The Race to Win Africa

BySuprakash Majumdar*


The Race to Win Africa

After the Space Race and end of cold war with the fall of the Berlin wall, a new and a modern cold war is emerging in the continent of Africa with two sides - India and China. Both of these countries are trying to increase their trade, political influence and diplomatic relations with all the 54 nations in the continent.

India has historical ties with Africa which can be dated back to the first century. The Periplus Maris Erythraei1 is the only surviving source which shows that the trade relations between the kingdom of Aksum and ancient India have existed since the first millennium. Cotton and glass beads were traded as major items along with gold and soft carved ivory. The inspiration from the Indian architecture in African kingdoms shows the trade relations between the continent and the sub-continent. After India got its independence from Britain, Nehru, the first prime minister of India supported decolonisation in the continent and advocated strongly against racism and colonisation by European powers. Although China never had any significant relationship with the continent, but it has been well aware about future trade opportunities and political alignments ever since the 1970s and 80s and started to focus on the continent by the late 1990s.

Why the race for Africa The idea of making a trade and strategic partnership with the African nations came to China during the 1970s. When the conflict regarding the representation in UNGA arose between People’s Republic Of China and Republic Of China in 1971, most African countries; such as Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Liberia, Niger, South Africa etc, voted against2 the People’s Republic of China. This happened mainly because of America’s pressure and influence on international politics at the time. In 2007 during the votes in UN general assembly condemning the human rights situation in North Korea, a strategic partner of China, just 12 of the 54 countries in Africa voted against China and its ally.

After 1971, China saw Africa as a group of strategic and diplomatic partners who can be influenced, as most of the African nations were still at their post independence phase with political instability, constant civil wars, food and power shortages. The continent was in a desperate need for help from the international community and China did not want to lose this opportunity. China is literally buying its allies3 who can support the country on the international stage.

Whereas, India’s support to the Africa in the 1950s and 60s was purely ideological as both India and African countries were the victims of racism and colonialism. However, after China’s influence had risen substantially in the 70s, India had to intervene as a key player and a solid opponent to the Chinese regime in the continent. India is demanding a status as a permanent member in the United Nations Security Council- and making ties by helping the continent develop may portray India as a deserving candidate as a UNSC permanent member.

As eight of the top 20 fastest growing4 economies are from Africa, China is no longer the fastest growing economy in the world as it is easier for the underdeveloped and developing countries to expand their economy. Both China and India saw this as an opportunity as the sub Saharan region of Africa, still untouched by the modern global economy is expected to see a huge economic growth in the 21st century. This is also the reason why the Americans, the French and the British were trying to engage in the civil wars and political scenes of many newly independent African nations. One of the major incidents took place in Congo in 1961 where Irish Peacekeepers had to fight to the rebel forces mainly sponsored by French private owned companies and the then UN Secretary General had to fly to Congo; but died in the plane crash before reaching Congo.

As of China, now it is not the ideal place for MNCs to find cheap labour5. As the economic and educational situation developed, the low class works have become middle class workers, hence the labour costs have risen. China is partly practicing colonisation with all the infrastructure they are building in Africa. In 2017, China built its first international military base in Djibouti6. This became a major concern for all the western and European powers.

What India and China are doing in Africa India and China are both investing in the African economies in the form of infrastructure and policies. In 2017, China’s total trade to Africa was around $222 billion whereas India’s trade to Africa was just $71 billion the same year7. Although India’s numbers are lesser impressive than China in terms of trade but the growth rate is still very significant.

China is focusing mainly on the infrastructure development in Africa. For instance, China built a $3.2 billion railway line in Kenya from Nairobi to Mombasa, which is faster than many railway lines in the world, even faster than the American railway line. China also helped Guinea to build a $526 million dam to help the country to come out of the power shortages. Guinea only needs less amount of electricity to sustain itself and the rest of the electricity produced can be sold to the neighbouring countries.

China is not developing and investing in Africa for free. All these schemes and fundings are actually loans which they are not expecting to get back as these countries are not in a position to pay back huge amounts just yet. China gives loans from the state owned and controlled - The Export Import Bank of China where western banks find it too risky to invest, China is not concerned as much. China is mainly concerned about their political goal in the region. According to a study, if an African nation recognises Taiwan as a country then that country would see 2.7 fewer Chinese projects, but if any nation does not recognise Taiwan as a country then it will receive 1.8 more Chinese projects.

International Monetary Fund and World Banks have several requirements based on factors like human rights or democratic elections, whereas China simply doesn’t care. In 2015, Modi government called all the 54 nations’ in India-Africa Forum Summit8. This was the biggest gathering of world leaders in India and this was also a diplomatic win for India against China. In the summit, India called for a partnership based on mutual benefits.

One of the major difference between China’s approach and India’s approach is mainly on the basis of economic plans. Where China is entering with its state owned companies in the continent, India is sending its private owned entities to invest. Taking Zimbabwe as an example, where political instability is a major concern along with unemployment, frequent electricity cuts and manufacturing output shortages; India is the major trading partner with the country. Zimbabwe is the biggest exporter of cotton to India and will also export diamonds and raw materials like iron ore. In exchange, Zimbabwe imports medical drugs and electrical appliances from India, although this whole trade balance benefits India more.

India is expected to export more diversified products to Africa like telecom equipments and pharmaceuticals. The region is expected to be growing reasonably rapidly for sometime. It is beneficial for not only Indian entities but also for many other foreign entities as well. In the India-Africa Forum Summit certain strategies were adopted by the Indian Government like: • Pan African level engagements; • Partnership with regional organisations; • Development partnership through IBSA and BRICS; • Bilateral engagement with countries; • involving Indian communities and Indian diaspora.

Indian is focusing on the development of human resources and private sectors as Africa have their greatest resource, the Human Resource 2015 Summit called for a group cooperation towards sustainable development, agricultural growth, energy access, blue economy, education, skill enhancement and peace and security. For the past few years, India is engaged in various Peacekeeping missions in Africa, most recent of them is the South Sudan crisis. India has deployed more than 2000 troops of their blue helmet forces. This is to establish peace in the region. These actions may help India to secure permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council and if that doesn’t happen, then to form good relations with the newest country of the world. When a developing country like India sends peacekeepers then it is to increase regional cooperation, to gain recognition and prestige and financial benefits. In this case it is for the latter two.

Why Africa is so important Africa is not only important for economic and diplomatic purposes but also the location of Africa is very important strategically. Africa faces both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean on its sides. For both India and China, dominating over major sea routes is a major goal. China is fighting over the South China Sea and has built a series of islands to lay claim over the territory. China is a major threat to India in the Indian Ocean, after a Chinese nuclear submarine was seen docked at a Sri Lankan port9.

The Indian ocean is on the east which is south west to India and China. These waters are infamous for drug trafficking and international piracy. All the countries on the Africa’s east coast are facing these problems. Both India and China have come forward to help these countries out but the main reason behind this is to get a direct control over the sea routes.

Madagascar is a long term ally of India. In 2018, the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind visited Madagascar to inaugurate Centre for Geo-Informatics application in Rural Development but more importantly, to sign a bilateral defence agreement10. The defence agreement mainly focuses on friendly visits of Indian Vessels and ships to Madagascar and training Madagascar’s military personnel. A coastal surveillance radar is also operated by the Indian Navy in Madagascar.

China built its first ever military base outside its own territory in Djibouti. There are military bases from other countries like America, France, United Kingdom etc. This was a major move by the Chinese government because China became one of the few countries which have a military bases abroad. The location of Djiboti is also very ideal to oversee the activities on the Indian Ocean and the gulf of Aden.

Conclusion It can be said that a cold war situation is budding in the Continent of Africa. If compared to the previous cold war between America and the Soviet Union, the situation is almost similar with nations being influenced by the two sides. In this case, India is playing America’s role and China as Soviet Union’s role, not just because of the ideological similarity but also through their approach to the situation.

As India is trying to promote their private owned companies into the minds of the people of Africa just like America did to Soviet Union and its allies. Similarly China is investing hugely in the region on their infrastructure just like soviet Union did in its satellite states like Cuba and North Korea. Although there are no proxy wars till now but as the time is progressing, it is very likely for the world to see a series of proxy wars in the continent.

Sources 1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/638304?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_2758 3. https://thenewturkey.org/is-china-buying-out-africa 4. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/19/africa/gallery/africa-fastest-growing-economies/index.html 5. https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/is-chinas-era-of-cheap-labor-really-over/ 6. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/djibouti/forrel-prc-base.htm 7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uRDcROQRCc &t=626s 8. http://www.mea.gov.in/Uploads/PublicationDocs/25981_framework.pdf 9. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/chinese-submarines-sri-lanka-vice-admiral-rc-wijegunaratne-chief-of-naval-staff-admiral-sunil-lanba-958021-2017-01-31 10. https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/29637/press+release+on+state+visit+of+president+to+madagascar+march+1415+2018

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