Home / Opinion / India-Africa: a limited partnership

With the curtains finally drawn on the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS)—one of the biggest and longest diplomatic jamborees ever hosted by India—there is broad consensus that while the summit itself was a resounding success in terms of optics and laid out a clear roadmap for the future of India-Africa relations, the road to forging a closer partnership will be a long, winding and complicated one.

The contours of this complex journey were evident in the Delhi Declaration and the India-Africa Framework for Strategic Cooperation unveiled at the summit. Moreover, multilateral institutions and organizations, which might otherwise facilitate this partnership, are also likely to contribute to the complexity. While both documents stressed the need for India and African nations to work together to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, there was very little elaboration on how this might work in practice beyond the obvious call that the UN “should function in a transparent, efficient and effective manner". There was no call for closer cooperation to work on SDGs.

In fact, it is the comprehensive reform of the UN system in general and the Security Council in particular that poses the biggest challenge to the partnership. The Delhi Declaration, which reaffirms their commitment “to make it (the UN) more regionally representative, democratic, accountable and effective", reflects the divergent views of India and African nations, given that India has chosen to throw in its lot with the G-4 (Brazil, Germany, India and Japan), which is not “regionally representative" of Africa.

Moreover, the summit also did not break, let alone dissolve, the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration, which New Delhi considers as one of the primary hurdles to reform of the UNSC. Instead, the Delhi Declaration merely “notes" the common African position on reforms, just as the African nations “note" India’s position and aspirations for permanent membership. This is essentially a diplomatic stalemate that will sustain the status quo and be to the advantage of existing Security Council permanent members rather than in the interest of either India or Africa.

Similarly, both documents, particularly the Framework for Strategic Cooperation, are silent on India’s contribution to UN peacekeeping in Africa, reflecting another area of divergence. While India considers its peacekeeping role a singular contribution to the continent and the UN, not all African nations have a similar positive outlook. In some instances, alleged sexual and financial misconduct by Indian peacekeepers have marred India’s credentials.

Moreover, despite India’s flattering self-image of its UN peacekeeping role, New Delhi has not been very successful in converting its peacekeeping efforts into political support, for instance, for reform of the UNSC. For any agreement on this important issue, it is imperative that India and Africa have a sustained dialogue beyond the “gold versus blood" debate between countries that mandate and fund peacekeeping operations (the five permanent UNSC members and large donors, such as Japan and Germany) and the biggest troop contributing countries (such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, whose personnel actually carry out the operations in the field) that has stymied UN peacekeeping. However, the summit documents make only a passing reference to how they might support UN peacekeeping reforms.

Finally, while acknowledging common threats to peace and security, ranging from terrorism to piracy and organized crime, the summit documents are singularly conservative in pushing for greater security cooperation on the ground and at sea, primarily on account of New Delhi’s shyness in playing the role of an overt security provider. Indeed, India is reported to have turned down requests by African nations to build their maritime capabilities. Similarly, India has not been bold enough to expand IBSAMAR (the joint maritime exercises of India, Brazil and South Africa) to include other littoral African nations.

Clearly, while the IAFS process has laid out a clear path to enhance the India-Africa partnership, the significant difference on one hand and the absence of bold initiative on the other is going to limit the scope of this partnership. That is a missed opportunity.

W.P.S. Sidhu is a non-resident senior fellow at Brookings Institution and Brookings India.

Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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