This piece on India-Africa relations and Track-Two Diplomacy has reference to the 18th CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) – Exim Bank Conclave on India-Africa, New Delhi (14-16 June, 2023). The theme of this conference is quite appealing in the current situation, “Growth Partnership, Creating a Shared Future”. It has 11 sessions, plenaries, specific country sessions, networking events and cultural programmes.
Before discussing the sessions and their imperatives, let’s talk about track-two diplomacy in building international relations. This phrase and strategy came into existence when a US State Department official referred to the need of the non-state actors’ efforts at conflict resolution. J. Monteville elaborated this concept in 1991 in a book called ‘Track-Two Diplomacy: The Arrow and Olive Branch’. The concept is defined as, “Unofficial, informal interaction between members of groups or nations that aim to develop strategies, to influence public opinion, to organise human and material resources in ways that might resolve their conflict. Track-Two diplomacy complements the Track-One negotiations”. Clearly, the strategy is not to substitute the official diplomacy conducted inter-governmentally, but to support it.
Although the Track-Two diplomacy was talked about initially in the context of conflict resolution, it has been widely used since for conducting bilateral and multi-lateral relations and transactions. I am reminded of such an initiative in 1980s taken by a former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Morarji Desai’s government. Having realised the limitations of traditional diplomacy, the Minister, after demitting office when his government fell, had set up an organisation called ‘India-Africa Centre’. Among other things, the Centre organised a massive signature campaign in India of five thousand prominent citizens for a Memorandum submitted to the UN demanding the release of Nelson Mandela from the jail in Robben Island.
Interestingly, in response to the Memorandum, members of the UN Anti-Apartheid Committee flew to India to talk to some of the signatories. As a student of international politics and the Secretary of India-Africa Centre, I was involved in the campaign. I remember working closely with then ANC (African National Congress), S. Molifi, who shared the traumatic experience of black South Africans in the hands of the apartheid regime. He said, in one of the meetings, how the “black South Africans were hunted, hounded and harassed.”
However, that is history. A similar organisation is doing commendable work in enhancing India-Africa relations using Track-Two Diplomacy. Reflecting the shift of emphasises from politics to trade and economics, the organisation headquartered at Bangalore, has perhaps named itself as Indian Economic Trade Organisation (IETO). The main mission of IETO is to promote Indian trade and business in several parts of the world. It uses a multi-pronged creative approach to open doors, widen contacts and deepen engagements. It also encourages and facilitates entrepreneurs from abroad to engage with the Indian state and market.
IETO has built another agency aimed particularly at Africa, called ‘India-Africa Trade Council’ (IATC). “It engages business in India and African countries by offering un-paralleled access to Industry specific trade data, business introduction, networking opportunities, education, collaboration, investment opportunities, documentation, trade license etc. IATC was conferring India-Africa awards 2023 on the fringe of the said Conclave.
The annual award was instituted in 2017 with its first ceremony in Bangalore in order to encourage and specially honour African excellence. IATC says that India-African achiever award is given to entrepreneurs, community builders and promoters of bilateral relations. The individuals and institutions receiving the awards come from both developmental as well as government sectors dealing with India-Africa relations.
IATC initiative in awarding people goes well with the advice offered by the leadership gurus like John C. Maxwell on the importance of recognition and the art of appreciation. Recognition of someone’s work goes a long way in inspiring the awardees themselves in doing more and others to do similar work. IATC says in their promotion literature, “One person’s achievement can inspire a community, can bring hope to the entire country, and can lead a continent towards excellence.” It is envisaged that African delegates attending the summit will go back with some memorable take-aways in the form of awards presented by IATC.
The categories of award include a wide range of activities and sectors such as business performance, social cause, CSR practice, leadership, IT education, sustainable development, tourism, climate change, women empowerment, community benefit, conservation, healthcare, automobile, banking and finance, construction, manufacturing, hotel industries, travel portal, hospitality, model IT companies and so on.
The categories mentioned above mirror the sessions set out for the conclave. The sessions include India-Africa synergies for shared growth, space sector partnership, exploring new models of financing growth, transforming infrastructure for Africa’s development, creating value chains in agriculture and food processing, defence industry cooperation, manufacturing, digital transformation, partnership for education and skilled development, harnessing critical minerals, tri-lateral partnership, water security, green and clean energy, health etc. Out of these, the tri-lateral partnership is quite promising. India has already started building such partnerships with UAE, in Ethiopia for IT excellence and with Germany, in Cameroon, Ghana and Malawi for boosting local economy on job creation. India along with France is looking at North Africa and West Africa. India-Africa-UK trilateral cooperation focuses on issues of energy, climate change, health and nutrition and education.
To my mind, India and Africa as two continents with broad similarities representing one third of world’s population must come closer. India, the most populous country, which I call a continent because of its depth and diversity, has a population of 1,419,866,913 at the time of writing representing 17.7 per cent of world population and Africa has 1,143,115,522 i.e. 16.72 per cent of world population. Looking at another figure, the continent of Africa has 60 per cent of world’s arable land, but produces just 10 per cent of the global output. Africa has a huge future but now needs world attention because of its critical developmental and political needs.
India has a long history of political, economic and cultural connections with the African continent. Since its independence, India has put priority in its foreign policy on Africa as the latter was also fighting for its liberation from colonial powers. The present regime in New Delhi has admittedly shown extraordinary tenacity of purpose in enhancing India’s long standing ties with the African continent.
The efforts of non-state actors like the one mentioned above and possibly others are noteworthy and need to be supported so that they augment governmental initiatives in fostering India-Africa developmental cooperation. Quite a few international economists have predicted a promising future for the economies of India and Africa as Chinese economy peaks. Let the aforesaid India-Africa conclave and such bilateral events backed by Track-Two diplomacy grab any opportunity in building the shared future. —INFA