Attacks on students hurt India’s Africa play

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on March 09, 2018

student attack

Risks $70-b trade, study-hub image

The diplomatic incident stirred by the killing of Congolese student Masonda Ketada Olivier in Delhi last fortnight and the other attacks on Africans risks tarnishing India’s image as a knowledge hub, jeopardises the country’s $70 billion trade relationship with Africa, and sets back an assiduously cultivated geostrategic relationship.

Successive Indian governments have invested heavily in Africa’s human resources development: India receives nearly 25,000 students from the continent. As many as 22,000 scholarships have been awarded to African participants under the Pan-African e-Network project, CV Raman scientific fellowships, the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme,among others.

However, the recent rash of attacks has triggered diplomatic outrage among African diplomats in India, and forced the NDA government on the defensive.

It doesn’t help that the government took serious note of the attacks only after Heads of Missions of African states threatened to boycott the Africa Day event unless India resolved “Afro-phobia or racism”. Given the climate of “fear and insecurity”, they said they would stop sending African students to India.

Only then did the Ministry of External Affairs put out a delayed statement on Olivier’s lynching; but the statement claimed that the criminal act was not racially motivated.

The sense that the government was in denial about latent racism came in for criticism. “We cannot deny that there is a lot of racism in this country. The government has to do something about it. Otherwise, we will lose students to Singapore, Malaysia, the UK and Australia,” said Neelam Deo of Gateway House, a foreign policy thinktank.

On Monday, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met a group of African students in an effort to assuage their concerns, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stated that she was personally monitoring the outreach to African students; on Tuesday, the Association of African Students in India held a protest rally.

“African students account for a larger percentage of foreign students in India, and they bring a lot of diversity into the classroom. There is a need to sensitise them and get them ‘acclimatised’ with Indian culture. If such incidents recur, India’s desire to become a hub for education exports will suffer. Besides, the outreach programmes of Indian missions in African countries have to be strengthened,” said C Gopinath, Dean, OP Jindal Global University.

Assistance to Africa

In addition to the student intake from Africa, India has a growing economic relationship with the continent. It has extended credit lines worth $7 billion to Africa and has invested $1.2 billion in over 100 institutes there.

India has built vocational centres in Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda.

Bilateral trade grew 14 times in the past 10 years, exceeding $70 billion. Indian entities have invested nearly $32 billion in projects in Africa.

India has also been cultivating African countries in order to counterbalance China’s influence, and to secure support for its bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

These attacks put the larger relationship at grave risk.

Published on May 30, 2016

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