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#IndiaAfrica: What Africa Expects Out of India

Obang Metho | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:52 IST

Common ground

  • India and Africa have similar colonial histories
  • While India has made considerable progress, Africa still lags behind

Learning curve

  • Africa has a lot to learn from India\'s pluralism and rule of law
  • India should be careful about who it does business with

More in the story

  • What are the expectations from Indian in Africa
  • How India can help bring prosperity in the continent

Africa and India are on the rise. It may be our time to look across the shared blue waters of the Indian Ocean to see the potential in the expansion of our historic ties, particularly in the area of trade. This is exactly the outcome Africans hope from the Third India-Africa Forum Summit being held this week.

Governments of 54 African countries are sending heads of state, ministry leaders and other representatives to participate. The African Union will be represented and there will be business leaders from across the continent.

We applaud this initiative and hope for its success in bringing greater economic growth and global integration to not only Africa, as recently expressed by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, but to the people of India as well.

For such partnerships, the outcome must be balanced, offering incentives that will create the foundation for its sustainability. For such a partnership to work, what we expect from India will be determined not only by our Indian partners, but to a large extent, by our fellow Africans.

Most countries in Africa, like India, have a history of colonization; yet, India has made impressive progress towards democracy. At its independence, India's culturally diverse, multi-lingual and religiously pluralistic people were able to form a government that has brought peaceful and sustainable democratic change to the country.

Africans believe Gandhi's time spent in South Africa shaped him for his noble work in India and in turn, he also influenced Nelson Mandela. However, Africans also ask why we have not achieved the same throughout the continent.

The simple answer is the lack of freedom. Authoritarian African leaders throughout the continent block the doors to genuine democratic change and act as gatekeepers to economic opportunity and benefits for the majority. Good governance, impartial justice, the rule of law, respect for human rights, strong institutions, accountability and transparency do not exist in most places other than in the dreams of the people.

India was led by a minority coloniser, while the majority was suppressed, but over the last years, much has changed for the better. There may still be areas needing improvement. However, when compared with some African countries, there are stark differences.

What's made legitimate

As a result, what the people of Africa expect from India will depend on who is allowed at the table. If the people are excluded, doing business with dictators can become extremely risky.

A country's national interest should serve the best interests of the people. The India-Africa Summit will hopefully improve the lives of Africans, not their leaders alone.

A primary foundation for a thriving and expanding economy is the freedom to participate, under girded with the investment in enhancing the human capacity of its people. Do the African leaders coming to this Summit have that kind of foundation in place in their countries? If they do not, then the people of Africa will get more empowered strongmen, enriched through crony-capitalism.

Consider the example of Ethiopia, where an ethnic minority-based government - representing only 6% of the people - controls every sector of the society. This was re-emphasized in May 2015 when the government claimed it democratically won the national election with 100% votes.

They won every seat in Parliament, leaving not even one member of the Opposition. The judiciary there is not independent, but controlled by the government. To participate in business, one must be part of a patronage network where ethnicity and party affiliation will either admit you or block your participation. Anti-terrorism law is used in the country to target democratic voices. Another law has decimated civil society by shutting down 2,600 organisations.

#IndiaAfrica: Shun dictators, usher in prosperity for African people - @SMNE2008

Despite democratic rhetoric, reforms are a threat to the elites' tight hold on power on access to the economy and its benefits. Censorship, political prisoners and human rights violations are widespread. Land grabs and forced evictions to make land available for crony and foreign investment have been documented by major human rights organizations and study groups.

In such cases, foreign business partners encounter far greater risks than when dealing with a more just government. When one views the economy in China, the restrictiveness of the society creates greater instability. Whereas business partners in free societies, where the government is not afraid of its own people or is not in competition with them, is far more attractive for investments.

The India-Africa Summit should not lead to choosing those corrupt dictatorships - where a few thrive and the majority struggle to survive - as business partners. They will not eradicate extreme poverty or bring peace, security or stability.

Indian interest vs African reality

What India has sought most from Africa are commodities such as crude oil, gas, metal ores, gold and other precious metals, fertilizers and agricultural produce for export to India from the recent expansion of Africa-based, but Indian-owned agribusinesses.

Often, there are negative effects on the ground to the very people who need to escape extreme poverty, but they remain unseen or purposely concealed. The benefits of such exports create few jobs and fail to improve education, health care, economic inclusion or infrastructure except where it is necessary to bring the products to buyers.

How can a middle ground in politics develop when the people of Africa are generally left out of upward mobility? Much of the profits leave the continent in illicit capital leakage, ending up in the private accounts of its leaders.

Even the International Monetary Fund advised Ethiopian authorities to act more decisively to "strengthen the business climate and enhance external competitiveness." In its September 2015 report, the IMF suggested "easier private sector access to credit" be given and expressed concern over the "acceleration of public-sector borrowing and the crowding out the private sector."

The report also suggested the "opening (of) some strategic sectors to foreign investment (to) improve the provision of critical sectors" and called for "improvement in Ethiopia's statistical capacity." Was it questioning Ethiopia's claims to double-digit economic growth?

The way forward

How will the India-Africa Summit deal with this reality? Will it try to counter these problems, wherever they occur, to the benefit of the African people? Will Indian law help guard against corruption, bribery, human rights violations and in general, protect the rights of the people where there is no rule of law, whether operating in India or in another country? Will Indian business partners contribute to greater equity? Will they advance the present system of injustice?

African leaders have to accept the reality that their No. 1 job is to protect and enhance the lives of their citizens. Their human rights have to be protected, humanity has to be put before ethnicity, political affiliation, religion or any other differences.

No one can claim to work for the betterment of a nation without caring for the well being of all people. No one is free until all are free. Caring about each other is the foundation of a flourishing, free and just society.

Yes, Africa is rising, but is it rising for the people or for a few? Unless the growth trickles down to people, it will not be able to lift people out of poverty. If people are not equipped and empowered, how will they join in global partners like Indians wanting to do business with them?

What African leaders need to learn from India is how a diverse country has become a strong functioning democracy with he help of good governance, the rule of law, transparency, accountability and a robust economy. A healthy country is like a healthy family: it starts with caring for your own. These are the kinds of partners who will contribute to the betterment of not only Ethiopia, but also to India and its beautiful people.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

More in our #IndiaAfrica summit coverage:

Why Africa is an investment hotspot

India can learn from Rwanda! Seriously?

#IndiaAfricaSummit could be a game changer. Here's why

#IndiaAfricaSummit: Don't just stand, go in and deliver

#IndiaAfrica: India can learn from genocide-torn Rwanda's amazing progress

First published: 26 October 2015, 10:28 IST
Obang Metho @SMNE2008

The writer is the executive director of the SMNE www.solidaritymovement.org,a non-political, non-violent social justice movement in Ethiopia.