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India in Africa: Implications of an Emerging Power for AFRICOM and U.S. Strategy

India in Africa: Implications of an Emerging Power for AFRICOM and U.S. Strategy - Cover

Authored by Dr. J. Peter Pham.

March 2011

64 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This monograph examines India’s rapidly expanding network of influence in Africa. The author analyzes the country’s burgeoning public and private investments in the region as well as its policies vis-à-vis African regional organizations and individual states, especially in the security sector. After reviewing the historic role that India has played in Africa, the author looks at the principal motivations for India’s approach to Africa—including the former’s quests for the resources, business opportunities, diplomatic influence, and security—and Africans’ responses to it. In the context of the broader U.S.-India strategic partnership, as well as American political and security interests in Africa, India’s willingness to make significant contributions to African peacekeeping and to extend its maritime security cover to the continent’s eastern littoral ought to be welcomed, not least because of the potential positive impact on regional stability and development. Consequently, the author believes the opportunity thus presented in Africa for greater engagement between the United States and India ought to be seized upon.


The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)—whose mission, “in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners,” is to conduct “sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment”—is not alone in recognizing the strategic importance of Africa. This continent, in fact, has increasingly attracted significant attention from the major powers. While the extensive network of economic, political, and military ties that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has constructed across Africa in recent years, is relatively well known, India’s own rapidly expanding network of connections to the continent have gone largely unexamined.

In fact, Indo-African ties are of long standing, arising from a unique historical experience that stretches from pre-colonial trade patterns through modern India’s generous financial and diplomatic support for African liberation movements in the late 20th century. Motivating the country’s current activities in Africa is its quests for resources, business opportunities, diplomatic influence, and security. Of particular note is the significant investment that India has made in African security, reflected in both support for and participation in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations, and providing a selective security umbrella today and training for some of the African military leaders of tomorrow.

What is the impact of all this on Africa? First, there is no doubt that Africa stands to benefit from the addition of India to the list of countries seeking access to the continent’s natural resources and markets, as well as political and strategic partnerships with African states. Second, in general it could be said that India’s approach, with its emphasis not just on trade, but also training and infrastructure development, benefits Africans. Third, India’s long-standing commitment to secularism, pluralism, and democracy, and the lessons it learned while freeing itself from the constraints imposed by its longtime oppressively low rate of economic growth, are precisely what many African states ought to emulate. Fourth, overall, the burgeoning Indian-African relationship presents good prospects for security and stability in Africa; in fact, India’s history enables its government to speak authoritatively on issues like terrorism in many places where, quite simply, the credibility of the United States and some of its allies may be somewhat limited.

India is not likely to present a direct challenge to the core interests of the United States in what U.S. policymakers and analysts now recognize to be the geostrategically vital region of Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, many of India’s national interests—like maintaining peace and security along the Indian Ocean littoral, including the eastern coast of Africa—align quite well with America’s broader military and strategic interests in the same area. Thus, the United States ought to view the prospering Indian-African relationship positively.

From an American perspective, what steps might American leaders take to enhance the U.S.-Indian relationship overall and foster cooperation in Africa that advances both countries’ interests in promoting good governance, supporting economic growth and development, increasing access to health and educational resources, and helping to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflicts on the continent?

• First, reaffirm explicitly the U.S. commitment to facilitate India’s rise to major power status.
• Second, recognize that, especially in Africa, U.S. interests would be well served by India’s involvement in bilateral and multilateral security initiatives with its African partners.
• Third, ensure that AFRICOM and other U.S. institutions develop the appropriate mechanisms with which to engage and, where appropriate, to partner with Indian forces serving with UN peacekeeping missions and other Indian security initiatives in Africa.

In short, the willingness of New Delhi to commit to peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and nationbuilding efforts that Washington has largely lacked either the political will or the resources to engage in on the continent, not only complements U.S. efforts to promote greater stability and security in Africa but, by providing an opportunity for substantive bilateral cooperation, can also contribute directly to strengthening the emergent Indo-American strategic partnership.

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