Why does Modi not visit African countries

Modi looks to Africa

The summit is touted as India's largest ever Africa initiative. From October 26th to 29th, representatives of all 54 African countries are invited to New Delhi for the IAFS, the "India-Africa Forum Summit". The top meeting has been taking place for the third time since 2008.

Up to 35 heads of state and government take part, including South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari. The summit was originally supposed to take place in December 2014, but was postponed due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

Around 1,000 government and company representatives came as delegates. "The summit will be a good opportunity to benefit from the mutual and simultaneous resurgence of India and Africa," Nivedita Ray told DW. The researcher at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) added that areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, security, green trade and investment as well as training and institution building would receive a boost.

How important is Africa to Modi?

Since taking office last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked on a strategic realignment of Indian foreign policy, which also includes expanding international trading partners. But despite his diplomatic program over the past few months, he has not yet visited Africa. Improving relations with neighboring countries, deepening relations with the USA and East Asia and expanding trade with economic heavyweights such as Germany were more important to the prime minister. So far, the government has kept a low profile as to how relations with Africa will continue under the new Indian government of Narendra Modi.

Modi's predecessor Manmohan Singh, for example, hosted Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2013

For this reason, Dhruva Jaishankar, a South Asia expert with the German Marshall Fund in the USA, says the summit demonstrates "India's attempt to show how seriously one wants to get involved in the region". Tim Steinecke, who studies African-Asian relations at St. Andrews University in the UK, shares the same opinion - but adds that the India-Africa summit will force the head of government to come up with a vision for the future of relations between India and Africa to lay the table ..

Catching up with China?

The meeting takes place at a time when China, Africa's most important Asian partner, wants to further expand its commitment on the resource-rich continent. And the competition from the Far East never sleeps: Just a few weeks after the IAFS summit in New Delhi, South Africa is holding the sixth "Forum on China-Africa Corporation" (FOCAC) in December. The ministerial-level meeting is popular with Africa's elite - it has been a place where projects and business in the region have been initiated for years.

Africa's trade volume with China has multiplied in recent years: from 10 billion US dollars in 2000 to more than 200 billion US dollars in 2014. This development will not continue as it is, however. Since economic growth in China has lost momentum, the demand for African raw materials has also declined. Bilateral trade has declined sharply since the end of 2014 - bad news for African countries that live mainly from the export of raw materials.

"Worldwide commodity prices are falling, and China's demand for important metals has fallen sharply. This has a direct impact on the economies of African commodity exporters," explains Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific economist at IHS. In addition, there is increasing friction between Chinese companies and their African partners when it comes to environmental issues or the use of Chinese labor.

Indian conglomerates have been active in Africa for decades - just like the wireless operator Airtel in Nigeria

Tim Steinecke therefore assumes that the summit in New Delhi will also show how serious it is for African politics to look for alternatives to Beijing's investment model. Because that usually provides for the use of Chinese state-owned companies, which mainly carry out infrastructure projects that are financed with low-interest loans. In return, Chinese companies receive preferential access to oil and gas projects in Africa.

Trade relations

But how close are the Indian-African economic relations actually? Much more than previous Indian governments, private companies have stretched their feelers to Africa and systematically expanded their involvement there. "Indian entrepreneurs in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Mauritius have always done business with their home country - especially in retail, mining and commodity trading."

India's economic footprint in Africa can only be roughly compared with that of China. Nonetheless, trade with Africa more than quintupled from six percent of Indian foreign trade in the late 1990s (4.8 billion US dollars) to almost ten percent (68 billion US dollars) in 2014. The volume of trade between India and Africa is now more than twice that of Japan.

So far, only Nigeria and South Africa are among India's top 25 trading partners. But that will change - analysts assume. New Delhi is said to have already cast its eye on new regions in Africa and wants to get involved in countries like Senegal and Mozambique.

A number of large Indian corporations have a significant presence on the African continent. You are primarily active in strategic areas such as agriculture, the pharmaceutical industry, the IT and telecommunications industry and in the energy sector.

More than a quarter of Indian oil and gas imports now come from African countries such as Nigeria and Angola. And the government is striving to further reduce its dependence on India's traditional suppliers in the Persian Gulf, says Constantino Xavier of Johns Hopkins University in Washington in an interview with DW.

Greater presence in Africa

The state-owned oil and gas company ONGC Videsh, the petrochemical giant Reliance and agricultural groups such as Karuturi Global are present among the large Indian conglomerates on the African continent. In the phama sector, there are companies like Cipla and Ranbaxy; in the telecommunications sector, Airtel is a fixture in more than a dozen African countries.

The Tata Group is also represented with its products on the African market

The Tata Group has been active in Africa since 1977 and is represented in eleven countries with its automobiles, hotel subsidiaries and telecommunications divisions. Africa is also the focus of India's small but growing development aid program.

India is also intensifying its cooperation with regional partners in security policy: "East African coastal states from Somalia to South Africa - including the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius - are India's key partners in establishing itself as a leading power around the Indian Ocean of pirates, control of shipping lanes, and civil protection. "

India also provides the largest contingent for UN missions on the African continent; more than 30,000 Indians have participated in 17 of the 22 missions in Africa since 1960.

India’s opportunity in Africa

The chances of closer relations between India and Africa are not bad, says Tim Steinecke, because the mood in many African countries "seems to be ripe for a new international partner."

In addition, India also serves as a model for developing and building a democratic state. The authorities of the largest democracy in the world, says Jaishankar, are getting more and more requests from African governments to pass on their knowledge: Indian experts organize training courses on how electronic voting machines work, explain how parliamentary processes work, or they discuss with their African partners how to create an independent judiciary strengthens the rule of law.

In addition, there is the expectation that the Indian economy will grow faster than the Chinese economy in the medium and long term. And the presence of Indian minorities, which is often more than a hundred years old, especially in East and South Africa, is another advantage for India's relations with Africa: Existing trade relations can be deepened and the investment volume expanded without great expense.

The India-Africa summit could be the perfect stage for this: "Prime Minister Modi has promised to improve India's global competitiveness, and Africa plays an important role in this," says ICWA expert Ray. In addition, India is becoming more and more attractive as a partner for Africa when it comes to knowledge transfer and infrastructure development.