Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia’s book, India-Africa Relations: Changing Horizons explores the relationship of two of the world’s significant powers. namely. Africa and India. Peter Cozens writes from New Zealand providing an alternate view by going through each chapter and its contents, and highlighting the various strengths that it holds which in turn makes it an important read for anyone interested in India-Africa relations in present times.
Far from the usual preoccupations of New Zealand’s diplomacy is a compendium about the relationship of two of the world’s significant powers, namely the continent of Africa and the sub-continent of India, the populations of which make up nearly a third of the global total. This extraordinary book written by Indian ambassador and scholar Rajiv Bhatia examines the pre-eminent facets of an association between the two largest blocs in the Commonwealth. As a previous high commissioner to Kenya and then to South Africa and Lesotho and later as director-general of the Indian Council of World Affairs, the author is well qualified for this authoritative study.
Although there is some historical background, the work focuses principally on the challenges the relationship India and Africa faced during the past two decades and the mechanisms to realise lofty ambitions of peace, security, higher standards of living and the observance of human rights for all members of these quite disparate societies.
There are several observations about the Organisation of African Unity, which was founded in May 1963 to advance the cause of post-colonial Africa. This organisation found it hard going and barely achieved a pass mark for its programmes. Its successor though, the African Union, formed in 2002 with a much broader mandate and also headquartered in Addis Ababa, included provision for India to be at the table, thus enabling and cementing a more durable and practical partnership. This is the foundation that the author seeks to explain with an acute eye for the detail of how Pan Africa is organised and administered.
In separate chapters there are descriptions of the many high-level and personal relationships between Indian and African leaders from independence to the present time. A specific chapter is devoted to how China is becoming a major influence in the affairs of Africa; it also provides insights by a canny observer about China’s global strategic ambitions. Another chapter, which analyses fifteen leading African countries and their relationships with India, identifies mutually rewarding partnerships, such as a programme of up to 50,000 academic scholarships for young Africans to study in India.
Continental and regional perspectives of the multi-layered relationships between India and Africa are well explained in chapters six and seven. The programme of the African Union is certainly impressive. Although the author does not say so, it will require a huge administrative and financial effort to satisfactorily complete so many ambitious projects. He rightfully highlights ‘the (in)famous metaphor of an African “spaghetti bowl” of regional institutions, often with limited organizational capabilities and weak supranational authority’. At the beginning of the book is a list of four pages of abbreviations and acronyms, which tends to underscore the veracity of this phenomenon.
Chapter seven includes concerns about global competition, ‘as the shift of power from west to east accelerates’, particularly in respect of the maritime playing field of the Indian Ocean. Notwithstanding the unfolding contests around the ‘island of Africa’, the leadership of the African Union crafted the Africa Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050, which envisions a Combined Exclusive Maritime Zone of Africa and the administrative tools to govern it wisely. There is thus a tension between the stated peaceful development by local and regional nations and the coercive designs of powers from far beyond those horizons.
Ambassador Bhatia identifies the folk of the Indian diaspora in Africa — non-resident Indians — who will one day return to their homes in India and people of Indian origin who are fully integrated into their communities in Africa. The author gently suggests that these people could do more to close any gaps between, in effect, the African Union and New Delhi. He exalts the undoubted benefits of education to advance Africa’s rightful development and tactfully suggests to the government of India that much more needs to be done, and soon, to achieve good outcomes.
From time to time diplomats really do have to demonstrate their professional skills in a private capacity but with a universal audience. In the final chapter the author does not disappoint in this regard. He perceptively analyses the variances in approach to Africa between India and China, observing that ‘it is evident that China looks for dominance, control and strategic gains. India, on the other hand, aims at little more than partnership that is based on equality, mutual respect and benefit’. Furthermore, ‘if there is competition, it is between the Chinese model anchored on authoritarianism and state-led capitalism and the Indian model of democracy with development, which moves at a slower pace but is more consultative, equitable and inclusive’.
There are only one or two downsides to this book. It is written in the passive voice, which demands more energy and concentration to grasp the essence of the subject. It is unfortunate that so many acronyms and abbreviations are necessary in this information exchange. The index is an excellent reference tool and the bibliography provides not only an insight into the considerable depth of the author’s research but also an invaluable resource for further study.
The upbeat aspects of this book are that it is superbly compiled, arranged and written by a master of his craft, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject. The explanations offered of historical events and personalities are dignified and without rancour, which may explain why he does not detail the abysmal and egregious behaviour of some tyrannical African leaders. These matters are as they are — it is the future that matters. For those who want to understand in greater depth this big power relationship and the emergence of India and Africa to more prominence in world affairs, a thorough read and then further reference to the contents of this book will provide rich dividends of perception and awareness. The author merits many plaudits for this contribution to promoting understanding of the relationship between India and Africa and what it may hold for the future.
Bhatia, Rajiv. India-Africa Relations: Changing Horizons, Routledge (London), 2021, 244pp.
Peter Cozens is a former naval officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy and director of Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Studies.
This book review was first published in the New Zealand International Review (May/June Issue) of the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs (NZIIA)