India and the soft-power of aid

With last week’s announcement by India that it will provide $5 billion in aid to Africa over the next three years, and will spend $700 million on establishing institutions and training programmes across the continent, India has confirmed its rise as a major donor and significant actor in African politics and economies.


The commitment was made by Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, at the 2nd Africa-India Forum Summit, which opened in Addis Ababa on 20th May, and signalled the renewed (and growing) interest of the Indian government in establishing its presence in Africa. At the end of the first summit, in April 2008, the Delhi Declaration looked to ‘redefining and re-invigorating the decades old partnership and historical and civilisationnal [sic] links between the African continent and India’. Now, the promise of $5 billion in aid looks to cement the relationship and the Indian presence in African industry. But it also demonstrates the desire of India to take a more prominent role in global governance.


Although last year the Indian Foreign Secretary suggested the country would cease to accept aid from DFID from April 2011, in reality India remains a major recipient of UK aid flows. Nevertheless, the country is starting to emerge as a significant donor in its own right.


As with China’s commercial and political move into Africa, India sees economic opportunities for investment and access to strategic resources, as the reward for a greater role in Africa. But it also hopes to gain support from African governments for its own political aspirations on the global stage. Development assistance as a tool of foreign policy is nothing new, and certainly not confined to China and India. But both are clearly seeking to use their development interventions and support as a means to establish economic and political footholds across the African continent. China has had the lead so far, but this latest pledge from Singh indicates his commitment to catching up fast.


Indian businesses have long had a presence in Africa, building on centuries of trade and other economic and personal links across the Indian Ocean. Government efforts to project soft power in the developing world also have a long history. The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation initiative (launched in 1964), for example, has long-been a major tool of exporting Indian power and prestige, offering training and education to professionals and officials in developing countries, as well as supports such as consultancy services and humanitarian aid relief, with around $2 billion spent on such technical cooperation since the start of ITEC.  The latest commitment marks a significant step-up in Indian efforts to become a significant new donor. Under the current initiative, as outlined in Addis Ababa, the Indian government has committed itself to creating new pan-African institutions, such as the Indian-Africa Textiles Cluster, and India-Africa Institute for Rural Development, proposals to establish an India-Africa Virtual University (including a pledge for 10,000 scholarships for African students).


So are we looking at the rise of a new Delhi Consensus, joining the Beijing Consensus alongside the plethora of agendas, consensuses and post-consensuses? Indian aid policy is not, however, driven by a coherent set of principles (such as China’s ‘five principles’ of foreign policy, however much they might, in practice, serve as a mask for narrower self-interest). Nor is it seeking to present a radical alternative to the aid agenda of the West. But it does fit in with India’s determination to entrench its role as a leader of the global south in engagement with the rich industrialised world. India is seeking support for its own aspirations, and this is where the soft power of aid and cooperation comes in. Singh is looking for support for his demands for reform to international institutions, not least the UN Security Council, which require support from the African governments if they are to succeed. However, concerns over securing access to natural resources to sustain Indian economic growth are also clearly a big factor in seeking closer links with Africa.


About Mike Jennings

I am Reader in International Development and Head of the Department of Development Studies at the SOAS, University of London. I research, teach and write on Africa, and the history and politics of international development in sub-Saharan Africa. Research areas include: - The history of development in Africa, from the late nineteenth century to the current day - Politics of East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) - the role of non-state providers (NGOs, FBOs and self-help groups) in welfare service provision - Social aspects of health, including HIV and AIDS, and malaria
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