What are the expectations?

3rd India-Africa Forum Summit – New Delhi- 26th to 30th October 2015

The India-Africa Forum Summit to be held in the coming week in New Delhi promises to be a big event. Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi has put all his weight behind the organisation of this great venture in rotation.

The third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS), a celebration of the close partnership that exists between Africa and India is a five-day summit, starting with consultations at the highest political level followed by Heads of States and Governments level summit on 29 October 2015. Scheduled bilateral meetings will be held on 30 October.

Gondwanaland connection

The relationship between India and Africa are geological as well as historical, economic, maritime and commercial. There was once the Gondwanaland when Africa and three quarters of India up till the Deccan Plateau were one. Then came the Continental Drift and, with that, the Indian Ocean was born. The flora and fauna of the two separate lands and the geology have much in common and much to tell about the mythical Lemuria.

In fact, the logo of the IAFS is a Lion with one half of an African lion and the other half of an Indian lion. The background shows the merging of the maps of Africa and India referencing to the ancient Gondwanaland landmass, millions of years ago.

Indo-Africa links date back to ancient times. Man’s search for gold led Africa to enter into the age of history. Says Cyril A Hromnick PhD from Syracuse University, USA, noted historian and research scholar on Africa history: “Sub Saharan Africa was explored and settled, especially in those areas rich in gold and other minerals by Indians in the centuries if not millennia, before Christ.”

Reference is made to Africa’s gold trade in Pali literature dating back to 6th Century BC. The obvious unity between Africa and India was made possible by the monsoon trade winds. The geographical proximity between the Horn of Africa and the Indian Subcontinent played a major role in the development of the India-African relationships since ancient times.

Africa is the world’s second largest and second-most populous continent. With its adjacent islands, it covers six percent of the Earth’s total surface area and 20. 4% of its total land area. Madagascar and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean are geographically and politically part of Africa.

The interesting fact is that just like India, Africa boasts of a young and dynamic population. Africa’s population too is the youngest among all the continents of the world. According to statistics, 50% of Africans are 19 years old or younger. Like India, Africa hosts a large diversity of ethnicities, cultures and languages.

Indian Diaspora in Africa

European colonization of most of Africa in the 19th century created a new process of human movements. This led to the modern settlement of Indians in the various parts of the continent, which includes sizeable Indian populations in South Africa, East Africa, Botswana and Mauritius. That came in the wake of the development of plantations to supply raw materials to the new industries of the UK and Europe. As European settlement of Africa gave way, there took place the abolition of slavery by Britain on 1st February 1835 and the introduction of slavery in a disguised form in the shape of Indentured Indian labour thereafter.

There is a substantial variation in the distribution of the Indian diaspora in the individual countries of Africa. If in Mauritius, the Indian diaspora constitutes 70% of the population, in the Republic of Sao Thome and Principe it is merely 3%. The current strength of the Indian diaspora can be classified into 4 categories: a) dominant position, b) substantial position, c) marginal position, and d) minimal position.

It is only in Mauritius that the people of Indian origin can be classified in the first category. In South Africa and Reunion Island, they have a substantial position. Indians in South Africa number 1.3 million and make up to 2.7% of the total population. The South African diaspora has proved to be quite energetic; despite the traumas of apartheid, it did not really leave the country. With diplomatic relations established between India and South Africa after apartheid in 1993, economic relations have grown manifold and invigorated.

Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe come under the criteria of a marginal position. The Indian population in these countries may vary between 10,000 to 100,000. At one time the Indian population in several of these countries was quite stable and active. But fluctuations have taken place with migrations and creation of secondary diasporas in the wake of political changes and the Africanisation policy of certain governments. An example of the latter case is the Uganda policy under Idi Amin Dada which dealt a great blow to them and the worse part of it all was when the Indian population holding British passports were denied access into India. This double-denial created a bitter feeling in the hearts of these Indians. With the change in regime and a more welcoming and clement government in Uganda thereafter, some Indians have come back.

Those occupying a minimal position are found in some 33 countries of Africa. They are spread in different geographical locations of their host countries. Many of them have temporary residence permits working on projects and holding Indian passports. But they are dynamic and robust.

It can be said that despite age-old links between India and Africa, modern settlement of Indians in Africa is linked to the colonial exploitation of the continent. Indian descendants live in 46 out of the 54 states in Africa. They cover the various linguistic, cultural or geographical regions of Africa. They went with limited resources and despite the physical and inclement climatic and alien cultural conditions, through their hard work, courage and determination, they have carved out a prosperous niche for themselves and have contributed significantly to the development and prosperity of their host countries.

What expectations for Mauritius

Rapid strides have to be undertaken in terms of more aggressive cultural industries in line with the globalization and transnationalism changes. However, skilling and equipping the growing restless younger generations of professionals in marine technology, and other cyber and scientific fields is an imperative not to be overridden. New times make new demands, new actions, efforts and vision.

Delhi may wish to make careful political handling of the long-standing economic ties between India and Mauritius. The offshore sector has been successful for several decades and led to the financial empowerment of thousands of Mauritian and young Indian origin entrepreneurs and professionals. But the matter should not be handled by private companies or bureaucrats who may not sufficiently master the finesse and delicacy needed to handle these special relationships that exist between India and Mauritius.

Patiently cultivated through long years these may be fragilized or snapped in less than no time, if not tackled with due care. Brutal bureaucracy chasing rupees, not mitigated by the highest diplomacy, may lead to disastrous consequences in this domain. The recent strained relationships regarding revision of clause 13 of the DTAA is a matter of deep concern to Mauritius and is painfully destabilizing a long-standing relationship between the two countries. These are shifting times on shifting sands. Though considerable synergies exist between the two countries based on connectivities of heart, blood and the affinities of shared heritage and culture, economic and political relationships need not be relegated to secondary positions.

Mr Narendra Modi did state during his March visit to Mauritius “that nothing will be done to harm this critical sector” of Mauritius. Let’s hope.

A new script needed

India has been concentrating on culture and education for many decades giving scholarships and so on. While these aids need not be disrupted, the time has come to make a great paradigm shift. The question is one of “rozi roti ka sawal”- Relations between India and Mauritius should be strengthened but should focus along newer strategies including geo-oceanic strategies, as well as technological skill development with installation of IIT Institutes, creation of smart cities for smart young generations. Their attitudes and aspirations and vision are certainly poles apart from what their forefathers looked for when they stepped on the 16 steps of Aapravasi Ghat on 2nd November, 181 years ago in Mauritius. A new script is needed. Sharks are lurking in the Indian Ocean waters. Big fish eat small fish.

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