Sunday, May 19, 2024


In an historic move witnessed by the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to make the 55-member African bloc the new member of the G20 at G20 Summit, New Delhi on 9th September, 2023.

“In keeping with the sentiment of sabka saath (with everyone), India proposed that the African Union should be given permanent membership of the G20. I believe we all are in agreement on this proposal.”

Calling Africa India’s top priority,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said,

 “When we use the term ‘Global South,’ it is not just a diplomatic term. … In our shared history, we have together opposed colonialism and apartheid. It was on the soil of Africa that Mahatma Gandhi used powerful methods of non-violence and peaceful resistance. It is on this strong foundation of history that we are shaping our modern relations.”

India, under the supremacy of PM Modi has always believed in a collaborative future and this step further solidifies our collective commitment to global progress.


Africa’s abundance of resources and demographics present tremendous opportunities. India’s G20 move goes beyond diplomatic symbolism. Given India’s leadership in creating Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) and fostering financial inclusion for inclusive development of its citizens, India can play a catalytic role in empowering inclusive development in Africa.

With a perspective realization that Africa, as a continent is accounting to nearly 17% of the world’s population today and will reach 25% in 2050, India’s rise as a global player is inevitably linked to the kind of partnership it enjoys with Africa.

Both the countries look forward for collaborative engagements and aim to foster greater understanding and partnership opportunities, driving economic growth and innovation to join the race of developed Nations.

As we have entered the new year, South Africa has marked the completion of 30 momentous years of the bilateral relationship with India. The two countries have always shared strong friendship and camaraderie and this bond date back to over a century. Both countries have been each other’s closest allies and pillars of support in driving mutual growth.

Before we understand today’s scenario, let us go back in the history to trace India –South Africa relationship.

Political Relations 

This was started when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi started his political career during colonization in South Africa. India and South Africa share deep historic ties as both countries’ Independence struggles are deeply intertwined with each other. South Africa was the initiating ground for Gandhi’s journey to become a Mahatma, a turning point that went on to influence world history. Both countries have gifted the world with two of the greatest revolutionaries – Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Diplomatic Relations

Diplomatic relations between India and Africa were established during the period of colonialism. During the wake of cold war many African Countries joined Non-Alignment Movement pioneered by India, Indonesia, Egypt, Ghana and Yugoslavia.

Economic Relations 

South Africa and India relations are enjoying an unprecedented renaissance, founded on shared economic interests and longstanding historical ties since the latter lifted economic sanctions against South Africa after the end of apartheid. India-Africa trade touched $98 billion in FY22–23 which is a positive economic development.

Cultural relations

While first generation Indians are outsiders to these African landscapes, the second, third generation Indian origin Africans are either familiar foreigners or not considered foreigners at all. The Kenyan Indians who have been in the country for generations, consider themselves as insiders, weaved into the tapestry of their adopted countries. Since independence, India believed it was destined to be a Great Power, meaning a self-reliant and economically and militarily powerful India with global respect and influence. These ambitions remain anchored in Africa.

India is increasingly playing an active role in international diplomacy on behalf of Africa and the Global South.

India-Africa Forum Summit is the official platform for the African Indian relations which is held once in every 3 years since 2008. The next triennial India-Africa Forum Summit is planned for 2024. In January 2023, 47 African countries attended the Voice of the Global South Summit. In June 2023, African and Indian government, private sector, and industry leaders converged in New Delhi for the 18th India-Africa Conclave hosted by the India Export Import (EXIM) Bank in partnership with India’s foreign and trade ministries.

India is a crucial partner for South Africa’s economy as it offers enormous trade and investment opportunities.

Trade ties between India and Africa date back centuries, to when Indian traders would travel to the east coast of the continent seeking precious metals and gemstones. These days, India is a key driver behind the increasing global recognition of the strategic importance of Africa.

India-Africa trade has grown 18 percent annually since 2003, reaching $103 billion in 2023. This makes India Africa’s third largest trading partner after the European Union and China.

African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry Fatima Haram Acyl (left) and India Minister of State for External Affairs Vijay Kumar Singh (center) at the Third India-Africa Forum Summit in October in New Dehli, India. (Photo: India Ministry of State for External Affairs)

India is also the second largest lender in Africa, with strong public-private partnerships and safeguards protecting borrowers from debt distress. In fact, most Indian aid is channeled through the African Development Bank (ADB), since 1983. India’s total investments in Africa amount to $70 billion, a figure the powerful Confederation of Indian Industry aims to increase to $150 billion by 2030.

Africa, with 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, is well-positioned to feed a burgeoning global population, projected to reach 11 billion by the end of this century. Africa boasts an abundance of natural resources, including 8% of the world’s oil reserves, 7% of its natural gas, 18% of its gold, 53% of its diamonds, and 75% of its platinum.

Africa has a large working-age population, a growing middle class and a wealth of raw materials including gold, diamonds, oil and minerals. As the race to secure minerals for the transition to green energy gains momentum, Africa’s strategic importance to the global economy is rapidly being redefined.

For its part, India exports food and beverages, petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, machinery and vehicles to Africa. India has become the largest supplier of passenger vehicles to South Africa and this model is likely to be expanded to other African nations.

There are still many potential areas for further collaboration and innovation for Africa and India, particularly in agriculture, where a huge transformation is underway.

Agriculture accounts for around 57% of employment on the African continent. New startups and established companies alike are disrupting the market with innovative solutions that address challenges across the agricultural value chain. India can widely contribute to the modernization of agricultural infrastructure in Africa, increase agricultural supply chain efficiency and improve productivity. India and Africa can strengthen their agribusiness ties by channeling funds into agrotechnology, which could boost global food security. With its investments, India has an opportunity to drive sustainable agricultural practices in Africa.

Solar panels at a green hydrogen production facility in South Africa: Indian investors could support Africa’s renewable transition by funding solar, wind and hydroelectric projects.   © Reuters

Concerns around climate change spread well beyond agriculture. Africa’s clean energy transition is now a center of attention, with renewable energy an emerging focus of India-Africa trade. India is already heavily investing in renewables and is the third-largest renewable energy producer globally.

Indian investors could support Africa’s renewable transition by funding solar, wind and hydroelectric projects across the continent. Leveraging its long-standing trade ties, India could help to drive real systemic change and contribute to global net-zero goals.


  • India exported 5,023 commodities to South Africa in 2022-23.
  • India’s exports to South Africa stood at US$ 8.47 billion in 2022-23.
  • Major exported items from India to South Africa include petroleum products (US$ 3.76 billion), motor vehicle/cars (US$ 1.54 billion), drug formulations, biologicals (US$ 0.57 billion), telecom instruments (US$ 0.21 billion), industrial machinery for dairy, etc. (US$ 0.14 billion), other construction machinery (US$ 0.10 billion), inorganic chemicals (US$ 0.09 billion), etc. in 2022-23.
  • India’s export to South Africa stood at US$ 1.43 billion from April-March 2023-24.
  • Major exported items from India to South Africa include petroleum products (US$ 743 million), motor vehicles/ cars (US$ 199 million), drug formulations, biologicals (US$ 92 million), telecom instruments (US$ 54 million), industrial machinery for dairy etc. (US$ 20 million), electric machinery and equipment (US$ 17 million), auto components and parts (US$ 16 million), etc. from April-May 2023-24.


  • India imported 1,149 commodities from South Africa in 2022-23.
  • India’s imports from South Africa stood at US$ 10.39 billion in 2022-23.
  • Major items imported by India from South Africa include coke, coal and briquettes (US$3.48 billion), gold (US$ 3.36 billion), pearl, precious and semi-precious stone (US$ 0.84 billion), copper and products made of copper (US$ 0.78 billion), bulk minerals and ores (US$ 0.43 billion), pulp and waste paper (US$ 0.39 billion), iron and steel (US$ 0.24 billion), etc. in 2022-23.
  • India’s imports from South Africa stood at US$ 1.71 billion from April-May 2023-24.
  • Major items imported by India from South Africa include coal, coke, and briquettes (US$ 726 million), gold (US$ 402 million), pearl, precious and semi-precious stones (US$ 140 million), copper and products made of copper (US$ 116 million), pulp and waste paper (US$ 96 million), bulk minerals and ores (US$ 76 million), iron and steel (US$ 36 million), etc. from April-May 2023-24.

Growing trade relations between the two emerging economies have achieved thriving business partnerships, and as such South Africa has identified India as a strategic partner due to the fact that its economy presents enormous trade and investment opportunities for South African businesses.

Africa-India Cooperation Sets Benchmark for a mutually beneficial and sustainable partnership built on African agency and capacity building.

Indian Defense officials pose for a group photo with delegates from African countries during the India-Africa Army Chief’s Conclave in Pune in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. (Photo: Money Sharma / AFP)

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, termed Africa as India’s “sister continent,” in recognition of the long ties of affinity.

The defense and security have emerged as a key pillar of India-Africa relations. This was underscored in March 2023, when the two sides convened the first ever India-Africa Army-Chiefs Conclave, alongside the second edition of the Africa-India Field Training Exercise (AFINDEX), held over 10 days in Pune, India. The two sides also conduct an annual India-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) that coincides with India’s Defence Expo.

India’s October 2022 “Gandhinagar Declaration” calls for more professional military education (PME) training slots for African countries under ITEC. Additionally, India and Africa engage in specialized training and joint research in new areas like artificial intelligence, cyber security, munition systems, maritime surveillance, unmanned vehicles, space, and undersea scanning technologies,” explains Mishra.

India traditionally focused on East and Southern Africa due to maritime proximity across the Indian Ocean and the large Indian diaspora. Over time, India expanded its engagements to over 44 countries thanks to the Ministry of External Affairs’ Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC), which, since 1964, has devoted more than a third of its accounts to African countries in four areas: capacity building, project assistance, scholarships, and institution-building. It has trained over 200,000 civilian and defense professionals from 160 countries—mostly in Africa and Asia. India’s EXIM Bank has devoted 50 percent of its international financing, technical assistance, and trade promotion schemes to Africa. Africa’s largest digital project, the Pan African e-Network, is connecting Africa’s 54 countries to India and one another to share expertise in telecoms, medicine, health, resource mapping, and e-governance.

African navies have participated in all 47 editions of India’s Maritime Partnership Exercise (MPX) in the Western Indian Ocean. Among its key outcomes is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Tanzania and Kenya on shipbuilding and port development.

Naval Ship Sumedha at Port Lamu in Kenya in December 2023. (Photo: India Ministry of Defence)

In line with its policy of “developing together as equals,” India focusses most of its security assistance on building partner self-sufficiency. This has led to the deployment of Indian technicians to strengthen African capacity to repair and maintain equipment, dock facilities, boats, tanks, guns, and aircraft. India also supplies hardware like offshore patrol craft, combat helicopters, interceptor boats, and armored vehicles.

Education, Health and Technology sectors also boasts for a long and prosperous relationship. Africa is one of the beneficiaries of India’s flagship capacity building programme – Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC). As per National Education Policy 2020 guidelines, First IIT Campus to be set outside India is at Zanzibar, Tanzania.

India has a been a great supporter of South Africa during COVID 19 and supplied ‘Made in India’ COVID vaccines to 42 African countries under “One Earth One Health Mission”.

Pan-African e-network is a joint effort of India and African Union with an aim to provide satellite connectivity, tele-education, and tele-medicine services to the African countries.

Since the 1960s, India’s prime ministers have visited Africa 76 times, a level of engagement unmatched by Africa’s other external partners. Between 2015 and 2022, New Delhi received over 100 African leaders, while each African country received an Indian cabinet minister. Indo-African ties cover culture, education, trade, technical cooperation, energy, agriculture, maritime security, peacekeeping, and professional military education.

India also builds capacity for good governance through institutions like the India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management, which has trained hundreds of African and Asian stakeholders. To better understand this important yet underlooked relationship, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies spoke to several Indian and African experts for their insights.

India has consistently been perceived as a trusted ally in Africa.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi looking over Gandhi Square in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: South African tourism)

India and Africa have built a foundation for a strong and long-lasting trading relationship. It is time to channel investments in a strategic way to foster collaboration, innovation and shared growth between India and Africa. India and South Africa share similar growth aspirations, and by working together, we can realize these aspirations sooner.

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