The just-concluded India Africa Forum Summit 2015 in Delhi was a welcome reminder of the importance of a strong relationship between the 2.3 billion people in both locations. India and Africa have within themselves hundreds of millions of desperately poor citizens. Both sides have populations that are overwhelmingly young, in contrast to the ageing societies of Japan, China, the EU and Russia. It is a matter of pride that from the start, India has stood alongside Africa in fighting colonial oppression and racist exploitation. During a period when Nelson Mandela was in prison, placed there by racists then backed by several of the countries that specialise in sermons on human rights, this underdeveloped country opened its heart and its coffers to bring closer the day when not just this great visionary but an entire people would get liberated from tyranny, Who can forget that it was in Africa that human civilisation, indeed the human race, had its origins? Who can forget that it was in Africa that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi originated and refined his concept of passive resistance, that proved so popular in India when the Mahatma returned to his native land? And that it will be Africa together with India that will play the stellar role in an emerging 21st century India-Africa century? Overall, it is to the credit of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi that he has fully appreciated the importance of Africa to India and ensured a successful summit comprising no less than 54 countries from Africa.
If ties between India and Africa are to develop to their full potential, they will need to be liberated from the often stifling coils of government. Only a comprehensive relationship between the two sides will work in the manner desired, not an alliance dependent on governments for its survival. India needs to welcome many more students from countries across Africa to study in its universities, institutes and colleges, and such a flow could get boosted if students from the continent are given additional scholarships, not just from Government of India, but also from corporates doing business in Africa. Our corporates and ultra-wealthy individuals fall over each other to give lavish donations to already wealthy universities in the US and in the UK, neglecting their own country as well as those parts of the world where the additional money would make a life-changing difference, rather than simply be an additional drop in a very deep bucket, the way it is in the well-endowed universities that are choking with money donated from citizens of India, who need to make similar bequests to students from Africa wishing to study in India. Universities in India need to be encouraged to set up campuses in Africa, as another means of harnessing the synergy between the two sides. Investment from India into Africa needs to be increased, and for this, Government of India needs to discuss and decide with their African counterparts so as to ensure a level playing field, especially in relation to companies from the former colonial masters of both Africa and India. Health is another field where collaboration would be of value, as also the development of language and knowledge centres, especially those relating to information technology. Team Modi has made a good start this week in Delhi in forging a durable India-Africa partnership, but much more needs to get done if the full potential of this innovative and exciting alliance is to get realised.