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India’s African Policy from Past to Today

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Historical relations between African countries and India started in the 18th century and enlargened until today. India’s economic relations with African countries are based on the British colonial period. Those relations developed more in the 19th century. In that period, British colonials and merchants’ emigration of Indian workers to Africa played a significant role in India’s relations to deepen with the continent. Even the colonialism protestors in India and Africa had contact to widen Mahatma Gandhi’s activities.

When India gained independence in 1947 August, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru prioritized building good and constructive cooperation between the newly-independent African countries. In order to achieve this, he supported nationalist movements and political parties in Africa. Moreover, India was a key organizer of the Asia-Africa Conference in the city of Bandung in Indonesia in 1955.

In that conference, India and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement devoted themselves to those listed below:[1]

  • Encourage cooperation and economic development in the Asia-Africa region
  • Develop cultural cooperation between Asian and African countries, which were prevented by European colonials
  • Encourage to enlargen self-governance and human rights of African countries

In the 1970s and 1980s, Indian Governments, the United Nations (UN), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Commonwealth of Nations supported African independence movements differently. In 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi established African Fund within Non-Aligned Movement. India contributed 500 billion rupees to the fund finance South African and Namibian front states and independence movements. New Delhi provided education facilities to the supporters of the African National Congress as the policy of anti-Apartheid.[2]

With the end of the Cold War, India’s Africa policy has changed. Although, New Delhi’s interest in Africa continued. At that point, India’s African strategy can be summed up as that way:[3]

  1. Develop economic relations and cooperation in the energy field
  2. Develop and continue political relations with the African countries
  3. Care about Indian minorities in Africa and use them as a potential power
  4. Develop southern cooperation and strengthen the relations

Besides, India’s importance as a development partner for Africa emerged in the frame of the India-Africa Forum Summit, with the decision of engagement with African countries in a structured way. During his visit to Uganda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi explained ten principles for Indian-African rapprochement. Those principles were explained as follows: [4]

  • Africa is our priority. We continue to deepen our relations with the continent.
  • Your priorities will direct our partnership. We will create domestic offers and build domestic capacity as much as possible. Your potential will be free, and there will be comfortable conditions.
  • We will open our markets and make the trade with India more accessible and attractive. We support our industry to invest in Africa.
  • We will take advantage of India’s digital revolution to support Africa’s development. We will support financial engagement, public services, health and education, and digital literacy. We will make mainstream which was marginalized.
  • Africa only produces 10% even though it has 60% percent of arable land globally. We will cooperate with you to develop African agriculture.
  • Our partnership handles with struggles of climate change.
  • We will strengthen cooperation on terrorism and radicalism and strengthen our mutual abilities. We will support the UN to save our cyberspace.
  • We will work with African countries to keep the oceans open and accessible for the benefit of all nations. The world needs cooperation and competition in the eastern coast of Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean.
  • We must work together to ensure that African youth achieve their aspirations.
  • Just as India and Africa fought against colonialism, we will now work together for a just and democratic global order.

In addition, it is seen that trade and investment partnerships have grown as the India-Africa trade increased from 51.7 billion dollars in 2010 to 66.7 billion dollars in 2020. At the same time, African exports to India increased by approximately 5 billion dollars. About 8% of India’s imports come from Africa, and 9% of Africa’s imports come from India. Investments of Indian public and private companies in Africa have made India the eighth largest investor.[5]

On the other hand, total investments in the 25 years from April 1996 to March 2021 are currently only $70.7 billion, which is roughly one-third of China’s investment in Africa. India’s five largest markets are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, and Togo. India imports the most are South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Angola, and Guinea. The main items in India’s exports to Africa are mineral fuels, oils, and pharmaceutical products.[6]

Another dimension of India-Africa cooperation is defense and security. This issue mainly covers UN peacekeeping missions in the region and maritime cooperation. In addition, India has trained officers from some African countries in military education institutions. For example, current Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is a graduate of Wellington’s Indian Defense Services Staff College.

Moreover, India has contributed to peace on the African continent through its active participation in UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO). Similarly, India has maritime solid security cooperation with states in Africa, which has a coast on the Indian Ocean. India has commissioned its navy for anti-piracy patrol, surveillance, humanitarian aid operations upon request from African countries in the Indian Ocean region.

In addition to all these, New Delhi also conducts joint exercises with regional states. The first Africa-India Field Training Exercise-2019 (AFINDEX-19) was held in Pune in March 2019. This landmark exercise brought together representatives of the Indian Army and 17 African countries.

AFINDEX-19 provided participating countries the opportunity to work together in peacekeeping operations. Similarly, some African countries have been a part of MILAN exercises, which the Indian Navy started in 1995 and organized biennially. This naval exercise aims to increase cooperation with the Indian Ocean region.[7]

In general, in the post-Cold War African policy, India tried to improve economic relations and implemented a policy aimed at reaching the African energy market. This strategy aimed to diversify and deepen its relations with the continent within the framework of this strategy.

After all, India wants to develop cooperation with African countries. In addition, African wealth is an opportunity for India. All the continent’s natural resources are located on the coast of the Indian Ocean. African countries bordering the Indian Ocean, particularly South Africa, Mozambique, and Tanzania, have attracted Indian investors and trading partners. As a result, India is deepening its political, economic, and cultural relations in the continent within the framework of a constructive cooperation approach.


[1] Paul Chiudza Banda, “India-Africa Relations: 1947 to the Present”, The Diplomatist, https://diplomatist.com/2020/08/26/india-africa-relations-1947-to-the-present/, (Date of Accession: 22.12.2021).

[2] Christian Wagner, “India’s Africa Policy”, Stiftung Wissenschaft und PolitikDeutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit, SWP Research Paper, 2019, s. 9.

[3] Zahra Aboutorabi Ardestani, “India’s Foreign Policy Goals in Africa,” International Peace Studies Centre, http://peace-ipsc.org/fa/, (Date of Accession: 22.12.2021).

[4] Viswanathan HHS-Abhishek Mishra, “The Ten Guiding Principles for India-Africa Engagement: Finding Coherence in India’s Africa Policy,” Observer Research Foundation, Occasional Papersjun, 2019, s. 3.

[5] Harsh V. Pant-Abhishek Mishra, “Is India the New China in Africa?”, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/06/17/india-china-africa-development-aid-investment/, (Date of Accession: 22.12.2021).

[6]  Rajiv Bhatia, “Re-energizing India’s Africa Policy,” Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, https://www.gatewayhouse.in/re-energizing-indias-africa-policy/, (Date of Accession: 22.12.2021).

[7] Ruchita Beri, “India-Africa Defence Ministers’ Conclave: A Fresh Initiative”, The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, https://idsa.in/idsacomments/india-africa-defence-rberi, (Date of Accession: 22.12.2021).

Dr. Seyedmohammad Seyedi ASL
Seyedmohammad Seyedi Asl, 2008 yılında Urmiye Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Klimatoloji Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. 2012 yılında Tahran Üniversitesi Coğrafya Fakültesi Jeopolitik Bölümü’nde savunduğu “Explanation of Geopolitical Relationships of Iran and Azerbaijan Republic with Constructivism Approach” başlıklı teziyle yüksek lisans derecesini almaya haz kazanmıştır. 2021 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu “İran’ın Dış Politikasında Şia Mezhep Faktörün Etkisi ve Kullanımı: Jeopolitik Bir Değerlendirme” başlıklı teziyle doktora eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Türkçe, Farsça ve İngilizce bilen Asl’ın bu dillerde yayınlanmış çok sayıda akademik çalışması bulunmaktadır.