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 
  1. Building local capacities 
  2. An equal partnership with Africans and not merely with African elites.
  3. Soft power with collaborative partnership is resource utilization

Conclusion

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.

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