India and Africa relations under Coronavirus Crisis (CVC): Challenges and opportunities

Published: April 25, 2020 2:35 PM

PM Modi took personal initiatives to call beside others, President of Egypt, Uganda, South Africa to assure India's support in combating Corona.

African countries have also reached out to India for medical supplies. (File image)

By Prof Ajay Dubey

The relative success in the containment of CVC has enabled India it to reach out and respond to other countries of the world including in Africa. Fifty two countries out of 54 in Africa, have Coronavirus cases, as it reached there a bit later. The first case in Egypt was reported on 15 February and this gave Africa time to prepare for sealing the border, stopping international flights, preparing for lockdown and medical services. In West and Central Africa, coping with Ebola crisis in the past, gave them some experience of effective lockdown.

The reported confirmed cases as on 21st April was 28000 with 1500 deaths. Geographically it has now higher cases in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa. But due to lack of testing and reporting, the real figures will be much higher. The African case is more complex because CVC is getting mixed up the widely prevalent Malaria. TB, HIV and Cholera. And now, Corona cases become as one of them.

The health care system in Africa is very fragile. In entire Africa, 41 countries have only 200 ventilators. Ten countries have no ventilators. Soap and water are not easily accessible in many countries. In sub-Sahara Africa there are five ICU bed for 1 million population and 2000 ventilators are available in entire public hospitals. The continent is full of misinformation campaigns on Coronavirus.

On one hand, the Tanzanian president pleads for inhaling hot steam, social media advocates drinking of alcohol and many such fake news misinforms the public. Chinese people, medical mask and goods are under attack and boycott by fake news creating a further scarcity of these products.

India Reaches Out to Africa

India has responded proactively to reach out to Africa. African countries have also reached out to India for medical supplies. Indian pharmaceuticals have a huge share, around 40 per cent of exports go to the African continent. Out of this India meets 28 per cent of drugs requirements of South Africa. India cannot ignore African need at this juncture despite having its domestic crisis. Mauritius and Seychelles received the early supply of Hydroxychloroquine, Paracetamol.

Out of 55 countries that have been supplied these drugs and other medical aid, twenty African countries are part of it. PM Modi took personal initiatives to call beside others, President of Egypt, Uganda, South Africa to assure India’s support in combating Corona. He also thanked President Museveni for looking after the Indian Diaspora which is a dominant concern of Indian foreign policy.

Indian policy towards Africa is though guided its shared past and common future in this time of crisis. However, it is not in isolation with its current global policy. Its policy towards Africa is also part of its medical diplomacy and its new global role. India intends to project that when others are not coming forward in a moment of this global crisis, and it has the will and capacity to combat it at home and reach out and help the world in this humanitarian crisis. It is also an occasion to establish that India is indeed a responsible global player as it has been criticized to punch below its weight in international affairs.

India is trying to build on its historical goodwill and increase its presence in Africa whereas other major players like China is facing challenges of retaining their goodwill because of their role in CVC. African countries are witnessing a fatigue in their relations with China due to their hard, aggressive and the questionable push of Chinese in Africa.

And, Indian medical diplomacy and its political conversation at the highest level is being appreciated by Africa.

(The author is Chair, Centre for African Studies, JNU. Views expressed are personal.)

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