Africa–India relations

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Africa–India relations refers to the historical, political, economic, and cultural connections between India and the African continent.

Historical relations concerned mainly India and Eastern Africa. However, in modern days —and with the expansion of diplomatic and commercial representations,— India has now developed ties with most of the African nations. Trade between India & Africa stood at US$62.66 billion (2017-2018) making India the fourth largest trading partner of Africa.India has consciously taken steps between India and the continent of Africa having close REM[1]

Historical background[edit]

Africa and India are separated by the Indian Ocean. The geographical proximity between the Horn of Africa and the Indian subcontinent has played an important role in the development of the relationship since ancient times.

Ancient trade relations[edit]

Coins of king Endybis, 227-235 AD. +. The left one reads in Greek "AΧWMITW BACIΛEYC", "King of Axum". The right one reads in Greek: ΕΝΔΥΒΙC ΒΑCΙΛΕΥC, "King Endybis".

Little is known about contacts made between Indians and Africans before the first century CE. The only surviving source, Periplus Maris Erythraei (Periplus of the Erythraean Sea),—which dates to mid-first century—refers to trade relations between the Kingdom of Aksum and Ancient India around the first millennium. Helped by the monsoon winds, merchants traded cotton, glass beads and other goods in exchange for gold and soft-carved ivory.[2] The influence of the Indian architecture on the African kingdom shows the level of trade development between the two civilizations.[3]

Under Ptolemaic rule, Ancient Egypt dispatched two trade delegations to India.[4] The Greek Ptolemaic dynasty and India had developed bilateral trade using the Red Sea and Indian ports.[5] Controlling the western and northern end of other trade routes to Southern Arabia and India,[6] the Ptolemies had begun to exploit trading opportunities with India prior to the Roman involvement but according to the historian Strabo the volume of commerce between India and Greece was not comparable to that of later Indian-Roman trade.[7] The Periplus Maris Erythraei mentions a time when sea trade between India and Egypt did not involve direct sailings.[7] The cargo under these situations was shipped to Aden:[7]

The trade started by Eudoxus of Cyzicus in 130 BCE kept increasing, and according to Strabo (II.5.12.):[8]

In India, the ports of Barbaricum (modern Karachi), Barygaza, Muziris, Korkai, Kaveripattinam and Arikamedu on the southern tip of India were the main centers of this trade. The Periplus Maris Erythraei describes Greco-Roman merchants selling in Barbaricum "thin clothing, figured linens, topaz, coral, storax, frankincense, vessels of glass, and silver and gold plate" in exchange for "costus, bdellium, lycium, nard, turquoise, lapis lazuli, Seric skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, and indigo".[9] In Barygaza, they would buy wheat, rice, sesame oil, cotton and cloth.[9]

With the establishment of Roman Egypt, the Romans took over and further developed the already existing trade.[5] Roman trade with India played an important role in further developing the Red Sea route. Starting around 100 BCE a route from Roman Egypt to India was established, making use of the Red Sea to cross the Arabian Sea directly to southern India.[10] Traces of Indian influences are visible in Roman works of silver and ivory, or in Egyptian cotton and silk fabrics.[11] The Indian presence in Alexandria may have influenced the culture but little is known about the manner of this influence.[11] Clement of Alexandria mentions the Buddha in his writings and other Indian religions find mentions in other texts of the period.[11]

Medieval period relations[edit]

Relations attained stronger levels during medieval times due to the development of trade routes between the Mediterranean and Asia, through Arabia.

African heritage in India[edit]

The presence of Africans in India dates back to the eighth century CE. Several Africans played an important role in different Indian dynasties. The first Habshi, of whom there is a historical record, was probably Jamal al-Din Yaqut, royal courtier in the kingdom of Delhi, in the north of the sub-continent. Habshis were also reported in the interior of northern India. Ibn Battuta recalls that at Alapur, the Governor was the Abyssinian Badr. A man whose bravery passed into a proverb. Some of the Africans who rose to positions of considerable importance were: Malik Kafur, Malik Ambar, Malik Sarwar, Mubarak Shah, Ibrahim Shah, Malik Andil, Malik Sandal, Yaqut Dabuli Habshi, Ikhlas Khan, Dilawar Khan, Khavass Khan, Ulugh Khan. Their role in the History of India is Significant. The Africans, who arrived in Hyderabad, Deccan, apart from playing their traditional role as bonded guards and servants, were recruited as the Nizam’s private bodyguard. The Siddi Risala (African Regiment) was retained until 1948. Other Siddis were elevated to the status of Khanazahs (proteges) and became trusted advisers of the Nizams.[12]

Under the rule of the British Empire[edit]

During the British colonial rule in the Indian Subcontinent and large parts of Africa, the Indian city of Mumbai was already a center of ivory trade between East Africa and Britain.[13]

The stay of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa between 1893 and 1915 remains one of the main events which paved the road to the modern-day political relations.

Modern-day relations[edit]


The development of modern-day relations has gone through two main periods. During the period of colonialism and liberation wars, political relations became stronger. At the wake of the Cold War, many African countries joined the non-aligned movement pioneered by Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia.

During the years of decolonisation, India exerted considerable political and ideological influence in Africa as a role model and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. But India’s ability to develop a broader strategic role in Africa during the 20th century was subject to several constraints. India’s influence was limited by financial weakness and inward-looking economic policies. Its commitment to decolonisation through nonviolent means made it relatively reluctant to provide military assistance to national liberation movements. India’s role in East Africa was also constrained by the large Indian ethnic population that was often resented by black African nationalists.[14]

The India-Africa Forum Summit, which was held from April 4 to April 8, 2008 in New Delhi, India for the first time, constitutes the basic framework for the relations under the South-South Cooperation platform.

There are numerous of Indians and Africans of Indian descent living in Africa, mainly in the eastern and southern coast in places such as Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa.

There are at least 40,000 Africans in India.


Indian firms are conducting numerous takeovers abroad and are venturing into Africa. In June 2008, Bharti Airtel, an Indian telecommunications giant, purchased Zain Africa for US$9 billion.[15] Trade between India & Africa has grown exponentially during the past 15 years. Indo-African trade volume reached US$53.3 billion in 2010-11 & US$62 billion in 2011-12. It is US$90 billion by 2015. As of 2015, India has emerged as Africa's fourth largest trade partner behind China, EU & USA whilst Africa has emerged as India's sixth largest trading partner behind EU, China, UAE, USA & ASEAN. It is to be noted that this volume was at a meager US$3 billion in 2001. In November 2012 FICCI President led a business delegation to Ethiopia to meet the new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and reaffirm India's commitment to the growth and development of Africa. Indian companies have already invested more than US$34 billion in the resource-rich continent as of 2011 & further investments worth US$59.7 billion are in the pipeline. Among the proposals that CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) received from the African nations are 126 agricultural projects worth an investment of $4.74 billion, 177 infrastructure projects worth $34.19 billion, and 34 energy sector plans costing $20.74 billion (337 projects totalling US$59.7 billion). Ex-Prime Minister of India, Dr.Manmohan Singh while expressing his country's support to Africa, said in an Indo-African trade summit that "Africa possesses all the prerequisites to become a major growth pole of the world in the 21st century. We will work with Africa to enable it to realise this potential". The Indian government has promised to extend loans worth US$5.4 billion (during 2011-14) to several African nations in order to nurture growth in those nations. According to Rejaul Karim Laskar, a scholar of India's foreign policy, "the African countries are presently at such a stage of development when India can offer the most appropriate technology at competitive prices".[16]

India–Africa Forum Summit[edit]

The India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) is the official platform for African-Indian relations. The IAFS is held once in every three years. It was first held from April 4 to April 8, 2008 in New Delhi, and was the first such meeting between the heads of state and government of India and 14 countries of Africa chosen by the African Union.

Indian foreign aid to Africa[edit]

In 2006, India launched its flagship aid initiative in Africa by constructing the $125 million Pan-African e-Network, the continent's largest tele-education and telemedicine initiative. The network links 47 African countries with schools and hospitals in India through satellite and fiber-optic links.[17]

At the second India–Africa Forum Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2011, then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed India's desire to help African nations with their development needs. Singh announced that India would invest $700 million to establish educational institutions and training programs in several African countries, including Uganda, Ghana, Botswana and Burundi. The Prime Minister also announced $5 billion in lines of credit for African nations. India made further commitments to Africa at the third India-Africa Forum Summit in 2014.[17]

India allocated $43 million or 7% of its technical cooperation budget to African countries in 2012-13, a 4% increase over the previous fiscal.[17] India budgeted $63 million in aid to African countries in 2014-15, less than 5% of its total foreign aid budget and slightly higher than the previous fiscal.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-06-14. Retrieved 2015-06-12.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Stearns, Peter N.; William Leonard Langer (2001). The Encyclopedia of world history. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 16. ISBN 0-395-65237-5.
  3. ^ Curtin, Philip (1984). Cross-cultural trade in world history. Cambridge University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-521-26931-8.
  4. ^ "State Formation In Ancient Northeast Africa and the Indian Ocean Trade". Stanley M. Burstein - University of California at Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2012-08-02. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  5. ^ a b Shaw 2003: page 426
  6. ^ Potter 2004: page 20
  7. ^ a b c Young 2001: page 19
  8. ^ "The Geography of Strabo published in Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1917".
  9. ^ a b Periplus Maris Erythraei
  10. ^ Abu Lughod, Janet (1989). Before European Hegemony: The World System 'A.D. 1250-135. New York. pp. 261–290.
  11. ^ a b c Lach 1994: page 18
  12. ^ Karmwar, Manish (2010). "African Diaspora in India". Diaspora studies. 3 (1): 69–91.
  13. ^ Bhacker, M. Reda (1992). Trade and Empire in Muscat and Zanzibar: Roots of British Domination. Routledge. p. 161. ISBN 0-415-07997-7.
  14. ^ David Brewster. "India's Ocean: the Story of India's Bid for Regional Leadership. Retrieved 13 August 2014".
  15. ^ Amitha Rajan (9 June 2010). "Investors Cheer Bharti's Zain Africa Deal". The Wall Street Journal.
  16. ^ Laskar, Rejaul Karim (June 4, 2011). "India-Africa relations reaching new heights". The Assam Tribune.
  17. ^ a b c "India's foreign aid program catches up with its global ambitions". Retrieved 2016-05-02.
  18. ^ "Modi budget hikes Indian aid, mum on regional bank". Retrieved 2016-05-02.

Further Reading

External links[edit]