Diplomatic Engagements: Understanding India’s Interests in the African Continent

India’s diplomatic engagements with the African continent are guided by a wide array of geopolitical, geostrategic, and geo-economic imperatives and logic needed to stabilize power relations in the region.

Abstract: India’s diplomatic engagements with the African continent are guided by a wide array of geopolitical, geostrategic, and geo-economic imperatives and logic needed to stabilize power relations in the region. It is also possible that India has shaped its foreign policy towards Africa in a bid to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the continent. Using the neo-realist paradigm, it can be said that these engagements can be viewed as part of the overall Indian attempt to maintain power in the international system. At the same time, a growing internal demand for energy in India contributes to focusing on the African continent, the resources of which are not only minerals, oil, and uranium. Namibia being a developing nation relies on imports of the mineral and this makes the civil Nuclear cooperation agreement signed in 2009 between the two countries one of the most resource-based strategies that India has pursued in Africa. In addition to uranium, other minerals of interest in the country of India include copper and diamond. Defense is another major field of cooperation; India sells defense equipment to Africa and builds the capacity of African militaries through training. It not only helps the countries build up strategic partnerships but also contributes to curbing China’s dominance in the region. Therefore, this paper aims to analyze India’s Africa policy as a complex of bilateral relations motivated by India’s needs for resources, security, and strategic goals. It highlights how diplomacy does not merely serve in the acquisition of resources but also in the negotiation of power in the international system.


India is going at full speed with its diplomatic engagement with Africa. It is seeking to achieve leadership in Africa through softer means such as cultural values with various motives such as of countering China’s growing influence and joining with the USA, using African resources, developing alliances and getting hold of oil, gas, and minerals. It would reinforce politico-military cooperation, mitigate geostrategic divergence, and present trade and investment possibilities. Nehru, India’s first prime minister also referred to India as a “sister continent” of Africa. The foreign relations between the two countries can be characterized as very expansive. About 75 Indian ministers have payed visits to Africa, and the number of African leaders in India is estimated to be nearly 100.[1] India’s involvement in Africa is a part of the strategy to expand its power potential and resource independence from a single source.

The bonding and relations between the two countries are at their highest level due to the current stronger cooperation and ties. However, subjectivity lies as if different nations may perceive it as a threat to themselves. India’s involvement can be perceived as a proxy of the USA for the containment of China. Depending on one’s point of view, India’s participation in the African continent might be seen as a means to pursue another goal. Given the potential for growth, diplomatic relations, and economic gain, some would view it as a constructive involvement. Some might take a more critical stance, bringing up issues such as possible neocolonial dynamics (the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former dependencies), geopolitical rivalry, or the effects of India’s presence on regional economies and cultures.

Theoretical Framework

The paper generally introduces Neo-realism theory proposing that nations care mostly about their interests and aim to get the biggest influence. When it comes to the main topic “Diplomatic Engagements: Understanding India’s Interests in the African Continent” it is obvious that India is carrying out its engagements in the African region to gain an upper hand in the economic domain. Hence, the realist theory would be applied according to which India is acting based on self-interest to gain superiority in multiple domains. 

Historical Ties Between India and Africa

From the beginning, India and African countries have been connected by a common thread which has been, first of all, anti-colonialism and, secondly, second-world Cooperation. The dominance of India in the developmental projects for African countries is a fact to be debated, but trade and investment links were very little until the early 1990s. The Indian economy underwent liberalization leading to a change in the style of Indian-African relations from ideologically oriented diplomacy to economic diplomacy. Developing countries like India and Africa also began to cooperate closely in national platforms like that of the WTO (World Trade Organization) to defend their interests.[2]

The relationship between India and Africa blossomed with the birth of the India-Africa Forum Summits (IAFS) that facilitated trade and investments to achieve galloping growth in both regions.[3] The third India-Africa Forum Summit was a heavenly event, reaching out to all 54 African countries. This is the additional credit line of US$ 10 billion, grant assistance worth US$ 600 million, and 50,000 additional scholarships that India announced for African students.[4]

Furthermore, Indian engagement with Africa has been very highly recognized with people such as the Indian president, Vice President, and the prime minister, who attended the India-Africa forum summits. The main purpose was to promote the expansion of maritime security in the Indian Ocean Space, build strategic alliances, enhance Trade, and hold important resources. Also, among the tasks performed was signing long-term agreements like buying pulses from Mozambique, implying the depth of trade connections. Recently, during the G20 summit in Delhi, people talked about Africa’s place in global institutions like the United Nations Security Council, for which India confirmed its stance on Africa’s membership in the UN Security Council as a permanent body.[5]

India’s Oil Engagement with Africa

Energy is one of the main drivers of India’s policy towards Africa. The rise of India on the African continent’s oil engagement has been extensively grown after the new century. By 2001, India’s total trade with African countries had reached an amount of $5.3 billion, which had increased to more than $70 billion of by 2013, a growth corresponding to annual average rates of 32.2% for Africa’s exports to India and of 23.6% for Indian exports to Africa.[6] This is particularly because India, on one hand, has actively participated in discussing energy cooperation, while on the other hand, the country has been increasingly looking for new sources of oil and gas to cover escalating energy needs. By 2020, Africa contributed to around 15% of all India’s oil imports which was equivalent to 34 million metric tons of oil, implying it became the second-largest supplier of oil to India.[7] The top Nigerian oil suppliers in India are estimated to supply a volume of about 300,000-400,000 barrels per day, with Angola and Ghana also being important suppliers.[8] In the month of April 2022, Africa recorded a peak figure of 16.3% in India’s oil imports with the purchase of oil from Ghana and the Republic of Congo being the highest value in the past 7 months.[9] In the past years, Indian companies (that are government-owned and private) have been undertaking huge developments in the African energy business; and are concurrently investing in securing their stake in oil and gas industry assets; and forging Public and private partnerships (PPPs) for upstream exploration and production, as well as for downstream activities such as oil refining. This engagement not only seems to be but is also the sure way to contribute to the strengthening of energy relations between India and Africa to the end.    

India’s Defence Engagement with Africa

India’s Defence engagement with Africa is a strategic mission that combines strategic interests as well maritime security concerns, and historical relationships. The quest for regional hegemony and competition with global players, especially China, has become crucial requisites in the formulation of wide oceanic strategies and the enhancement of presence across the Indian Ocean.[10] In addition to traditional security threats, such as energy security, piracy, and maritime territorial disputes, the need for a strong maritime security presence is highlighted to deal with these threats. Resulting from such engagement are multi-fold benefits such as a secure maritime environment, capacity building, and economic development. The involvement of India in training and skill development in Africa through professional military education and capacity building has certainly made long-term cooperation a reality.  What pushes India’s Defence relationship in Africa to the deeper levels is, firstly, the growing security issues in the continent and, secondly, the desire for top-notch and budget-friendly arms supplies. India has countered by providing weapons supplies and locally made self-defense products.[11] These common security challenges, threat perceptions, and a shared target for security in the region have, in the past, been the driving forces of this engagement. The Defence sector concerning India with Africa involves the purchase of Defence equipment from various African countries which forms part of the military modernization process in India. While India offers Defence training, expertise and capacity-building assistance to African countries on the one hand, it produces Defence collaboration and partnership through this activity.

India’s Mineral Engagement with Africa

In the past few decades, the trade between Africa and India has gone through a remarkable metamorphosis. Africa’s trade with India has witnessed amazing growth of almost 75% in which primary commodities and natural resources dominate Africa’s exports to India.[12] With the increasing demand of minerals for raw materials to fuel green energy in the whole world, Africa has gained importance for of the United States, Europe China and India. The African continent is significantly resourceful in its wide array of minerals, including iron ore, manganese, chromium and diamonds.[13] These minerals serve as vital materials for the fast-paced industrial sector, especially the Indian steel and construction industries. It is estimated that more than three-quarters of all exports from Africa to India fall into the category of primary commodities and raw materials.[14]  Indian import of minerals from Africa has a central role of strengthening the process for which India uses raw materials for industrial processes as demand. This dependence on imports is driven by the Indian economy. Moreover, because of the increase in industrial base.[15] In relation to this, India exports refined petroleum products considered a vital component of the trading eco-system.[16]

India’s Agricultural Engagement with Africa

The import and export of agricultural products between India and Africa determine the consumption of different regions by India for its food security and other industrial sectors. Similarly, India imports its technological prowess, tools, and investments in the agricultural sector from African countries therefore bringing harmony and cooperation in the agriculture arena. India relies heavily on African resources for agricultural, mineral, food, and pharmaceutical products. India not only imports food from Africa to meet its food security needs, but it also exports seeds and establishes businesses in Africa. India is also experimenting with hybrid seed production and other products in Africa. J.K Seeds, Namdhari Seeds, Nuziveedu Seeds, Vibha Seeds, and Nath Seeds are among the most active seed firms in Africa.[17] In this manner, Indian enterprises thrive in Africa, bringing benefits back to India in terms of taxes. Not only this, but Some African countries have leased land to Indian farmers, and many have already moved there. Indian corporations, including Karuturi Global Ltd. and Siva Group, have acquired significant acres in Africa.[18] However, not all Indian investments in African agriculture have had positive results. Karuturi, an Indian company, has faced criticism for acquiring significant amounts of land in Ethiopia without considering environmental or livelihood concerns.[19]

India’s Uranium Enrichment Engagement with Africa

The nuclear energy program of India plays an important role in the country’s energy strategy with the ambitious goal of attaining energy self-sufficiency. The country is developing the nuclear fuel cycle to take advantage of its thorium reserve and the aim is to fully get self-sufficiency from uranium exploration. By 2050, nuclear energy is expected to account for 25% of India’s energy needs and thus, uranium imports as a tool to attain greater energy independence is gaining momentum.[20] In addition, although India has been excluded from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because of its weapons program, it has been participating in nuclear trade with many countries since 2009.[21] India has inked several nuclear agreements with African countries recently. Under these deals, Namibia promises a supply of uranium oxide, copper, and diamonds to India.[22] Today, Africa’s nuclear sector is so undeveloped that Indian nuclear technology always receives much attention from the African nations. India’s first step into Africa was through the 2009 Agreement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation with Namibia, which allowed for trade and growth of nuclear infrastructures.[23] The top five uranium exporting nations to India include Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Niger and Madagascar of which South Africa is the only member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In the private sector as well, Indian players have also found their place in the uranium market. India appears to be very serious about the nuclear potential of Africa. India is working on uranium mining projects in Niger and Namibia and aims to develop a prototype atomic reactor using thorium and low-enriched uranium.

India’s Underlying Reason behind the engagement with Africa

An important reason for India’s engagement in Africa could be China’s significant economic and political footprint in Africa which has been a cause for concern for many countries including India. The Belt and Road Initiative, a hugely grand geo-economic strategy that has drawn investment and infrastructure development from nearly 70 countries across the world, has had an equally great influence on India to boost its development in order to counterbalance China. The involvement of India in Africa is, however, considered to be a strategic one, wherein India seeks to secure its own interest while also playing an active role in curbing the growing dominance of China on the continent. This entails a component of the overall diplomacy of India which aspires for the nation to be considered as a great power or even a hegemon on the global stage. India’s Africa involvement and engagement priority is growing and India is going to prevail over China’s dominance and become an alternative partner for African countries. Which also aligns with India’s ambition of being a world hegemon. Nonetheless, it is true to state that India, presently, relies on much smaller resources and abilities than China, which may thus limit its success in satisfying its aim in Africa.


Having said that, India’s global diplomacy in Africa implements a multidimensional strategy, which is based on different goals and objectives. From the historical ties dating back to anti-colonialism to the contemporary economic, energy, and defense issues, India and Africa’s relationship has undergone profound changes since its inception. The India-Africa Forum Summits have significantly contributed to the improvement of bilateral cooperation, as well as the economic development of the two regions. India’s deep involvement in Africa’s oil, mineral, agricultural, and nuclear industries prominently indicate its desire to guarantee the supply of essential resources and the enhancement of its energy security. The Indian foreign policy in Africa is governed by long-term strategic goals to ensure maritime security and to address growing security issues in the region. Furthermore, India’s involvement in Africa is also judged by the standard of balancing China’s growing influence in the region. At the same time, India tries to be a crucial player in Africa but has to confront the problems of power competition from other global powers as well as the question of balancing its interests with those of Africa. In essence, India’s diplomatic engagements in Africa present an ever-changing and promising partnership that can generate multiple benefits and partnerships assisting in maintaining peace, development, and prosperity.

[1] Paul Nantulya, “Africa-India Cooperation Sets Benchmark for Partnership,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies (blog), accessed March 30, 2024, https://africacenter.org/spotlight/africa-india-cooperation-benchmark-partnership/.

[2] Malancha Chakrabarty, “Understanding India’s Engagement with Africa,” Indian Foreign Affairs Journal 11, no. 3 (2016): 267–80.

[3] Sharinee Jagtiani, “India’s Africa Policy: Towards a More Coherent Engagement” (S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 2012), https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep05814.

[4] “IIT, IIM Is Key to India’s Knowledge Diplomacy with Africa,” orfonline.org, accessed March 30, 2024, https://www.orfonline.org/research/iit-iim-is-key-to-indias-knowledge-diplomacy-with-africa.

[5] Paul Nantulya, “Africa-India Cooperation Sets Benchmark for Partnership,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies (blog), accessed March 24, 2024, https://africacenter.org/spotlight/africa-india-cooperation-benchmark-partnership/.

[6] “India-Africa Trade and Investment: A Backdrop | Brookings,” accessed April 6, 2024, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/india-africa-trade-and-investmenta-backdrop/.

[7] “A Primer on Nigeria’s Oil Bunkering,” Council on Foreign Relations, accessed April 6, 2024, https://www.cfr.org/blog/primer-nigerias-oil-bunkering.

[8] “India Import Data 2023, 2024, India Importers, Ports Data,” accessed April 6, 2024, https://eximtradedata.com/india-import-data?campaignid=20599515548&device=c&adgroupid=151369614702&gad_source=1&gclid=Cj0KCQjw5cOwBhCiARIsAJ5njuam2mLzJa4OhSpbNLAVth38YOyoEGVpGx9KzOrJrrOO2rqqvga7WgEaAghxEALw_wcB.

[9] Nidhi Verma and Nidhi Verma, “Africa’s Share in India’s Oil Imports Hits 7-Month High – Sources,” Reuters, June 1, 2021, sec. Energy, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/africas-share-indias-oil-imports-hits-7-month-high-sources-2021-06-01/.

[10] Malancha Chakrabarty, “Understanding India’s Engagement with Africa,” Indian Foreign Affairs Journal 11, no. 3 (2016): 267–80.

[11] “Why African Countries Are Emerging as Hub for India’s Defence Industry,” News18, October 6, 2023, https://www.news18.com/india/why-african-countries-are-emerging-as-hub-for-indias-defence-industry-8604746.html.

[12] “DEEPENING SOUTH – SOUTH COLLABORATION: AN ANALYSIS OF INDIA TRADE AND INVESTMENT WITH AFRICA – ProQuest,” accessed April 6, 2024, https://www.proquest.com/openview/50dd09b3b49f713e018c3e034483c08c/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=29414.

[13] “Indian Bureau of Mines,Nagpur,” accessed April 6, 2024, https://ibm.gov.in/IBMPortal/.

[14] “India Import Data 2023, 2024, India Importers, Ports Data.”

[15] “India And Africa: Forging A Strategic Partnership | Brookings,” accessed April 6, 2024, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/india-and-africa-forging-a-strategic-partnership/.

[16] “India Import Data 2023, 2024, India Importers, Ports Data.”

[17] Renu Modi and Meera Venkatachalam, “Introduction: India-Africa—Partnering for Food Security,” 2021, 1–22, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-54112-5_1.

[18] “Land Grab in Africa, Brought to You by India,” Goi Monitor, accessed April 6, 2024, https://www.goimonitor.com/story/land-grab-africa-brought-you-india.

[19] “Land Grab in Africa, Brought to You by India.”

[20] “Nuclear Power in India | Indian Nuclear Energy – World Nuclear Association,” accessed April 7, 2024, https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-g-n/india.aspx.

[21] “Nuclear Power in India | Indian Nuclear Energy – World Nuclear Association.”

[22] “Full Text PDF,” accessed April 6, 2024, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Meera-Venkatachalam/publication/349885422_Introduction_India-Africa-Partnering_for_Food_Security/links/63c90cb0d9fb5967c2ea3a2c/Introduction-India-Africa-Partnering-for-Food-Security.pdf.

[23] Business Standard, “Namibia Invites India to Explore Cooperation in Uranium Mining,” June 16, 2016, https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/namibia-invites-india-to-explore-cooperation-in-uranium-mining-116061601245_1.html.

Tayyaba Rehan
Tayyaba Rehan
Tayyaba Rehan is a student of National Defence University. Currently pursuing her degree in Defence and strategic studies. She has worked with multiple governmental and non-governmental organizations. Her numerous articles have been published in national as well as international publications.