Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Harambee Factor


There is hardly any literature that deals specifically with the India-Africa development partnership. Over the years, multiple changes in political leadership have taken place in both India and Africa, particularly in Africa, where the change of government is often by force. However, the partnership remained constant. Bringing African participation to a more significant number of international fora and participating in the new emerging order was a steady Indian policy.

Today, India and Africa have developed a vibrant partnership animated by the spirit of developing together as equals, focussing on capacity building, development cooperation and economic and technological initiatives.

This spirit of cooperation is the connecting thread of the book entitled The Harambee Factor: India – Africa Economic and Development Partnership. The word Harambee is a Swahili word for cooperation. This book consisting of 12 chapters traces and analyses the evolution of Indian development cooperation with Africa.

The author of the book is Gurjit Singh. Gurjit Singh was former Ambassador of India to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN and the African Union. He Chaired the CII Business Task Force on Trilateral Cooperation in Africa including the Asia Africa Growth Corridor with Japan. He comments on current events on TV and in journals. His report on such cooperation in 2019, focused on private sector engagement to make Trilaterals successful.

He is associated with the social impact investment movement and is working on expanding it in Africa along with other trilateral initiatives, including with Japan, for B2B engagement. He is an independent director of companies achieving social impact. He is also associated with civil society efforts through the Aavishkar Foundation, and the Advisory Council of Nobel Peace Laureate, Kailash Satyarthi. Capital caught up with him to talk about his new book. Excerpts;


Capital: What motivated you to write “The Harambee Factor: India – Africa Economic and Development Partnership”?

Gurjit Singh: Whenever you search for India-Africa Economic and Development Partnership you end up getting a lot of results about Africa and other partners. India seems to be getting mentioned only as an adjunct or in passing. My motivation to write this book was to place on record the details of what India’s engagement with Africa has been, particularly in the 21st century when an emerging India has engaged with an emerging Africa on new terms beneficial to both.

Thus, it was an effort to use my experience in and about Africa and share it with decision makers, academies and students so that a better understanding of how India and Africa engage can be achieved.

Capital: Could you provide an overview of the key themes and main arguments presented in your book?

Gurjit Singh: My book attempts to provide a background to the context in which India and Africa engaged in the 21st century after the Cold War. Both had their own challenges and met them differently.

My book aims to provide an understanding of the Indian approach to Africa. How it differs from others, its successes and failures. It particularly focuses on the human resource development, capacity building, and efforts to build African institutions through a three-tier engagement with Africa. The bilateral tier, the regional tier through the RECs and the Pan African tier through the African Union.

Capital: How would you describe the historical relationship between India and Africa in terms of economic and development cooperation?

Gurjit Singh: Historically, the Indian engagement with Africa for Economic Cooperation has been private sector led. This was from pre-colonial times, as well. Secondly, the India Africa relationship benefited from capacity builders and educationists. Architects and masons often came from India and military generals and trainers went from Africa in the Middle Ages. In the last century, Indian teachers came in a big way to Ethiopia and eastern Africa, leaving an indelible mark. The Development Partnership, which emerged through growing Indian communities and diaspora in Africa brought the element of philanthropy to match the development aspirations of the countries they lived in, building schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, and the like. It is these ideas that I have tried to build upon.

Capital: What are some of the major challenges and opportunities you discuss in the book regarding the India-Africa partnership?

Gurjit Singh: A major challenge before India and Africa, which is often an opportunity too, is that South-South cooperation needs to succeed with a willingness on both sides. The pandemic and the Ukraine crisis broke out, South South cooperation was gently moving towards adjusting to north south cooperation as well in a benign way. However, the shortages of financing backed by unfulfilled promises from the larger partners of Africa have always been a challenge. India took the opportunity and supported Africa for the last two decades, particularly the HIPC countries, Ethiopia was a major beneficiary of Indian lines of credit. These lines of credit, then, catalysed Indian investment which also came to Ethiopia for instance, in a big way.

However, consequent debt stress, shortage of foreign exchange, economic and political instability do cause a concern to overseas investors. These become challenges. In my book, I have two surveys, one of African interlocutors talking about India and one about Indian entrepreneur looking at Africa. Those surveys highlight the challenges and opportunities quite well.

Capital: Can you highlight any specific case studies or success stories that demonstrate the positive impact of India-Africa economic and development collaboration?

Gurjit Singh: Among the success stories are the fact that Indian lines of credit which went to support LDCs and HIPC countries in Africa catalysed much investment. The three largest recipients of LOC in Africa from India, were Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia. In my book, I’ve shown that how these then became catalysts for larger Indian investment and much larger Indian trade.

Besides this, Indian investment has been mainly in the SME sector, and has helped to build African capacities, transfer technology and generate local employment.

Capital: In your opinion, what are the key factors that have contributed to the growth of India-Africa trade and investment in recent years?

Gurjit Singh: I believe these are important factors that have contributed to the growth of trade and investment between India and Africa. Indian trade now is about $90 billion and Indian investment about $75 billion both of which are substantial on their own

Capital: What role do you see India playing in Africa’s infrastructure development and capacity building efforts?

Gurjit Singh: India has always taken the view that it would abide by Africa’s priorities. This is what Prime Minister Modi said in the Ugandan Parliament when he laid out India’s Africa policy in 2018. Similarly, through the 3 India Africa summits so far, the support to infrastructure development and capacity building effort is immense. India, in fact, supports a capacity building approach to Africa, and the number of scholarships, the support to institution building in Africa and the success of the Pan African E-network project over 47 countries was an important role that India has played. You may recall for the PA ENP, Ethiopia was the pilot project and worked very well through the Addis Ababa University and the Black Lion hospital for tele education and telemedicine.

Capital: How has India’s engagement with Africa evolved over time, and what are the implications for the future of the partnership?

Gurjit Singh: India‚Äôs engagement with Africa over the last two decades, saw it become from a purely development cooperation partner to an economic partner, because about $12 billion has been invested by India through concessional loans to 41 African countries; this was quite unprecedented, and these followed the international norms for lending. Based on this, Indian private sector was encouraged to reach many more countries and intensify their role in countries where India was already present. The I T E C program is the leading brand for capacity building efforts in India and in the survey in my book it came out as the most recognized Indian brand in Africa. India also has 25,000 African students most of them paying their own way. Therefore, the capacity building, human resource development and investment led approach is part of the evolution of India’s engagement with Africa in recent years and this I believe, will continue to serve Africa well. Africa needs more investment and more training for its growing number of youths.

Capital: What are some of the policy recommendations or suggestions you offer in the book to enhance and strengthen the India-Africa economic and development partnership?

Gurjit Singh: In order to strengthen India Africa partnership in the current phase, my book recommends several things. Mainly it suggests supporting the private sector for investment and not pushing lines of credit further because of the debt stress situation and repayment problems. I have suggested that we should have funds to support the development of DPR to have bankable projects pipeline in Africa which could then be picked up by international financing consortiums. Indian investors should be encouraged and supported to overcome the difficulties that they have mentioned in the survey in the book. With the AfCFTA in place, larger regional markets are now available, which Indian investors welcome. If they are given a good investment ambience, they will certainly come. The destination that Indian investors choose will determine how close India comes to a particular country

I also recommended more technology partnerships and civil society engagement particularly to build impact investment for implementing the SDGs.

Capital: How do you envision the future of the India-Africa relationship? Are there any emerging trends or areas of potential collaboration that you find particularly promising?

Gurjit Singh: One of the segments of my book, looking at the future talks about impact investing. For over a decade, the Sankalp Africa summit held in Nairobi has promoted SDG implementation through private investments. For the first time, this Sankalp West Africa summit was held in Ghana in June 2023. This is a unique concept which has worked well in India. Many traditional donors contributed to this. These were neither grants nor loans but pure investment in early-stage projects, which must attain some of the SDGs like health, education, renewable energy, women’s empowerment waste and water disposal and the like. This concept is something that we must bring to Ethiopia and across Africa in a bigger way.

Capital: What has been the response to your book so far, both from Indian and African audiences?

Gurjit Singh: The Harambee Factor has been very well received in India and in several parts of Africa. It came out just after the pandemic. Most of the discussions were held virtually, which was also an advantage. The book was launched on Africa Day by the Indian Council of World Affairs, which also promoted the book. I have addressed audiences discussing the book in universities, in international centres, and in many online and virtual mediums. This has also been done in several African countries. But yes, certainly since this book is meant to increase an understanding of India in Africa. I welcome more African attention to it, through the media, television, and newspapers.

I’ve had discussions on the book in Kenya, both on television and in book clubs, in Senegal in a university, in Ethiopia, through the India Business Forum.

Capital: Are there any specific lessons or insights you hope readers will take away from “The Harambee Factor”?

Gurjit Singh: The main emphasis of my book is that while many countries may profess to do more and in comparison, it may look that India does less but in reality, perhaps India does better in Africa. This is because the people-to-people engagement, the private sector led approach focusing on human resource development and fulfilling the development priorities of our African partners are important assets, which cannot be accused of only pushing a one-sided agenda. Similarly, India tried to build the capacities of the African Union and the regional economic communities by supporting them. All these have taken time and effort and not succeeded equally. These are indeed efforts worth making.

Capital: How can individuals, governments, and organizations contribute to fostering and supporting the India-Africa economic and development partnership?

Gurjit Singh: More and more foreign policy is being linked to people-to-people initiatives. Indian interaction with Africa was actually led by People-to-People interaction by traders, educationists, investors and technology partners. Therefore, the support of the individuals, particularly who invest in Africa, or who have studied in India and come back or who teach in Africa is very important to build the character of African youth so that they become assets to their societies. Indian social and civil society organizations have had successful forays into Africa and need to be supported to do more. Government should look at supporting the private sector, civil society sector and dedicated people to expand the sharing of experience between India and Africa for mutual benefit. We should make the SDGs our goal and then pursue them through such fostering of the partnership

Capital: Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects that you are aware of, which further contribute to strengthening India-Africa ties?

Gurjit Singh: India Africa ties are moving from a debt led period to an investment led period. I think you will see a rise in India’s investments in African countries with greater gusto because the Indian private sector has the will to seek new markets and engage them with greater strength than two decades ago. In the next five years, I believe that Indian investment in Africa will double. Along with this investment will come capacity building institutions which will be backwardly integrated into the new investments so, training will be provided in areas where it is required so that those trained can be employed.

I see technology and startups as a big development in the near future. I also see the health sector as an area where Indian companies and doctors can play a big role in furthering Africa’s ambitions in their health sector.

Capital: What are your personal hopes and aspirations for the future of India-Africa relations, and how do you see your book contributing to that vision?

Gurjit Singh: My vision for the development of India Africa relations is that India should continue to support Africa for getting its voice heard better in international fora. To this end, the initiative by India under its G 20 presidency to have the AU admitted as a member of the G 20 is a laudable step.

I also believe that India should support the implementation of the agenda 2063 and countries which have projects under that should discuss it with India. India should respond towards government plus private sector plus academia exercise under the India Development Initiative. This idea is developed in the book.

I am particularly keen that India and Africa focus on the youth of their countries because with very young populations, we can create a huge and dynamic economic force provided we educate keep healthy and build capacities for our youth. The future certainly belongs to India and Africa. I believe that the Indian model is better accepted, better implemented and conscious of the realities of African aspiration. That is why many g7 countries are working with India on trilateral cooperation in Africa, which will develop more in the future.

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