If India is in competition with China for a toehold in Africa, as geopolitical experts say, the past week’s racist attacks on the streets near New Delhi must have set it back far behind its northern neighbour. For three years in a row, India has been in the news for racist attacks against African nationals. The latest came last week after a local boy died of suspected drug overdose in Greater Noida, a satellite town of the Indian capital. Police had detained five Nigerians after parents of the boy accused them of supplying the drugs. However, when they were released due to a lack of evidence, the local people turned on them. Hundreds of people joined the rampage. Another violent mob attacked two African students outside a shopping mall in Noida.
“These attacks will affect bilateral ties adversely. It will damage recent Indian initiatives to promote people-to-people contact under India-Africa forum summit initiatives,” said Ajay Dubey, a professor at the Centre for African Studies in India’s premier Jawaharlal Nehru University.
India was quick to condemn the attacks as “deplorable” and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj promised an “impartial” inquiry into the attacks. She also assured a “fair and impartial investigation” into the incident. “It looks racially motivated,” senior police officer Sujata Singh told reporters.Last May, a Congolese national was stoned to death in a road-rage dispute in Delhi. Around 12 Africans were attacked in south Delhi over their “free lifestyle” the same month. In October 2014, a mob attacked African students at a central Delhi metro station. In January the same year, a lawmaker led a mob to an African ghetto in South Delhi, ostensibly to bust a sex and drug racket. Four African women, two from Nigeria and two from Uganda, were attacked by the mob although the drug racket allegation could not be substantiated.
Over the years India, an attractive destination for Africans for higher studies and medical tourism, has been wooing Africa for business opportunities.About 40,000 Nigerians visited India in 2015, half of them for medical reasons. India’s pharmaceutical exports to Africa increased from US$247.64 million in 2000 to US$3.5 billion in 2014.India’s education sector has been reaching out to Africans as well. In 2013, African students formed 13 per cent of India’s total foreign-student population. In 2015, at the Indo-African summit that saw a high level of participation by all 54 African states, India announced concessional credits of US$10 billion to Africa over the next five years, a US$600 million grant plus 50,000 scholarships in India over five years.
According to data from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Sudan and Nigeria are the fourth- and fifth-largest contributors to India’s foreign-student rolls. The UN says at least 11 per cent of visits by Nigerians to India are for educational purposes. India also has trade interests and wider geopolitical goals in Africa. It has provided more than US$1 billion in technical assistance and training over the last few decades and pledged US$7.5 billion toward African infrastructure. Keen to reduce its dependence on the Middle East, India gets about 17 per cent of its oil imports from Africa, and expects to get more. Africa’s 54 states are also key to India’s ambition of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council.