New Delhi: On his visit to India, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, deputy director of United Nations Millennium Campaign in Africa spoke to Mint about the key lessons that Africa needs to learn from India’s performance in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A Rhodes scholar and a doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford, Abdul-Raheem was especially impressed to find how minorities in India do not depend on foreign organizations to voice their concerns. A writer and an analyst on African issues, Raheem is also a Bollywood fan and says he watches Amitabh Bachchan’s Kabhie Kabhie at least once every year. Edited excerpts:
How do most Africans view India, especially in the context of achieving the MDGs?
India experience: Deputy director of UN Millenium Campaign in Africa Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
In contemporary Africa today, influence of the West is dwindling and influence of Asia, especially India and China, is rising. But, more importantly for Africans, is to look at India—a society which was as colonized as we were—in spite of everything, was to generate a kind of development strategy which is slowly getting it out of poverty and into a league of a major power in this century.
How has India coped with over a billion population and address the issues of poverty and provisioning of food for a majority of the people. So a lot of people (Africans) think that if Indians can do it then they can also do it.
India and China have shown that smaller people of the world can also make progress on their own. And the argument in Africa today is that we should not look westwards, we should look eastwards…in terms of development strategy. What fascinates Africans about Indians is, how has India, in spite of the challenges posed by multiple religions and castes, remained a democratic state without succumbing to the kinds of military coups in its neighbours such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.
India and China are seen to be solving their problems but Africa is not. It has to do with the fact that Africa remains a Balkanized continent, divided into 54 countries shaped by colonialism. And, therefore, Africans look toward India and China, to emphasize the need to unite because without unity nothing is possible.
In the context of MDG, in India it is about concentrating on those marginalized, those who have fallen out of the net, while in Africa it is about the whole society because majority of the people are outside the net.
But malnutrition rates in India are higher than some of the sub-Saharan countries. How do you reconcile that?
I will quote Gandhi who had said that there is enough in the world to satisfy our need but not enough to satisfy our greed. So it isn’t that there are no problems in India.
I just visited a village just 15km from Delhi which still had around 400 kids who did not go to school. There is no school, no sanitation, and no hospital. So, I am not surprised if you have sections of India where poverty is worse. Because, ultimately, it is about power…how those in power relate with those voting for them.
I asked these people “Don’t you vote?” They said, “Yes, we do but we are only 700 and therefore we are not significant.” So even democracy is not a protection for a marginalized group. It is a paradox in India: how can India go to space without all Indians going to school. So it is about how the people in power prioritize.
What are the key things that Africa can learn from India while implementing the MDGs?
How our own people and institutions can take charge of our own destiny. I have met NGOs (in India) representing the various marginalized sections of the society and what interested me most was the ability of these people to fight back. They were not speaking like victims and they did not require any foreign organization to voice their concerns. You judge a democracy by how it treats its minority. And by minority I mean political minority, not just numerical minority. Such as women, who are a political minority, not a numerical minority. So that’s something which has inspired us—how to focus on our minorities and bring their rights and issues on the table.
Is there an action plan made after your discussions with the Indian counterparts?
Well, one part is to put greater pressure on the governments in Africa to undertake the implementation of these goals. The other part is also about how the Indian campaign works with minorities on the outside…they also work mainstream with the governments both at the Central and state levels…how it relates with the United Nations much more positively. But in Africa due to the existing challenges to the legitimacy of the various governments, it is still very difficult for the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and civil society to relate normally.