India – Africa Relations: History, Sigificance, Challenges and Solutions | UPSC


  • The year 2023 was a good year for India’s foreign policy. The country ably used its G20 presidency to solidify its position as the leader of the Global South.
  • Securing a permanent membership for the African Union (AU) in the G20, a platform which has traditionally been dominated by the most powerful countries of the world, was the hallmark of India’s presidency.

 History of India-Africa Relationship

  • India’s active role in assisting Africa secure its liberation from colonialism and racial discrimination, helping it to navigate the Cold War era through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and partnering with the continent to accelerate its socio-economic development has moulded the trajectory of India-Africa relations in the 20th century.
  • In its last decade, Africa was seen embarking on a renewed journey of Pan-African integration as it worked to replace the Organization for African Unity (OAU) with the African Union (AU), and to re-define its vision of a new Africa as delineated in its ‘Agenda 2063’ document.
  • This trend, coupled with India’s economic imperatives and “a new scramble” for Africa’s resources and friendship led by China, drove India to step up its Africa diplomacy. Against this backdrop, the first decade of the 21st century witnessed the beginning of a series of new economic and diplomatic initiatives.
  • One of them was the start of negotiations with the AU for the commencement of a Pan-African dialogue that could well complement India’s bilateral and regional diplomacy in the African continent.
  • It resulted in the India-Africa Forum Summits that are undoubtedly path-breaking initiatives that allowed India to increase its political attention as well as concessional finance and grant assistance to Africa.

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Global North Vs Global South 

•       In the late twentieth century, the Global North and South terminology replaced previous descriptors of the global order.

•       The term “global south” is commonly used in international relations to describe a group of countries that are characterised by lower levels of industrialization, economic development, and overall wealth.

•       These nations are often located in the Southern Hemisphere, but the term primarily refers to their socio-economic status rather than their geographical location.

•       The global south includes countries from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania, and is used to highlight the economic disparities and challenges faced by these nations in the global arena.

•       It was generally agreed that the Global North would include the United States, Canada, England, nations of the European Union, as well as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and even some countries in the southern hemisphere: Australia, and New Zealand.

•       Like prior attempts to characterise nations, the Global North/South distinction simplifies the world order, ignoring internal variation within both the North and South, while negating commonalities that exist between these large and diverse entities.

•       Further, there are outliers that muddy the attempt to specify a clear North/South divide. For example, where do China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia fit? In terms of their economies and power, they resemble the North, but their political and social organisation can also resemble the South.

Areas of Cooperation between India and Africa

  • India and Africa have a dynamic relationship characterized by extensive cooperation across various sectors. Some key areas of cooperation between India and African countries are:

Trade and Investment

  • India is a significant trading partner for many African nations. Bilateral trade includes a variety of goods such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and textiles from India and natural resources like oil and minerals from Africa.
  • Indian companies are increasingly investing in Africa, particularly in sectors like mining, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, and infrastructure.

Development Assistance and Capacity Building

  • India provides concessional lines of credit to African countries for infrastructure development, agriculture, and industrial projects.
  • Under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program, India offers training and capacity-building programs to African professionals.

Education and Skill Development

  • India offers numerous scholarships to African students for higher education in Indian institutions. Initiatives like the Pan African e-Network Project provide tele-education and telemedicine services.
  • India has set up vocational training centers in various African countries to enhance skills in sectors such as IT, healthcare, and engineering.


  • India supplies affordable generic medicines to many African countries, addressing healthcare challenges like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
  • African patients frequently travel to India for specialized medical treatments and surgeries, benefiting from high-quality and cost-effective healthcare services.

Infrastructure Development

  • Indian companies are involved in infrastructure projects in Africa, including road construction, railways, and energy projects.
  • India collaborates with African countries on urban development projects, leveraging its experience in developing smart cities.

Agriculture and Food Security

  • India supports agricultural development in Africa through various projects, including irrigation, crop improvement, and sustainable farming practices.
  • India shares its expertise in agricultural techniques and practices with African nations to enhance productivity and food security.

Technology and Innovation

  • India collaborates with African countries to enhance their IT infrastructure and digital services, promoting digital literacy and e-governance.
  • India has assisted African nations in space technology, including satellite launches and applications for weather forecasting and resource mapping.

Energy Cooperation

  • India promotes the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power in Africa, supporting sustainable energy initiatives.
  • India engages in exploration and production of oil and gas in African countries, contributing to energy security.
  • Collaboration between India and Africa in the field of renewable energy can make the dream of “One World, One Grid” come true.
  • India and Africa are uniquely poised to become the leaders in production of renewable energy especially solar energy with interconnected grids through overland and underwater transmission lines. Already, more than 20 African countries are participating in the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

Multilateral Engagement

  • India and African countries collaborate in international forums such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and BRICS, advocating for common interests.
  • India promotes South-South cooperation, fostering solidarity and mutual development among developing nations.

Security and Defense

  • India provides military training to African armed forces, enhancing their capabilities in peacekeeping and defense operations.
  • India collaborates with African countries in maritime security and anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.

These areas of cooperation highlight the multifaceted and growing partnership between India and Africa, aiming to promote mutual growth, development, and prosperity.

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 Significance of India-Africa Relationship

  • The India-Africa relationship holds substantial significance due to its historical context, economic potential, strategic interests, and mutual benefits. Here are some key points highlighting the importance of this partnership:

Historical and Cultural Ties

  • Both India and many African countries experienced colonial rule, leading to a shared understanding of struggles for independence and self-determination.
  • There are deep-rooted cultural ties, including a significant Indian diaspora in various African nations, contributing to social and cultural exchanges.

Economic Growth and Development

  • The growing trade and investment between India and Africa contribute significantly to the economic development of both regions. Africa offers a vast market for Indian goods and services, while India provides technological expertise and investment in key sectors.
  • The bilateral trade of India with Africa grew by 9.26% in FY 2022-23 reaching almost $100 Billion. The exports and imports were approximately balanced with exports being US$ 51.2 Billion and imports being US$ 46.65 Billion in FY 2022-23. India and Africa have set the goal of doubling the trade volume to US$ 200 Billion by 2030.
  • Besides, at least 27 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of Africa benefit from the Duty-Free Tariff Preference on non-reciprocal basis already.
  • Indian companies have investments in African infrastructure projects, including transportation, energy, and communication, to facilitate economic growth and development across the continent.

Strategic Interests

  • Africa is a crucial source of energy resources for India, including oil and gas, helping India diversify its energy imports and enhance energy security.
  • The Indian Ocean, a vital maritime route, links India and Africa. Collaboration on maritime security is essential for protecting trade routes and combating piracy.

Development Cooperation and Capacity Building

  • India’s initiatives in education and skill development for African nations help build human capital, which is critical for sustainable development.
  • India’s provision of affordable generic medicines and healthcare services supports the improvement of healthcare systems in African countries.

Geopolitical Significance

  • The India-Africa partnership strengthens South-South cooperation, promoting solidarity and collective bargaining power in global forums.
  • Collaboration in international platforms like the United Nations enhances the ability of both regions to address common global challenges and advocate for mutual interests.

Technological and Knowledge Transfer

  • India’s technological advancements and expertise in information technology, space, and renewable energy are shared with African countries, fostering innovation and sustainable development.
  • India’s experience in agricultural technology and practices aids in enhancing agricultural productivity and food security in Africa.
  • India’s Startup Revolution and Digital Public Infrastrcuture like Unified Payment Interface (UPI), CoWIN, One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC), Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) have been helpful in enhancing Ease of Doing Business and ease of living and can be replicated successfully for the benefit of Africa. 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • India and Africa’s collaborative efforts in areas such as poverty alleviation, education, healthcare, and clean energy contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Security Cooperation

  • India’s support for African peacekeeping missions and defense training helps maintain stability and security in the region.
  • Joint initiatives in counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations are crucial for regional security and combating transnational threats.

Economic Diversification

  • By engaging with Africa, India can diversify its economic relations and reduce dependency on traditional trading partners.
  • For African nations, partnering with India provides opportunities to access new markets, diversify exports, and attract foreign direct investment.

Mutual Benefits and Shared Growth

  • The complementarities between Indian and African economies create opportunities for mutual growth, with India’s technological and industrial capabilities complementing Africa’s resource richness and market potential.
  • Both India and Africa aim for inclusive and sustainable development, making their partnership a model for cooperative and equitable growth.
  • Both India and Africa are blessed with demographic dividend and with skill development and education of youth, India-Africa partnership can drive the global progress in this century.

The India-Africa relationship is significant for fostering economic development, enhancing strategic and security cooperation, promoting sustainable development, and strengthening global south solidarity. This multifaceted partnership not only benefits the two regions but also contributes to global stability and prosperity.

 Challenges in India-Africa Relationship

  • While the India-Africa relationship is marked by numerous areas of cooperation and mutual benefits, several challenges can affect the growth and stability of this partnership. Here are some of the key challenges:

Economic and Trade Barriers

  • The trade relationship often faces imbalances, with some African countries relying heavily on exporting raw materials while importing finished goods from India.

Infrastructure Deficiencies

  • Poor infrastructure in some African countries, such as inadequate roads, ports, and railways, can impede trade and investment.

Political and Regulatory Issues

  • Some African countries experience political instability and conflict, which can disrupt economic activities and bilateral projects.

Security Concerns

  • Security threats such as terrorism, insurgencies, and maritime piracy in regions like the Horn of Africa can affect the safety and viability of trade routes and investments.

Competition from Other Global Powers

  • China’s extensive investments and strategic initiatives in Africa present significant competition for India in terms of economic, political, and strategic influence.

Financial Constraints

  • Both India and many African nations face budgetary constraints that can limit the scope of development projects and initiatives.
  • Some African countries are grappling with high levels of debt, which can limit their ability to engage in new projects and partnerships with India.

Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving policy dialogue, increased investment in infrastructure, enhancing political and security cooperation, and fostering people-to-people connections. By working collaboratively to overcome these hurdles, India and Africa can strengthen their partnership and realize the full potential of their relationship.

 The way ahead to Strengthen India-Africa Relationship

  • To strengthen the India-Africa relationship, both regions should focus on several strategic initiatives and collaborative efforts. Here are some key recommendations for the way ahead:

Enhance Economic and Trade Cooperation

  • Promote diversification of trade beyond traditional sectors. Encourage value addition in African exports to India and support Indian businesses in exploring new markets and sectors in Africa.
  • The potential for establishing a formal mechanism of cooperation between India and the African Continental Free Trade Area may be explored actively.
  • The proposal to create an Africa Growth Fund to remedy the lack of access to finance for Indian businesses should be accepted.

Boost Investment and Infrastructure Development

  • Encourage public-private partnerships (PPPs) to fund and implement large-scale infrastructure projects in Africa, such as roads, ports, and energy systems.
  • Establish special economic zones (SEZs) in African countries with support from Indian businesses to promote industrialization and create job opportunities.
  • Indian enterprises should be encouraged to assist African countries by setting up container shipping companies in joint ventures in the mode of public and private partnerships.
  • Given the growing importance of the mineral sector, there is a need for concerned governments to cooperate by creating a joint fund or bringing together multiple private parties that ensure economies of scale.

Strengthen Political and Diplomatic Ties

  • The India-Africa Forum Summit may be held once every three years. The next summit should be held as early as possible.
  • An Annual Strategic Dialogue involving the Chairperson of the AU Commission and India’s External Affairs Minister should be instituted.
  • Increase the frequency of high-level visits and dialogues between Indian and African leaders to build trust and reinforce political commitments.
  • Update and negotiate new bilateral agreements focusing on trade, investment protection, and double taxation avoidance to create a favorable business environment.

Promote Development Cooperation and Capacity Building

  • Opening new educational institutions in Africa should be pursued, instead of giving scholarships to African students in India.
  • Strengthen cooperation in healthcare by setting up more medical facilities, providing affordable medicines, and sharing expertise in public health management.

Enhance Security and Defense Cooperation

  • Continue and expand support for African peacekeeping missions and provide training and capacity-building assistance to African military forces.
  • Collaborate on maritime security initiatives to protect trade routes in the Indian Ocean and combat piracy. Greater maritime collaboration with African regional mechanisms should be forged.
  • Dialogue at the level of the National Security Adviser/Deputy National Security Adviser may be arranged with as many African countries as necessary.

Leverage Technology and Innovation

  • Support the development of digital infrastructure in Africa, including broadband connectivity, e-governance platforms, and IT services.
  • Establish joint innovation hubs and research centers to promote technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

Foster People-to-People Connections

  • Enhance cultural exchange programs to deepen mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s heritage and traditions.
  • Engage with the Indian diaspora in Africa to serve as a bridge for enhancing bilateral relations and promoting business and cultural ties.
  • Adequate funds should be allocated for African studies in India.

Address Environmental and Sustainability Issues

  • Collaborate on renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind power, to address energy needs sustainably and combat climate change.

Engage in Multilateral and Regional Forums

  • Strengthen South-South cooperation by jointly advocating for the interests of developing countries in international forums such as the United Nations, WTO, and BRICS.
  • Support regional integration efforts in Africa, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), to create larger and more unified markets.

Build Resilient Economic Systems

  • Encourage economic diversification in both regions to reduce dependency on specific sectors and enhance resilience to global economic fluctuations.
  • Enhance financial cooperation through initiatives like establishing joint investment funds, facilitating cross-border banking, and providing microfinance for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

By focusing on these strategic areas, India and Africa can strengthen their partnership, foster mutual growth, and address common challenges. This comprehensive approach will help build a robust and enduring relationship that benefits both regions economically, politically, and socially.


  • In terms of demography, market size, regional integration, prospects of peace and conflict, international competition, and strategic importance, Africa’s significance and relevance for India will grow in the coming years.
  • Therefore, the Indian government, and the business world entities must accord a high priority to developing multi-dimensional cooperation with African states in a sustained manner. The next decade will be of crucial importance in this respect.

 Answer Writing Practice for UPSC Mains

Topic: India and its Neighborhood-Relations. (GS Mains Paper 2)

  • Critically analyze the evolving dynamics of India-Africa relations, highlighting the key areas of cooperation and the challenges faced. Suggest strategic measures to enhance the bilateral partnership for mutual growth and development. (Answer in 250 words)



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