powers in what has so far been their African backyard, while gradually competing with them.


India’s positions in the WTO Doha round with regard to tariffs and climate change have generally been supportive of African interests and acknowledged as such. Delhi seeks to maintain the tradition of consulting with African and other developing nations before taking a stance on global trade negotiations, and it remains a leading voice and negotiator for the “Third World”.


Economic Philosophies: Past and Present


There are a few but not many parallels between the history of development models followed by India and most African countries since they gained independence. India, as a large, relatively autarkic and self-sufficient nation with a semi-socialist economy was not submitted to the diktats of Western or Soviet advisers to the extent that most other developing countries were. Thus, WW Rostow’s famous “Non Communist Manifesto” of 1960 which was for two decades a Bible for the management of non-socialist economies in Africa and advocated an export-dependent modernization, defined as unquestioning westernization of cultures and societies, had no noticeable impact on India which was by then fully committed to the Nehruvian doctrine of state-driven industrial build-up, domestic market protection and import substitution.


When the government in New Delhi began to break away with that tradition in the late 1980s, Africa, after failed attempts with autarkic self-sufficiency advocated by the Lagos Plan of Action of 1982, was already fully impacted by Neo-Liberal Reaganomics whose mantra was “trade not aid” and which sought to shatter tariff barriers that prevented the penetration of western goods and capital in hitherto mixed or socialist economies.


Both India and the vast majority of African countries had rather inefficient but intrusive bureaucracies plagued by corruption and fairly centralized governments which exercised an often stifling control over the economy, mostly derived from suspicious colonial administrations that relied on what is still known in India as “license Raj”. South Asia shares at least in part what Ben K Fred- Mensah (Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol. V, issue 1) qualifies as Africa’s disappointing or even negative experience with imported Western “Weberian” institutions of state. When SA Danfulani (ibid.) notes that “besides…a forced cohabitation between the different cultural, ethnic, tribal, clan, racial and religious groups which are major sources of conflict, the post-colonial state was saddled with enormous responsibilities for which it was ill-prepared”, he might as well be writing about South Asia.


According to the world system school of economics, the global architecture rests on a core of leading industrial nations and comprises a semi-periphery made up mostly of East Asian states and two or three Latin American countries, while all others are in the periphery. India has become part of the semi-periphery in the last decade, while China is coming close to being part of the core of the system. Both China and India can thus help Africa transition to the semi-periphery, though they are also already exploiting it for their own benefit and might become the new colonizers of the dark continent under changing international circumstances.


Africa has certainly suffered from various inefficient experiments with centralized socialism but it may have been hurt much more, environmentally and socially, by the liberal recipes of globalization enforced by the World Bank and IMF and championed by a few eminent African economists such as Dr. Alassane Outtara.


Reji Nair (ibid.) points out that “the concept of liberalism makes little sense in Africa; the latter is based on individualism but there is little individualism in Africa” (p. 228). He concludes “Africa’s future lies in its ability to restructure its indigenous institutions and to reform the western ones to (sic) the needs of African societies” (ibid.).


Another parallel that comes to mind is that in South Asia as in Africa in the decades following independence, traditional institutions of governance and leadership such as native monarchies and chiefships were dismantled and decried as backward relics of feudalism or tribalism associated with colonial subservience. However now the general trend has been for African kings to be newly recognized as factors of stability, invested with strong popular legitimacy “in loco”. In areas of South and South East Asia too, the Rajas, Nawabs, Sultans and other hereditary chiefs are often getting better if grudging recognition as useful informal adjuncts or even substitutes to the impersonal and often failing state bureaucracies.


Faced with growing recognition that the liberal model of development promoted by the Washington Consensus and Chicago School is unable to solve the major problems of poor countries, and has in fact made many of them worse due to the accumulation of debt, reliance on cash crop monoculture and export of raw materials, and the brutal impact of the IMF’s “structural adjustment programmes”, many are looking for suitable alternatives.


A sobering object lesson is provided by several countries that had “special relationships with the USA” (like Pakistan in South Asia) and which are now failed or failing states in the throes of internal conflicts, financial ruin and political chaos. Avoiding proximity to the Superpower so far may have spared India some of those disasters. Reji Nair (ibid. p. 26) points out that India and African nations must focus on four pillars to achieve prosperity: create an attractive climate for investment by building stable, clean and simple legal structures; build modern infrastructure; pursue innovation (leapfrogging) and build institutional capacity.


It looks indeed as if in the coming decades, India will play increasingly important and diverse roles in all aspects of African life, from traditional peace-keeping under UN auspices to providing guidance in matters of finance, high technology and sustainable agriculture, while helping develop the tourism, entertainment and artistic sectors, among others. In that way, India may even outclass China and mitigate the lasting socio-cultural influence of Western colonial and neo-imperial powers. Africa has all to gain from multiplying partners and investors if it wishes to attain real independence.


Select bibliography:


1] Cavalli-Sforza I.I. and F. “The Great Human Diasporas”, Addison-Wesley (1993)

2] Oppenheimer S. “Out of Eden: the Peopling of the World” London, Constable (2003)

3] Ashton-Jones, Arnott and Oronto “The Human Ecosystems of the Niger Delta” Environmental Rights Action, London (1998)

4] Nair Reji D. “Emerging Africa – Potential and Challenges” Concept, New Delhi (2009)

5] Rostow W W “The Stages of Economic Growth - A Non Communist Manifesto”, Cambridge University Press (1960)

6] Sen Amartya “Poverty and Famine – An Essay in entitlement and Deprivation”, Clarendon Press, Oxford (1961)

7] Gupta A. “The Non Aligned Africa and the External Powers”, The Non Aligned World 1 no. 2 (1983)

8] Wiard H.J. “Non Western Theories of Development; Regional Norms vs. Global Trends”. Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, Belmont (2000)

9] Sahn D.E., Dorosh P. and Younger S.D. “Structural Adjustment Reconsidered: Economic Policy and Poverty in Africa”, Cambridge University Press (1997).

10] Rodney Walter “How Europe underdeveloped Africa” (Howard University Press, 1982)

11] Suri Navdeep Singh “India Africa Relations: Emerging Policy and Development Perspective” Academic Excellence, Delhi (2008)

12] Accelerated Development in Sub-Saharan Africa – an Agenda for Action. World Bank (1981)




1] Fred Mensah Ben K. “State Capacity or Receptive Societal Capacity”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol. v, no. 1 (winter/spring 1998)

2] Krishna Kamini, “India-Africa Partnership in the 21st Century: Expanding the Horizon”, World Affairs (in publication)

3] Danfulani SA “Africa and the Next Millenium” (Brown Journal of World Affairs, Vol, v, no. 1.

4] Pradhan S K Pradhan “People of Indian Origin in Post-Apartheid South Africa” World Affairs, Vol. 13. No.1, (Spring 2009).


The author is Convener, Editorial Board, World Affairs Journal

This article was originally published in Italian in Eurasia Rivista 3/2009

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