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The Indian model of South-South cooperation: broader international cooperation in a historical perspective

The paper traces the historical evolution of the development cooperation implemented by India in Africa. It then outlines the map of the main Indian wider cooperation tools. The paper applies a deductive method and underlines that India utilises a singular development cooperation model following her historical, political and cultural specificity. Since Independence, India’s strategic priority for her foreign policy has been development cooperation and the principles of South-South cooperation. The Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in continuity with the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, affirmed the need to make a commitment to fight inequality on a global level. India immediately started to support those countries who had shared in the battle against colonialism in South Asia. Firstly, with the Asian Relations Conference, a joint platform among developing countries that could facilitate bilateral cooperation agreements, and, subsequently, in a more organized manner, with the Bandung Conference which had among the key issues on the agenda the implementation of strategic plans for economic and cultural development. For this purpose, India developed specific programmes focusing on improvement in the skills and capacity building of populations, such as the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme (ITEC) and the Special Commonwealth Assistance for Africa Programme (SCAAP). The latter led to the implementation of bilateral cooperation action plans between India and other southern economies by exchanging experts, training and equipment. At the end of the 1990s, there was a strategic change in India’s policy for development cooperation, especially with her African partners, a turning point that occurred at the same time as two landmark events. One concerned international politics, i.e. the end of the Cold War and the weakening of the East-West axis, which until then had polarized global debate in a univocal manner, and the other one in India’s domestic policy with the liberal imprint of economic reforms. 2003 was a watershed for Indian cooperation and the inception of that pathway, as intense as it was rapid, enabled India to drastically reduce her dependence on aid and become one of the major emerging economies in the world. And it was in this change of paradigm that India renewed her interest in development cooperation, perceived now in a broader sense than that sustained by Nehru. Focus was essentially on economic relations, capable of putting into place historic programmes with the soft loan policy pursued through the EXIM Bank, free contributions and support for investments as well as for India’s trade in partner countries. Partnership Administration was created as a prime vehicle for coordinating aid programmes for Indian development. To acquire a platform within which to establish cooperation initiatives on the African Continent, in 2008 the country started to organize the India-Africa Forum Summits (IAFS), further consolidating her cooperation with African countries and the African Union. India – a perfect example of rapid economic growth – and the African Continent shared a colonial past and post-colonial reconstruction, but above all today they share the urgent need for a multi-sectoral, heterogeneous partnership. The solidarity and complementarity between India and Africa fully mirror the new aspirations of both to attain all their development needs, old and new. However, as time passed, New Delhi increasingly prioritized the economic cooperation factor over the initial commitment to the South – South Cooperation principles.


The commerce between India and Africa will be of ideas and services, not of manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of western exploiters.

Mahatma Gandhi

1. Introduction

The challenge of India’s extraordinary passage from being a recipient country to a donor country was marked by the fundamental stages of her internal history and the complex transformation of global international relations in the 20th and 21st centuries. During the last twenty years, we have seen a progressive change in equilibria and roles among the sovereign states, consisting of an upheaval of the system that brought about a new «multipolar» global order. Obviously, this landmark change has also transformed the sector of international development cooperation. Countries traditionally considered to be donors sought rules to be shared and, among these, economically advanced countries such as the United States of America reviewed their aid agendas also by following policy guidelines to expand the goals of cooperation aid by introducing actions such as the fight against terrorism. By contrast, a new category of donors was being established which was, with a simplification understating the complexity of their role, called «emerging donors», even if this conceptual category has a wider meaning than «emerging».[1]

The latter were guided by different principles compared to those commonly recognized up to that time by the traditional donors. They were promoters of a cooperation model based on the assumption of new equilibria in relations among countries with different income levels and strategic guidelines formulated outside those channels defined by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The arrival of these new political protagonists on the international landscape has also changed the aid system. The strategy adopted by the majority of the, so-called, emerging donors presents us with important differentiation elements, obliging traditional donors to rethink their operating methods. The most recent innovation involving aid from the emerging donors can, therefore, be summarized in two basic points: on the one hand, a dynamic approach to aid, capable of challenging the traditional donors in a credible manner and forcing the Western powers to ask themselves questions; on the other, the growing extent of a phenomenon undermining the equilibria in the consolidated DAC system.

A demonstration of this new awareness of the Western powers led to the High-level forum on aid effectiveness, held in Busan, South Korea, in December 2011. At this forum, the emerging donors succeeded for the first time in affirming the principle of South-South Cooperation (SSC), prevailing over the traditional donors. The Busan Partnership Document adopted in 2011 explicitly refers to the importance of SSC, recommending that it be coordinated with North-South Cooperation, and recognizes a political role for the South of the world that could change the rules of the game. In this context, India and China have assumed a special relevance, protagonists of a progressive change in equilibria and roles, precursors of a real change in pattern between donors and recipients.

Through a non «west-centric» vision of the world, it is possible to observe a new world structure taking shape based on relations between two states, India and China, and a continent, Africa. These three macro realities share a common factor, the demographic factor, with an expected increase in population to 1.5 billion in each by 2030,[2] as well as their migrant flows and new markets, which will open up. Therefore, in 2030, one half of humanity will be Chinese, African and Indian, and Chindiafrique, to quote Boillot and Dembinski’s[3] neologism, will account for two thirds of the young population between fifteen and twenty-five years of age.

By operating outside the DAC model, India and the other emerging donors have defined a different cooperation model in which business and cooperation increasingly intertwine with an exponential involvement of the private sector. The aid supplied by these countries is underpinned by a common and extremely broad vision, characterized in particular by: i) the absence of political conditionality (the loans are not bound by any change in the regime in the recipient country, nor by international standards in the matter of human rights, environmental protection, etc.); ii) a business-oriented approach (aid is only a minimal part of a wider «package» of loans, credit lines, trade agreements in neuralgic sectors such as the development of infrastructure and the extraction of natural resources); iii) the easily administered low cost aid granted to meet recipients’ precise needs (demand driven) or fundamental shortages.

India could claim not only to be different from the traditional donors but also a specific, independent role: the country was proposing to her partners, above all her African partners, a development model based on her own recent development experience. In this way, India also marked a distance from the other donors. On the one hand, the country shared some characteristics with other donors, such as the absence of conditionality, the demand driven mode, reciprocity and a certain financial sustainability – principles not substantially distant from the ones introduced by China[4] or by other emerging economies. On the other hand, she presented herself as a different, unique actor compared to the other emerging economies due to her history, methods and approach. By maintaining a focus on the first of these aspects, India was able to draw strength from her history, from her role as an ex-colony (as opposed to China, for example) that has become the protagonist of a rapid, imposing economic development. It thus succeeded in positioning herself as the bringer of an ideal, sustainable (in the financial sense) and inclusive (bottom-up) model founded on the equalitarian principle of SSC for her African partners. At the same time, India promoted actions close to Western sensitivities, yet again as a result of her history. With regard to China, for example, the political differences are substantial. Compared to the Confucian Socialism of the new China, India offers an original democratic system which is deep-rooted, and distinguished by an extended regional autonomy and a model of capillary social organization, in the context of a school system still heavily influenced by the British cultural matrix. In particular, universities are considered one of the determining factors behind the Indian role in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. It is in this historical context of a democratic, institutional order that the production of intangible assets with high innovative content has developed, becoming the centre of India’s cooperation strategy.

2. The Historical Perspective: from the socialist and centralised planning of Nehru to economic liberalisation

It is above all in the historical context of the internal political and economic changes – in particular the green revolution and the move towards liberalism – that it is possible to identify and understand the path which led India from being a country receiving aid to becoming an emerging world power. India is one of the most striking examples of accelerated growth in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The determinants can certainly be traced to the reforms implemented at the beginning of the 1990s, but the roots are decidedly older. India’s GDP growth rate has shown a very notable increase from the mid-60s to 2011, from 3.2% (1960-1965, Third Five-Year Plan) to 8.4% (2009-2011).[5]

It was Indira Gandhi who gave impetus to a national strategy directed towards business, by creating fertile ground for the accumulation of capital. There were three major strategic axes: the Green Revolution, an essential component of the «new agricultural development strategy» launched in the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1969/74); the nationalization of the banks and, lastly, the programme of «expansionary adjustment», financed by a loan from the International Monetary Found (IMF) «Special Drawing Rights» (SDR) corresponding to US$ 530 million (1980) after the second oil crisis and the drought in 1979, which included measures to enhance exports and cut trade barriers (tariff and non-tariff).

Rajiv Gandhi continued to strengthen the pro-business strategy commenced by Indira and adopted a series of more liberal economic measures between 1985 and 1989. This mix, with a wider spectrum than the preceding ones, consisted of a true industrial deregulation. An important break occurred in 1991 when, to deal with the macroeconomic crisis after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Narasimha Rao’s government negotiated a programme of economic stabilisation and structural adjustment in exchange for a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The post-1991 reforms were based on three pillars: (i) the retreat of the state from the economy by cutting  investment, industrial and import licences and by privatising the public sector; (ii) the creation of an environment favourable to private investments by reducing the fiscal burden and increasing investments in infrastructure and (iii) by opening up the Indian economy to international competition by reforming the trade regime, new regulations on foreign investments (direct and portfolio) and the reform of capital markets.[6]

Therefore, the turning point was marked by the shift from Nehru’s socialist and centralised planning to the business-oriented strategy begun by Indira Gandhi and pursued by Rajiv, consolidated and developed by the post 1991 reform which veered towards economic liberalization.[7]

3. Nehru’s idealism and the Bandung Conference

India demonstrated an authentic vocation for cooperation right from her debut as a democracy at the end of the 1940s. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was committed to the fight against inequality also on a global level, so much so that from Independence in 1947, India started to support countries which had shared in the battle against colonialism in South Asia. Even before the declaration of independence, the first Asian Relations Conference – a joint platform among developing countries which would facilitate bilateral cooperation agreements – took place from 23rd March to 2nd April 1947. The intent was, as underlined by Nehru’s own words[8], to rebuild aid and trade relations among Asian countries, interrupted by Western colonialism, affirming India’s availability to offer technical assistance in multiple sectors.

Based on the same principle and enhancing it, the Colombo Plan for Cooperative and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific[9] conceived in 1950 during the Commonwealth Conference on Foreign Affairs in Colombo (then Ceylon and now Sri Lanka), but officially launched a year later on 1st July 1951, was (and is) a cooperative regional aid organization for the economic and social development of the peoples of South and South-East Asia, which has expanded over time. The participants provided funds and technical assistance. India in particular, convinced of the need to share experience and knowledge, offered training in practically every sector, from medicine to agriculture, from engineering to administration, to all the peoples of South East Asia and many other countries including Nigeria, Kenya and Afghanistan.

Therefore, the period straddling the 1940s and the 1950s marked the strengthening of relations between countries in the South of the world (Asia but also Africa) with India playing an important role, once again at the wish of her Prime Minister. It was during this period that the seeds of one of the fundamental concepts of SSC were sown: reciprocity matching trade, the win-win strategy. To give an example among the many available, Ethiopia provided India with 500 tons of wheat in exchange for a Rupees (Rs) 10.000 loan for the construction of a maternity home in Addis Ababa.[10]

However, Nehru saw what he had been working for take shape when in the Bandung Conference in April 1955: cooperation among countries as a political act. His speech, the most impassioned one, was an ideological manifesto. In that context, the non-Western countries broke their silence and a political alternative and the culture of the Afro-Asian peoples were placed at the forefront of general attention. These countries found consensus also outside the Asia-Africa axis, first among all, in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Twenty-nine countries were present in Bandung[11] and the agenda contained key issues such as anti-colonialism, economic development, disarmament, the role of international organizations, the implementation of strategic economic and cultural cooperation plans. The joint platform was composed of the five principles of peaceful coexistence, the five moral precepts of Buddhism, the «Panchsheel» applied to relations among states: mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in domestic affairs; equality; and peaceful coexistence.

The pivot of the debate was active neutralism of which Nehru explained the fundamental aims: war would become inevitable when the world became rigidly and ideologically divided into two blocs as was happening then. At the Bandung conference, a third way began to take shape, by seeking to merge Asian and African nationalisms, different religions and humanist traditions. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was inaugurated as a synthesis of the different neutralist and third force doctrines.

The participants to the Bandung Conference created a new axis of interest for global confrontation, no longer only the East-West divide but also North-South, whose issues since then have become increasingly topical and are also a focal point for the debate on development cooperation issues.

 4. From the 1960s to the 1990s

Between the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, India continued to be active in the Colombo Plan and in bilateral initiatives in the wake of the enthusiasm created by Bandung. In addition to Nehru’s central political principles already mentioned, India’s action was also inspired by the principle of the necessity, non-negotiable, of re-claiming the historical, ancient, boundaries of India. It was a principle that came from the belief – both to Nehruvian nationalism and Hindu nationalism – in the ancient existence of the Indian nation. This principle was important for the Indian foreign policy of the time, especially in the case of relations between China and India. It was the cause of the political debacle of Nehru in 1964.[12]

With the changes in the leadership of the country halfway through the 1960s, there was a new drive towards cooperation and relations between India and Africa. In 1964, Indira Gandhi, then Minister for Information and Broadcasting, undertook a safari to Africa to understand the status of Indian relations with that continent. At the same time, «India stopped treating African countries as a bloc (a characteristic which it has maintained, and which distinguishes her current relations with the continent) and consequently became more selective in her friendships.»[13] That same year, also as an instrument of economic diplomacy, India created the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme (ITEC) which, since 1964, together with the Special Commonwealth Assistance for Africa Programme (SCAAP), provides training courses and capacity building in the agricultural, scientific and technological sectors in India to people coming from 158 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Eastern and Central Europe. Founded by the Indian Cabinet, ITEC was inspired by Nehru’s thinking. This was the initiative which, more than any other until then, led to the implementation of bilateral cooperation agreements between India and other economies in the South, by exchanging experts, training and demonstration equipment.

Compared to Nehru’s idealism, anti-colonialism and struggle against inequality, strategy seemed to veer, in parallel, towards other, more pragmatic reasoning already being applied to domestic economic policies. Mawdsley pinpoints three reasons: a need for energy, which took the form of investing in hydropower projects; the desire to create a buffer zone with China, in order to improve her security, leading to infrastructure development in Nepal; and the desire to be an international player, exemplified by her leadership of the ‘Third World’ through the NAM.[14]

The subsequent years saw consolidation in the pursuit of this strategy without any events of particular note. It should be highlighted that, throughout this period, India continued to receive aid: according to data from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from 1951 to 1991 India received approximately US$ 55 billion in development aid.

We can trace a true shift towards a more market-oriented approach, to 1991, a less third world Nehruvian approach and which coincided with the programme of economic stabilisation and adjustment negotiated by the government of Narasimha Rao in exchange for a loan from the IMF and the subsequent post-1991 reforms. It is at this time that India’s interest in Africa grew.  After the end of the Cold War (with an exponential loss in importance of the East-West axis) and the introduction of her economic liberalisation programme, India’s foreign policy departed from Nehru’s non-aligned policy and Gandhi’s idealism towards more pragmatic policies to attract investments and to expand trade and foreign investments on the African continent.

5. 2003: The Watershed

During his Budget speech on 28th February 2003, the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, announced that India would no longer be accepting foreign aid except from certain, selected, Western governments (G8 and others) and institutions, (among others WB, IMF). At the same time, India returned US$ 1.6 billion to fourteen bilateral donors and cancelled the debt of seven poor, highly indebted countries.[15] Moreover, it launched the «India Development Initiative» to channel aid in the form of grants or aid projects to developing countries. Therefore, India started to put into place a broad development aid strategy and to refer to the poorest countries as «development partners» rather than using the term «recipients». In 2005, during the Tsunami crisis, India very clearly defined her role by refusing any external aid for relief operations but offering to provide funds for the reconstruction of the countries hit.  In the 2007/2008 Budget, the creation of the India International Development Cooperation Agency (IIDCA) was announced, to channel all activities related to cooperation under a single coordinating unit, but after delays and discordant opinions, it was replaced almost five years later by an internal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

The Development Partnership Administration (DPA) is an internal division of the MFA and was created as the prime vehicle for implementing aid programmes for Indian development. It is not yet an agency, as the IIDCA, but it has a mandate to render the implementation of Indian programmes more efficient. Like any ministerial general management, it is made up of several offices:

  • DPA I: LoCs (Lines of Credit) and grants to Africa, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka;
  • DPA II: capacity building programmes (ITEC, SCAAP, TCS – Colombo Plan), Asia, Latin America, humanitarian aid and relief;
  • DPA III: assistance for grant projects in Afghanistan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The DPA is involved in all the programme processes: conception, approval, realisation and monitoring. All Ministries cooperate with the DPA. All the programmes are based on the exchange of know-how and expertise and this interaction has been recognized as a prime need for the correct performance of cooperation programmes. With its creation, India has once again confirmed the importance of capacity building in cooperation programmes and the development of human resources as a hallmark of and instrument for inclusive growth for her development partners. Its mandate is that of ensuring rapid and efficient implementation of the development aid programmes, which have grown both in terms of volume of investments and geographic expansion. Above all, the DPA’s mandate includes leading and strengthening the capacity building programmes (ITEC and others). This instrument enables the MFA to enhance coordination of all the divisions involved in cooperation, and valuation of the lines of credit and projects.

It is useful to recall the major architectural components of India’s cooperation today, which is the obvious fruit of its historical development while showing a lack of continuity with Nehru’s fundamentals. These components are the Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation (ITEC), Lines of Credit (LoC), the Trade and Investment Support and lastly, the Grants.

ITEC is the longest surviving, and most famous, programme for Indian cooperation. In constant growth from 1964 onwards, as mentioned above, strongly pressed for by Jawaharlal Nehru, ITEC has been the principal instrument of Indian bilateral cooperation with the purpose of developing technical cooperation and building capacity in developing countries. That it is still one of the programmes in which India is investing is shown by the constant increase in its resources: allocations by the government for the ITEC programme have seen a substantial increase, from Rs.134 million in 1990-1991 to Rs.1.2 billion in 2012-2013.[16]

Lines of Credit (LoCs) are an important component of Indian cooperation, even though they are not a recent acquisition. India had already started to grant these soft loans in the early 1950s, especially to South-East Asian countries like Burma. The LoCs are granted by the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank of India)[17] to governments, regional development banks, other foreign entities mainly to enable buyers in those areas to import Indian goods and services. The boundary between aid and the promotion of international trade is obviously very weak. The LoCs are also the instrument which allows Indian companies, including the small-medium enterprises, to have access to the development partners’ markets. They are loans linked to the 85% mark (i.e. 85% of the goods and services must come from Indian companies). As they are soft loans not in line with the market, the Government acts as guarantor and compensates any interest differential between the market cost and what is requested by the development partners. Sub Saharan Africa is the main recipient (over 50% of total LoCs), in particular Sudan and Ethiopia, followed by South Asia with 39% and the rest of Asia with 9%. The total LoCs commitment in 2012 was US$7.7 billion, covering 153 LoCs in 94 countries in Africa, Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Europe and Latin America. About US$ 4.2 billion, through around 100 Indian LoCs, was received by more than 40 countries in Africa.[18] To participate in the promotion of economic growth in partner countries, India participates in multisector projects, particularly railways, information technology, power generation and transmission and agricultural projects.

Trade support is a third substantial component of Indian cooperation, part of a «development compact» which is definitely outside the guidelines set forth by the OECD-DAC and participates in what we could define as wider cooperation according to an extended, hetero-comprehensive vision of SSC.

More than the other components, it indicates the shift in perspective toward a platform concentrating more on trade relations albeit with development objectives.

Wider cooperation or broader international cooperation (BIC) is an «extensive» definition of development cooperation. It also includes funds which traditional donors do not calculate in their official development assistance (ODA) but is a type of loan which the emerging economies generally use to sign «development agreements» with developing countries and which, for various reasons, contributes to the general budget for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Like China and the other emerging economies, India uses every possible instrument for her actions in Africa. However, unlike other emerging economies, India can use a softer strategy – soft power – in her international relations by drawing support from her particularly resilient civil society and from her well-developed, flexible and creative private sector, including the growing global cultural and show business industry well represented by Bollywood. In this sense, we should not ignore the use of certain traditions such as, for example, yoga, which has become an instrumental symbol of «Indian identity» and used by Prime Minister Modi – who proclaimed International Yoga Day in 2015 – to achieve greater popularity for India through recognition of such a widespread activity.

In this way, India’s cooperation is a true heterogeneous and complex network – aid, trade, investments, culture, training and spirituality – and much more contemporary compared to the exclusive Diplomatic Club of the Nations. Moreover, India is a leader in a sector which represents the key factor in the new development policies: the transfer of know-how and the capacity building of human resources.

The historical and constant presence of numerous, influential Indian communities in East and South Africa, which date back to the colonial era, sustain this «soft power» strategy. The Indian communities even contributed to the foundation of the capital of the African Union, Addis Ababa (1886). This substantial Indian migration has served over time also as a political, economic and cultural transmission belt.

Today, India proposes herself as the only country able to be a real model for Africa in terms of democratic and inclusive development. In this sense, India is not only proposing to Africa a feasible and valuable model for economic growth but also a brilliant example of democratic consolidation and sustainability.

The fourth component is represented by the grants. In terms of investment volume, they are less important, albeit growing continually, but certainly used very well by India as an element of «accompaniment» to other programmes such as the ITEC and loan investments. With reference to acquisition of higher consensus and, therefore, of soft penetration, India often supports small projects through grants, which have an immediate impact on the local population and contribute to giving a positive image of the country, strengthening trust.  As an example, in March 2017, with a grand ceremony filmed by all the national media, the Indian Ambassador in Senegal, Rajeev Kumar, delivered a US$ 50,000 cheque to the Minister of Health, Coll Seck, for a programme to assist people with motor disabilities. At the same time, he made an undertaking on behalf of his country to share Indian avant-garde techniques for quality prosthesis manufacture with Senegal, thus reinforcing the telemedicine programme already implemented and, in fact, also opening up a new trade channel. The programme was presented by the Minister as part of an important Indian-Senegalese partnership to benefit the most vulnerable strata of the Senegalese population.

India’s economic diplomacy toolkits have expanded to allow for the participation of more actors in various arenas. The India-Africa Forum Summits (IAFS) have been created to give India’s cooperation initiatives in the Continent a homogeneous strategic framework. They have certainly strengthened cooperation with the African Union (AU) and they have facilitated co-existence and dialogue with the traditional OECD cooperation. The first Forum took place in 2008 in New Delhi, the second one – not a coincidence – in the African city that is home to the African Union headquarters, Addis Ababa, in 2011 and the latest one in 2015 in New Delhi, chaired by the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

The manifesto of intentions was outlined by the opening words of Prime Minister Singh at the First India-Africa Summit Forum in 2008 who referred to the beginning of a new chapter in the long history of cooperation and friendship between India and Africa, with the aim of achieving economic dynamism, peace, stability and self-reliance. «As I look into the 21st Century, I am convinced that free people of a new Africa and a new India will come ever closer, through mutually beneficial relationships based on equality and fraternity.»[19]

As the Indian ambassadors in Africa love to repeat, IAFS is the platform on which all relations between India and African countries are built. As mentioned, the second IAFS was held in Addis Ababa, home to the headquarters of the African Union. The central theme of the forum was the debate on how to enhance and expand the partnership for greater mutual benefit. The Forum was attended by fifteen African leaders selected according to the Banjul formula decided in 2006 by the African Union in the Gambian capital. This established the number of African representatives as 15 according to a very well-defined protocol, which included five members of the New Partnership of Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Chairs and General Managers of the Regional Economic Communities (REC), the Chair in office and the previous Chair of the AU and others.

The third IAFS was not simply a consolidation of relations and intents. It also represented a triumph for the image of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy, making his strategy for the integration of political and trade diplomacy even clearer. This latter Summit was attended by forty-one African leaders (forty were Heads of State) out of fifty-four representatives from all over the AU, thus breaking the protocol established in Banjul (the «Banjul formula») which, as we have seen, had been adopted until then and had established that the highest number of representatives should be 15. Modi imposed his political aspiration and therefore gathered together a broader grouping of African leaders since the NAM Summit in 1983, as a symbol of his standing on the African Continent. However, in the draft of the final declaration, India tried to be cautious, deliberately avoiding any reference to colonialism lest it be interpreted as anti-western sentiment. Among the announcements on new funds amounting to US$ 10 billion[20], Indian representatives avoided including the lines of credit, despite the fact they are an essential component of India-Africa relations. On the African side, the language used in the IAFS statement on the Indian seat on the United Nations Security Council also showed extreme prudence, just taking note of India’s aspirations to become a permanent member. Despite this, however, the Delhi Declaration of the third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2015 highlighted and reinforced strong commitment on the part of participants to work together for shared challenges.

Perhaps the best description of India’s conviction about her role in the African continent can be found in a passage contained in an article published on The Hindu at the time of the Summit: «For most countries there, India doesn’t represent just a ‘white knight’ or trading partner; it represents a country with similar problems, tropical climate, and challenges of poverty and disease, but has overcome many of these challenges through low-cost innovations. As a result, India’s rural healthcare, water conservation techniques, scientific expertise, educational facilities and programmes for women mean much more than the amount of aid would»[21].

6. Conclusion. «African countries admire China, but they want to be like India»

This catch phrase by the Indian former international civil servant, politician and author, Shashi Tharoor, underlines a characteristic which India has always had from her debut as a democracy and as an actor in cooperation, that of sharing a similar past and context of poverty from which to free herself together with her development partners, by presenting herself not only as an ideal, but also as an objective and concrete model. A wealth of empathy exists towards India among her African development partners on which India is seeking to capitalise in her partnerships. From her independence in 1947, the agenda uniting India and developing countries, particularly in Africa, was the struggle against colonialism, a certain form of Western supremacy and all the claims which emerged in Bandung. All this has lost relevance since the end of the Cold War. At the same time, India implemented liberal economic reforms at home. These two factors have brought about a change in India’s relations with African countries by targeting economic cooperation while maintaining the traditional focus on capacity building, transfer of know-how, peace keeping, etc. In addition, for reasons of demographic growth and structural transformation of their economies, Africa and India will be the main areas involved in the experimentation of development models in the 21st century. This will open up new horizons for India as a development partner, above all compared to traditional donors who have a more rigorous vision of economic development and in line with the dictates of the OECD. From this standpoint, India is the most original actor among the new protagonists of international cooperation. At present, New Delhi is pursuing Beijing without catching up: the two countries are often competitors, especially in the sectors of hydrocarbon extraction rights and the acquisition of fertile land. Nonetheless, at the same time, India has become a fundamental pivot in geostrategic equilibria with the new dimensions her foreign policy is achieving, which aims at amalgamating political and trade diplomacy, and her aspiration to play a preeminent role.

Like all the other emerging donors, India’s action highlights the connection between development aid and the pursuit of national interests, such as economic cooperation, promotion of regional stability, religious and cultural bonds and trade opportunities. The «mutual advantage» – win win-cooperation – is one of the central principles of India’s initiative and characterises India’s cooperation and assistance with many African countries. Currently, India is able to have relations both with individual African states and in the context of regional economic communities (REC) and especially in pan-African projects, and not only by means of a one-to-one relationship, which appears to be the priority method (if not the only one), that countries like China use in the field of international cooperation. Moreover, this «practice», her technological competence and her good reputation have enabled India to become a model for other non-Western states, especially for the BRICS and even for China.

Various studies have underlined the importance that India attributes to local ownership and to the employment of local human resources in her cooperation and business-oriented projects. This is the opposite of China which, instead, intervenes in the field with predominantly Chinese workers, thus creating separate communities which are not integrated with the local population, and where strong identity through language, food and customs is maintained.

As a consequence of her undertakings in Africa, India has considerably increased her diplomatic influence and gained a role as an international actor. It is an investment perspective: Delhi is convinced that, in international forums like the United Nations or the World Trade Organization (WTO), this special relationship with the African continent will bear fruit in the medium term.

While China’s predominant presence in Africa is currently undeniable, India is rapidly shortening the distances and consolidating her «expansion» in Africa. The country has a comparative advantage also owing to the large community of the Indian Diaspora present in many African countries: her greater geographical proximity to the Continent, her quality education system, the development of civil society organisations and her democratic tradition could render India increasingly competitive.

With the idea of consolidating her partnership with Africa, India has developed what is possible to define as a «development compact» which essentially includes trade and investments, technology, capacity building, lines of credit, soft rate aid grants.

Lastly, it should be underlined that among the emerging donors, India is the one with the longest democratic pedigree as well as being a country which passed from a long, complex colonial era to a solid democracy. Today, India’s aspirations for leadership, security and natural resources are mirrored in the parable of change which her development cooperation has undergone from its idealist beginnings to the present day: from the liberal reforms to the crucial shift in 2003, to the emphasis on trade and investment with her development partners and finally to aspirations for global leadership.

These are the elements of great interest which make India a unique case in the scenario of the new world cooperation and which render evolution in the architecture of India’s development cooperation and consolidation of her historical relationship with the Sub Saharan Africa extremely interesting.

While India and the African continent share a past as victims of colonialism and post-colonial reconstruction, they also share the urgency for a multisector, heterogeneous partnership. The solidarity and complementarity between India and Africa fully reflect the new aspirations of both to achieve their old and new development objectives.



* I would like to thank Elisabetta Basile for her detailed comments that allowed me to improve the quality of a previous version of the paper.

[1] To better conceptualize the phenomenon of «emerging donors», in my PhD thesis at Sapienza – University of Rome, India in Africa. Old schemes and new balances of South-South Cooperation between India and the African continent, I propose the use of the neologism «don-actor», a term that describes the action of South donors, such as India, in the context of international cooperation more accurately.

[2] Jean-Joseph Boillot & Stanislas Dembinski, Chindiafrique. La Chine, l’Inde et l’Afrique feront le monde de demain, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2014, pp. 8-11.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Premier Zhou Enlai announced China’s Eight Principles of foreign aid at a 1964 people’s congress in Somalia in January 1964. Zhou was visiting Africa from December 1963 to February 1964. The Eight Principles are still in effect today and they are: mutual benefit; no condition attached; the no-interest or low-interest loans would not create a debt burden for the recipient country; to help the recipient nation develop its economy, not to create its dependence on China; to help the recipient country with projects that need less capital and quick returns; the aid in kind must be of high quality at the world market price; to ensure that the technology can be learned and mastered by the locals; the Chinese experts and technicians working for the aid recipient country are treated equally to the locals with no extra benefits for them.

[5] Planning Commission website, ‘Macro-economic Summary’,

( The growth rates are computed at factor cost.

[6] Michelguglielmo Torri, Storia dell’India, Roma-Bari: Laterza, 2010, pp. 737-740.

[7] Ibid., pp. 686, 701-703, 738-740.

[8] ‘Speech Delivered at 1st Asian Relations Conference by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s’, New Delhi, 24th March 1947 (

[9] Until 1977 it was called Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and South East Asia, started by a group of seven Commonwealth countries: Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand and Pakistan.

[10] International Development Institute, Evidence report n. 95, Indian Development Cooperation: The State of the Debate, September 2014, p. 6.

[11] Among them: China with Zhou Enlai, India with Nehru, Egypt with Nasser, Yugoslavia with Tito and the Ethiopian Empire.

[12] Michelguglielmo Torri, Storia dell’India, pp. 650-659.

[13] Ruchita Beri, ‘India’s Africa Policy in the Post-Cold War Era: An Assessment’, Strategic Analysis, Vol. 27, Issue 2, Apr-Jun 2003.

[14] Emma Mawdsley, From Recipients to Donors: Emerging Powers and the Changing Development Landscape, London: Zed Books, 2012: 72–3.

[15] Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Guyana, Nicaragua, Ghana and Uganda.

[16] P. Srinath, ‘Infographic: Foreign Aid Going Out of India’, Pragati. The Indian National Interest Review, December 2013 (

[17] Exim’s mission is also the promotion of India’s trade.

[18] Exim Bank of India, Annual Report, Delhi: Exim Bank, 2012.

[19] ‘PM’s Opening Statement at the India-Africa Forum Summit’, New Delhi, April 8, 2008 (

[20] India announced mostly infrastructure projects and study grants.

[21] ‘Beyond the event’, The Hindu, 9 November 2015.

Giorgio Borsa

The Founder of Asia Maior

Università di Pavia

The "Cesare Bonacossa" Centre for the Study of Extra-European Peoples


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