A naturally rhythmic continent that literally jived to its freedom. The content and style of urban African theatre are influenced by both African dramatic traditions and Western theatre. The degree and manner of foreign influence differ greatly from country to country.
Africa was dubbed by the former Western colonial powers as the dark, backward, underdeveloped continent. Associated with dire poverty, hunger, diseases, undernourishment, tribal conflicts and brutal violence they condemned it as a basket case. The fact that is often glossed over is that as colonisers they were the ones to enslave peoples whom they brutalised and sent off millions of their ancestors to far corners of the world, to the Americas and elsewhere to work in hostile conditions and environment. Their land was exploited for rich mines/minerals, natural and energy resources from the mercantilist/imperialist age down to the present times.
It’s only in the 1960s and 1970s when the decolonisation process was set into motion spearheaded by countries like India that they started gaining independence ready to start their arduous journey for economic development and nation building. Surprisingly the last bastion of apartheid in South Africa fell as late as the early 1990s with the release of Nelson Mandela.
The world scenario is changing fast. As Africans assess and reconstruct their past, understand the present, churn out new visions for a peaceful and prosperous continent, a positive message has been sent out to the world that, “Africa Matters and Africa is the Future”. Indeed, Africa is alive with possibilities. Added to it is the new strategic significance of the continent. This has resulted in concerted efforts by major nations to interact with the continent as a whole. Those holding ‘Forum Summits’ with Africa at regular intervals are the US, China, Japan, Turkey, and India.
India’s engagement with Africa has been since millennia. As we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi we must recall his stay in South Africa in the early part of his life and career. His identification with the cause of the locals and against apartheid regime was a good starting point but India’s perceived ‘benign neglect’ of the region thereafter has been rued by many African countries. The ‘Focus Africa’ initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs of India tried to bring our relationship back on track. Diplomatic engagements are now being undertaken at the top level more frequently in order to set the perception right.
The three India Africa Forum Summits (IAFS) have turned out to be the defining moment to chart out a well thought out strategy on how to steer this fast developing relationship into something concrete and enduring one with a well-defined roadmap as per the rising aspirations and expectations of the peoples of the continent. There being no conflict of interests, India and much of Africa can potentially cooperate on a number of international forums, including the United Nations, WTO, IMF, and climate negotiations.
With India’s international profile rising, it is looking forward to engaging Africa more robustly. African Heads of State / Government visit India on State visits more frequently as do their Indian counterparts. It is, therefore, encouraging to learn about the increasing number of State visits of President / Vice President / PM of India to a number of African countries during the last few years. Indian peacekeeping forces under the UN banner are in action in various trouble spots in Africa, including a ladies paramilitary contingent in Liberia.
With many African economies now showing healthy economic growth rates, Indian companies are taking initiatives to invest in infrastructure projects in Africa. Energy, minerals/metals, agriculture, food processing, health, and education are among other sectors where Indian companies are now participating. Unlike China, it is the private sector that drives Indian investments in Africa.
Choice of words in defining this partnership can play an important part in building bridges of cooperation with Africa, a region that remains deeply conscious of how the world looks at it. Through ‘Development Partnership’ programme, Ministry of External Affairs of India has launched an ambitious programme for helping Africa. Indian Technical Training Programme (ITEC) has been training thousands of people from the continent for well over 50 years. Now after the India-Africa Forum summits, India is setting up scores of technical training Institutes there. As per popular demand, the emphasis now is on skill development, capacity building and transfer of appropriate technology in diversified fields. Besides India has announced $10 billion as a line of credit on soft terms for 5 years. This is in addition to a similar amount offered in the past.
From the foregoing, it will be clear that India’s relations with African countries are multifaceted and growing nicely in diverse areas. What else can be done to make these more broad-based and diversified?
Government/institutional/business linkages need to be supplemented by innovative and dynamic ideas by the civil society and non-governmental organisations for closer grass root people to people connectivity. It is in this context that the academic community and Think tanks from both sides should rise to the occasion and show the way how and where to move.
Following ideas are being offered to set the ball rolling:
a) A number of think tanks like IDSA, ORF, ICWA, in addition to JNU and Delhi University are doing pioneering work in propagating African studies. Considerable research is also being done by their scholars on the continent. Some working relationship could be established so that Indian Universities can lend a helping hand.
b) Spread awareness and knowledge about Africa at school/college levels in India. Initiatives should be taken to organise essay/painting competitions on themes pertaining to Africa among students. ICCR could help in many ways including making available prizes to the winners.
c) A similar exercise can be undertaken by organising debates, seminars and workshops on African themes.
d) Institutions like Delhi University should take initiative to open channels of communication with African Diplomatic Missions in Delhi and invite them from time to time for open house discussion on topics of mutual interest. African diplomatic missions should be advised to invite the interested academic community to the cultural shows organised by their visiting troupes from time to time to make them aware of the diversity of their traditions
e) The median age of Sub-Saharan Africa is only 19 years. By 2020 as per some indication youngsters between the ages of 19-24 years would number 226 million. To harness this demographic dividend there is scope for tertiary education and health care sectors to be tapped, the demand for which can continue for 30-40 years. There does not seem to be any concerted effort presently by Indian companies active in Africa in that direction. Such linkages must be facilitated.
f) Indian academic community should supplement the efforts of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) asking them to be put in touch with visiting African students offering them support and advice and to make them feel at home. The newcomers among them could be offered familiarisation with Indian cultural practices/traditions to get over the initial cultural shock.
g) Some volunteers should come forward to ‘adopt’ newly arrived students to make them feel at home and look after them as guardians.
h) Awareness should be spread about the African students’ sensitivities among the Indians about how they are treated or made a target of ridicule or even physical abuse.
i) Afrobeat culture, a combination of traditional African music, jazz, funk, and chanted vocals style was popularised in Africa in the 1970s. Dance culture permeates Africa. A naturally rhythmic continent that literally jived to its freedom. The content and style of urban African theatre are influenced by both African dramatic traditions and Western theatre. The degree and manner of foreign influence differ greatly from country to country. Some collaboration could be initiated with existing non-profit organisation and mutually benefit from their existing infrastructure.
j) African missions often organise food festivals to promote their cuisines. On Africa Day most African countries put up stalls offering their countries food specialties which have proved highly successful. It is gratifying to note that on the Ethiopian Embassy premises in Delhi their specialty restaurant serves authentic dishes from that country to the local community. Such efforts should be encouraged. n