India, China and fortifying the Africa outreach
The COVID-19 effect is particularly devastating in Africa, where economic and public health conditions are extremely vulnerable.
Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Africa
- Ill-equipped to cope with a public health emergency of such magnitude due to shortages of masks, ventilators, and even basic necessities such as soap and water.
- Recession: COVID-19 outbreak has sparked off the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region’s first recession in 25 years.
- Deepens Health Crisis: With high rates of HIV, malaria, diabetes, hypertension and malnourishment prevalent in Africa, COVID-19 pandemic will further deepen the health crisis in the region.
- Impacts economic model: The steep decline in commodity prices has spelt disaster for the commodity dependent economies of Nigeria, Zambia and Angola.
- Possibility of Increased Public debt: According to the World Bank, the SSA region paid $35.8 billion in total debt service in 2018, 2.1% of regional GDP. This figure is set to increase due to falling revenues & precarious fiscal position of African nations
- Africa’s cycle of chronic external aid dependence continues: Together, African countries have sought a $100 billion rescue package, including a $44 billion waiver of interest payment by the world’s 20 largest economies.
Beijing’s donation diplomacy
- China, being Africa’s largest trading partner (annual trade ~ $208 billion), was quick to signal its intent to help Africa cope with the pandemic.
- China dispatched medical protective equipment, testing kits, ventilators, and medical masks to several African countries.
Reasons behind Donation
- To raise Beijing’s profile as a leading provider of humanitarian assistance and “public goods” in the global public health sector.
- To shift the focus away from talking about the origins of the virus in Wuhan
- To build goodwill overseas, and establish an image makeover.
- To further secure Africa’s support in multilateral fora. In the past Beijing had used African support for securing a win for Chinese candidates as the head of FAO & WHO
Criticism of Beijing’s donation Diplomacy
- Sub-optimal quality of China’s medical supplies
- Ill-treatment of African nationals in Guangzhou city, which grew into full-blown political crisis for Beijing
- On Africa’s part, the problem lies in the deep credibility gap between Africa’s governing class, the people, the media and civil society
- As a result, criticisms levelled against China has hardly surfaced at the elite level
New Delhi and Africa during the Pandemic
- Increased Focus: Africa has been the focus of India’s development assistance and also diplomatic outreach, as evident in plans to open 18 new embassies.
- Similar Conditions: There is a keen interest to understand the developments and best practices in India because the two-share similar socioeconomic and developmental challenges.
- Health Support: India is sending consignments of essential medicines, including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol, to 25 African countries in addition to doctors and paramedics at a total cost of around ₹600 million ($7.9 million)
- Capacity Building: e-ITEC COVID-19 management strategies training webinars during pandemic were exclusively aimed at training health-care professionals from Africa and SAARC, where best practices were shared by Indian health experts
- Ayurveda: A few African countries such as Mauritius are pushing for health-care partnerships in traditional medicines and Ayurveda for boosting immunity.
- Proactive Diaspora: Country-specific chapters of gurdwaras and temples by Indians in Africa, have fed thousands of families by setting up community kitchens, helplines for seniors and distributing disinfectants and sanitisers.
The Contrasts – India and China
- The Chinese approach to Africa is threefold:
- Money, political influence and elite level wealth creation;
- Strong state-to-state relations as opposed to people-to-people ties; and
- Hard-infrastructure projects and resource extraction.
- India’s approach on the other hand is one that focuses on
- Building local capacities
- An equal partnership with Africans and not merely with African elites.
- Soft power with collaborative partnership is resource utilization
As India & China rise in Africa, their two distinct models will come under even greater scrutiny. Both powers might have to adapt their approached to the rising aspirations of the African continent.