But China has not just lent financial support to secure goodwill. As parts of Africa were wracked by civil war in the 1990s, China used its leverage as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ensure affected countries received funds and peacekeeping assistance.
The assistance was partly payback from China for the debt it owed many countries on the continent for backing the People’s Republic of China efforts to be recognized at the United Nations instead of the Republic of China (Taiwan), a shift that finally occurred in 1971. China received significant backing from African nations who themselves felt they had benefitted from the close, revolutionary ties that Mao had forged in the 1960s. China also, in many Africans’ eyes, acted as an even-handed player, accommodating either the Soviet or US position in a given African country depending on the ‘merits’ of their case.
Such ties have given China far better first-hand knowledge of African affairs than India, despite the latter’s closer proximity.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But India does have a crucial advantage—its political system is a lot more appealing than China’s. China may be awash with cash to invest, but numerous questions have already been raised about the effects of China’s investment in Africa, with some questioning whether the honeymoon is over.
India can capitalize on such reservations by ensuring it contributes robustly to peacekeeping forces in Africa, a move that would be smiled upon by the African Union. Indeed, the African Union shouldn’t be seen as the only worthwhile forum for India to court—the Economic Community for the West African States also has security capabilities that India could support.
In addition, India can work creatively to counter China’s use of, for example, former Portuguese colony Macau to court Lusophone countries for trade by turning to its own regions like Goa (another former Portuguese colony) and Pondicherry (a former French colony that could be useful in nurturing ties with Africa’s Francophone nations).
A century and more ago, Western colonizers of Africa had also subjugated Indian and Chinese interests. Fast forward to the 21st century and these two nations have an opportunity to project their might through an independent Africa.
Balaji Chandramohan is editor of World Security Network. He can be reached at: [email protected]