India’s ties with Africa have always been defined by political and emotional anti-colonial solidarity, diasporic goodwill, and a feeling of a true "South-South" cooperation

Partnership between India and Africa has been exemplified by equitable, consultative, and cooperative engagements. The three tiers of structured engagement and cooperation are: the pan-African, continental level with the African Union (which was established in 2002 as an effort to unify Africa and to replace the Organisation of African Unity (OAU); the regional and sub-regional level with the various African Regional Economic Communities; and bilaterally with individual African countries. These alliances have developed over time and survived various geo-strategic challenges.

India has been actively engaged with the continent for more than 70 years, but in the past twenty years, a lot has changed. The establishment of the India-Africa Forum Summit has, in particular, helped in institutionalising and formalising India's interactions with African countries. Under this platform, three summits(in 2008, 2011, and 2015) have been held so far, giving India and Africa a forum for productive dialogue.

The initial summit took place in April 2008 in New Delhi. The African Union chose the representatives from the 14 African governments who took part (AU). The two sides decided on nine areas of cooperation under the Africa-India Framework for Cooperation which was reached at the summit. In order to increase commerce, India extended fresh credit lines worth US$5.4 billion and gave African Least Developed Countries (LDCs) tariff concessions.

The second India-Africa summit was held in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in May 2011. The summit resulted in the adoption of the Africa-India Framework for Enhanced Cooperation, which broadened bilateral cooperation. India committed US$700 million in funding as well as a fresh loan commitment of US$ 5 billion to support the establishment of new institutions and educational initiatives in Africa.

Besides, New Delhi added 500 new training slots to the ITEC programme, as well as 400 new scholarships for African students. Due to the Ebola outbreak, the third summit between India and Africa was postponed in 2014, and convened in New Delhi in October 2015.

The third India-Africa summit was a huge diplomatic success for India with attendance from senior delegates from more than 40 African nations. The fourth India-Africa summit was originally scheduled for 2020, but got delayed due to Covid-19 pandemic. It was expected to take place in Mauritania at the end of 2022. However, it is yet to be rescheduled.

Over the last two decades, the focus of India’s development assistance in Africa has been towards strengthening state institutions in Africa and promoting people-centric economic development. Towards this end, New Delhi has extended its assistance in the form of concessional lines of credit, grants, infrastructure and capacity-building initiatives and trade.

Capacity building and development cooperation:

In the last eight years, India has extended concessional loans of over $12.3 billion to Africa and completed 197 projects, all this while another 65 projects are currently under execution and 81 are at the pre-execution stage.

These projects are in the field of infrastructure, connectivity, skill development, health sector, education, information technology, supporting small and medium-sized businesses and rural development. Under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC), New Delhi conducts study visits, develops project studies, sends Indian experts—including military advisors—abroad, and offers monetary aid for disaster relief.

These training programmes are mostly hosted in Indian institutions and are primarily aimed at senior civil workers, scientists, politicians, and military personnel from the Global South. India sees its commitment to Africa as a way to strengthen South-South cooperation by exchanging its own experiences.

Besides ITEC, similar policies were adopted under the 1951 Colombo Plan's Technical Cooperation Scheme and the Special Commonwealth Assistance for Africa Programme. Additionally, the 24 programmes offered by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) offering 3,365 scholarships each year, reserve 900 slots for African scholars.

On the whole, Indian policy of credit and assistance has been consultative, transparent, and unconditional.

Infrastructure Development:

India has been a constructive contributor to Africa's infrastructure development across multiple domains. In Nairobi, Kenya, India founded the first technical college in 1956. In 2009, Indian businesses built a pipeline connecting Khartoum and Port Sudan. Indian businesses, including Airtel, are making alluring offers to numerous African nations for electronic payment systems in rural areas.

The Tata Group, among other things, runs car factories in Zambia and Uganda, assisting those nations' efforts to diversify their exports. Pharmaceutical firms from India, including Ranbaxy, have increased their production quotas in Africa. WTO exemptions have enabled Indian firms to create and supply inexpensive drugs to combat HIV/AIDS in the African continent. For instance, in Nigeria, the percentage of AIDS patients receiving treatment has considerably increased as a result of these inexpensive Indian medications.

Another focus of cooperation with African countries is on low-cost housing programmes, which are being operated jointly with Zambia, Kenya, Togo and Mau­ritania, among others. New Delhi has also committed a loan of US$300 million towards construction of the new railway line connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti.


India’s bilateral trade with Africa reached $89.5 billion in 2021-22 compared with $56 billion the previous year. Through the Duty-Free Tariff Preference (DFTP) scheme, duty free access has been provided to 33 LDC African nations. India’s main exports to Africa are refined petroleum products and pharmaceuticals while Africa exports crude oil, gold, coal and other minerals.

At the World Economic Forum in 2014, the two sides reaffirmed their intention to reach a trade volume of US$500 billion by 2020. As per statistical reports of 2019-20, about 8% of India's imports come from Africa in 2019–20, and 9% of Africa's imports come from outside the continent to India. The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) was launched in 2021 with the goal of expanding and stepping up India's corporate presence and footprint across Africa.

Foreign Direct Investments:

India has emerged as one of the top five investors in Africa in recent years, with cumulative investments on the continent amounting to around $74 billion. Mauritius, Mozambique, Sudan, Egypt and South Africa have been the top recipients of Indian investments.

Indian companies are also engaged in the business of mineral resources in Ghana and Nigeria. A number of Indian multinationals already have significant interests in the region, with strategic sectors including agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, information and communications technology (ICT), and energy.

The 2063 African Union Agenda sets out the continent's development aspirations for the next 50 years. India's growth agenda is increasingly getting aligned with Africa, but it's crucial to note that New Delhi is only one of several development partners seeking to engage Africa meaningfully.

India and China are frequently mentioned as competitors in Africa, which has emerged as a new theatre of conflict for the two emerging economies. China has become the continent of Africa's top trading and investment partner. China and India have taken different approaches, notwithstanding their efforts to develop their bilateral and regional strategies independently of one another.

India is investing in capacity building, enabling the African countries to become self-reliant and independent in the long-run. Contrary to China, the Indian model provides African nations a special mix of infrastructure development, technology transfers, and skill building—all this in line with African requirements and goals.

***Author is a PhD scholar from JNU’s School of International Studies; views expressed are her own