Published 19 Jul 07
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
The Indian Tiger's African Safari
While the African travels of Chinese leaders and their troubling arms sales to regimes on the continent, have caused increasing concern in Washington and other Western capitals, India's growing interests in Africa has gone largely unnoticed. Hence, most media ignored Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Makherjee's visit to Ethiopia at the beginning of the month, a trip during which he not only met with African Union Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré, but also signed a series of wide-ranging bilateral economic and political agreements with his Ethiopian hosts. As the United States continues to go about building its own framework for broad long-term engagement with an Africa that is increasing important strategically, diplomatically and economically – last week President George W. Bush appointed Army General William E. "Kip" Ward as the first head of the new unified combatant command for Africa (AFRICOM) – the significance of India's political and commercial ties across the continent needs to be examined.
To a certain extent, India's approach to Africa can be analyzed under the same categories which I suggested last year might be helpful to understanding the African strategy of the People's Republic of China: "quests for resources, business opportunities, diplomatic initiatives, and strategic partnerships."
The quest for resources. With its economy projected to grow by somewhere between 8 and 10 percent annually over the next two decades and its population of 1.1 billion accounting for one-sixth of humanity even as its proven petroleum reserves remains stagnant at less than 0.5 percent of the world's total, India faces a serious energy crisis. According to data from the International Energy Agency, India currently imports about 75 percent of its oil, a foreign dependence projected to rise to over 90 percent by 2020. Given that most of these imports are coming from the volatile Middle East, it is more than understandable that India would seek an alternative supply of energy in the burgeoning African oil sector. Thus, for example, the overseas division of India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), ONGC Videsh (OVL), has aggressive sought stakes in exploration and development across the continent. In 2005, teaming up with the world's largest steel maker, Mittal (now Arcelor Mittal), owned by London-based Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, ONGC Videsh formed a new entity, ONGC Mittal Energy Ltd. (OMEL), which agreed to $6 billion infrastructure deal with Nigeria in exchange for extensive access to some of the best production blocks in the West African country. Another state entity, the India Oil Corporation (IOC), has invested $1 billion in an offshore block in Côte d'Ivoire. Other African countries being courted by Indian concerns include Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, and Senegal.
Hydrocarbons are not the only natural resources being sought by the growing Indian economy. Vedanta Resources, a publicly traded metals conglomerate founded in Mumbai in 1976, has invested over $750 million in Zambian copper mines, while just two months ago the Liberian parliament ratified a 25-year deal allowing Arcelor Mittal to launch a $1 billion iron ore mining project that will eventually employ 20,000. In Senegal, a joint public-private Indian group has invested $250 million in exchange for a stake in colonial era enterprise, Industries Chimiques du Senegal, with rock phosphate mines and plants to produce phosphoric acid used in agriculture.
Business opportunities. A report published in April by Chatham House (formerly the Royal Institute of International Affairs), noting that African countries are proving to be very attractive to Indian investors, observes that "India has sought to gain a foothold in these countries by writing off debts owed under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and restructuring commercial debts. At the same time, the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank has extended lines of credit to governments, commercial banks, financial institutions and regional development banks." Within the framework of the Techno-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement (TEAM-9) it launched in 2004, India has extended over $500 million in highly favorable credit to eight African countries (with six others lined up to join) linked to the purchase of Indian goods and services. Leading exports from India to Africa include machinery, transport equipment, paper and other wood products, textiles, plastics, and chemical and pharmaceutical products. Major Indian conglomerates like the Tata Group and the Mahindra have made considerable headway in Africa as have infrastructure-building concerns like KEC International, the overseas arm of Kamani Engineering Corporation, which has projects in Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zambia. With HIV/AIDS and other diseases ravaging the continent and driving up demand for lower-cost generic anti-retrovirals and other drugs, Indian pharmaceutical firms like Cipla and Ranbaxy have opened entirely new markets. According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), trade between the subcontinent and Africa has been growing at the annual rate of 25 percent in recent years. Last October, a CII-sponsored "Conclave on India-Africa Project Partnership" in New Delhi attracted over 750 delegates and produced business deals worth $17 billion.
Diplomatic initiatives. Over the last decade India foreign policy establishment has endeavored to overcome the institutional neglect to which it had consigned Africa after the promising start of the post-colonial Non-Aligned Movement. Until 2003, the Ministry of External Affairs had only one joint secretary with responsibility for the singular Africa division; nowadays, three joint secretaries manage three regional divisions covering the continent. In the 1990s, India was closing down diplomatic missions in Africa as an economy measure; today it has twenty-five embassies or high commissions on the continent with four others scheduled to open over the next two years. The attention has already paid off. Last year the chair of the Council of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Foreign Minister Aïchatou Mindaoudou of Niger, threw the weight of the 15-member subregional group behind India's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Building strategic partnerships. The specter of Mahatma Gandhi – who, it should be recalled, began his career as an activist in South Africa – notwithstanding, India's leadership has recognized that a rising power also needs the ability to project "hard power" in proportion to its economic and other elements of its "soft power." Since the end of the Cold War, India has participated in UN peacekeeping operations in Mozambique, Somalia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Liberia. The Indian contingents with the missions between Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and in the DRC (MONUC) represent the largest national contributions to both forces, while the contingent deployed since January to the Liberian mission (UNMIL) under Commander Seema Dhundia enjoys the distinction of being the first all-female UN peacekeeping unit ever deployed. India has also invested in future African military leaders, training officers from a number of African countries in the academies of its three service branches as well as the postgraduate National Defence College in New Delhi and Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.
Earlier this year, Vice-Admiral J. Mudimu, chief of the South African Navy, paid an extended visit to his Indian counterpart, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, to work out the mechanisms for cooperation between the two countries for regional security in the Indian Ocean, particularly for dealing with terrorism and piracy. The two officers also explore the possibility of creating a naval component to the loose trilateral political alliance of India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA) that was launched in 2004 achieve common positions at the UN, the Doha Rounds, and other multilateral settings for the three major "southern" nations.
Last year, the National Security Strategy of the United States of America declared that "Africa holds growing geo-strategic importance and is a high priority of this Administration" – as it should be for a region which not only currently supplies the U.S. with more hydrocarbons than the Middle East, but also presents significant political, security, and humanitarian challenges. However, while the growing influence of any other major actor on the continent bears very careful watching, there are a number of reasons why New Delhi's increased engagement in Africa, unlike that Beijing, ought to be cautiously welcomed in Washington.
First, India's modus operandi not only benefits Indians, it also benefits Africans. As Karen Monaghan, the National Intelligence Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, observed in an audio podcast last month, India can teach Africa a few things about the "importance of entrepreneurship" for "driving and generating jobs, and generating income, and generating growth," noting that "Indian companies are much more integrated into African society and the African economy," hiring locally and emphasize training Africans on how to maintain and repair the plants they build. In short, the lessons which India learned while freeing itself from the oppressive "Hindu rate of growth" with the economic liberalization begun in the 1990s under then-Finance Minister (now Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh are precisely those African states need to study for their own development, rather than the "no strings attached" blandishments which are offered to them by China's mercantilist mandarins. Moreover, for African states, many of which are plagued by instability, autocracy, and ethnic and religious strife, India offers the example of a successfully developing country where speakers of twenty-two different official languages (in addition to English) as well as an estimated 1,652 mother tongues have co-existed largely peacefully for six decades, acquiring ever greater national consciousness while building the world's largest democracy. Despite its difficult birth as an independent nation in the midst of the religious partition which created Pakistan, India is home to what, by most measures, is the second largest Muslim population of any nation in the world and, until the election today of his successor, had a widely popular Muslim, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, as its president (the prime minister, who continues in office, is, as his name indicates, a Sikh, while the chair of the ruling coalition, Sonia Gandhi, is the Italian-born Roman Catholic widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi).
Second, the burgeoning Indian-African relationship is good for the United States overall. Earlier this year in an essay for The National Interest, former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert D. Blackwill argued: "It is safe to say that the alignment between India and the United States is now an enduring part of the international landscape of the 21st century. The vital interests of both Washington and New Delhi are now so congruent that the two countries can and will find many ways in which to cooperate in the decades ahead. Over time, the U.S.-India relationship will come more and more to resemble the intimate U.S. interaction with Japan and our European treaty allies." That type of strategic partnership, however, requires nurturing, and thus America will have to take into account the interests of friends like India in places like Africa.
For its part, among other things, the U.S. can benefit in many of its security preoccupations in Africa from the tacit – and occasionally explicit – support of India, which has enormous political capital from its longtime leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as its support of anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements on the continent. On the other hand, no country has lost more of its citizens to Islamist terrorism than India which, even today, remains one of the states most targeted by jihadis. Hence New Delhi is potentially ideal complement to Washington's counterterrorism agenda for Africa, able to articulate the anti-extremism message credibly in places where, quite frankly, our credibility is very limited. Furthermore, while America cannot expect a proud and democratic nation like India to be its lackey, neither will the latter country likely to present a direct challenge to core U.S. interests in what is now the geostrategically vital region of Sub-Saharan African. On the other hand, as it play commercial catch-up (India's exports amount to just 10 percent of China's), the subcontinental country's economic interests are more likely than not to clash with those of the Middle Kingdom.
Thus there are two Indian proverbs which should kept in mind: "Do not blame God for having created the tiger, but thank him for not having given it wings" and "Two swords do not fit into one scabbard." These are precisely the prudent counsels for U.S. policymakers now that India has entered the African arena. Eagle and tiger can both coexist as long as both are cognizant of the other and both avoid impinging on each other's space – that is to say, so long as each country respects the vital interests of the other in the African theatre. The dragon, on the hand, being a winged serpent, potentially intrudes on both the aquiline aerie and the tigrish lair.
– J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
© 2007 J. Peter Pham
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