Africa outraged

| Updated on January 20, 2018

Recent attacks in the capital can have a serious economic fall-out

The Centre must wake up to the fact that the recent attacks on African students in India have cast a cloud over our ties with the continent — spanning a range of economic, trade, and educational and cultural engagements. There’s no point being in denial mode, dubbing a rash of ugly attacks in recent times as “isolated” incidents or “minor scuffles”, when a group of African ambassadors has said that their people here live in a climate of “fear and insecurity”. Delhi’s reputation of being among the most unsafe, women-unfriendly, and — yes — racist Indian cities has only been reinforced by a Congolese national being bludgeoned to death last week. Days later a Nigerian national was reportedly attacked by a group armed with a cricket bat. A former law minister in the Delhi government led a vigilante mob against African women in 2014. Unsavoury incidents have also been reported elsewhere. Even if a case can be made of African nationals transgressing the law, there can be no justification for allowing the mob to take over. African envoys have said that if this hostility persists, African students, over 25,000 of whom arrive in India every year, may consider other destinations. To dismiss this prospect as insignificant in monetary terms — 22,000 come on scholarships — would be a big mistake. It could lead to a souring of relations just months after a record 54 countries attended the third India-Africa Forum Summit last October, with a domino effect on investments, trade and India’s bargaining power in multilateral forums such as the WTO and climate summits.

India’s efforts to enhance trade, education and investment ties could come a cropper if there is a question mark over the socio-political environment in the country or, for that matter, its business practices in Africa. India-Africa trade is at over $70 billion annually, with the latter supplying oil, copper and coal — items indispensable for a growing economy. India’s exports to Africa include medicines (a source of goodwill, thanks to supply of anti-HIV drugs at reduced prices), automobiles and telecom equipment. It could learn from strains in China’s diplomatic ties with countries where it is actively engaged in mining and infrastructure development. Having worked up a trade of over $200 billion and an investment far in excess of India’s $32 billion, China faces resistance from certain governments and people, owing to a perception that it treats Africa as its colony and has little to offer to the local population. Indian companies should keep this in mind, especially if they are investing in areas related to India’s food, raw materials or energy security interests.

Confidence-building does not stop at creating the right economic institutions; it entails addressing negative perceptions at home and abroad. Our law and order machinery must rise to the challenge and address security concerns in university campuses. Entrenched prejudices with respect to gender, race, religion and ethnicity must be acknowledged and addressed — a process that governments and businesses must pursue with a sense of urgency and enlightened self-interest.

Published on May 31, 2016

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