Why It Is In India’s Interest To Fight Afrophobia

By Jideofor Adibe

The recent racist attack against some Nigerians in India has once again opened up important conversations about xenophobia and racism in Ghandi’s country as the country strives to play more important roles in global affairs with its increasing economic prosperity. Economic affluence, like an osmotic process, attracts people from weaker areas who come in search of all forms of self-improvement.

The trigger for the recent wave of Afrophobia in the country is that a boy died of suspected drug overdose in Greater Noida, a satellite town off the Indian capital. Police detained five Nigerians after the boy’s parents accused them of supplying him the drugs that supposedly led to his death. However, when they were released due to a lack of evidence, the local people turned on them for jungle justice. Hundreds of people joined the rampage.

Xenophobia and racism are part and parcel of India, which is an extremely diverse country, with more than 2,000 different ethnic groups that have complex relationships with one another. Like in many ethnically diverse societies, there are both push (centripetal) and pull (centrifugal) forces at work in the country’s nation-building processes. For instance while inter-caste and inter-ethnic marriages have increased, targeting and profiling of some groups such as the Bihari people are also common. The state of Bilhar lagged behind other parts of India in economic development in the 1990s, forcing many Bilharis to migrate to more prosperous parts of the country in search of work where they are often victims of xenophobia and attacks. In 2000 and 2003 for instance, anti-Bihari violence led to the deaths of up to 200 people and created an estimated 10,000 internal refugees. In North-East India, there have also been many attacks on those from outside the region. In 2007 for instance, thousands of Hindi-speaking labourers fled from Assam after a series of massacres and bomb attacks.

Afrophobia – fear (or more appropriately hatred) of Africans – is an extension of the xenophobia that has been part and parcel of the India social structure. Indians look down on lower castes, they look down on poorer people and they look down on dark skinned people. Some Indians probably see Africans as amalgams of all the negatives in the country’s social and popular cultures: Africans are Black- skinned, from countries that are poorer than India and they still have the image problem from the times of slavery and colonial anthropologists.

The latest Afrophobia attacks against Nigerians will make it the third year in a row that India will be in the news for racist attacks against Africans. In May 2016 for instance, a 23-year old Congolese national was stoned to death in a road rage dispute in South Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area. In the same May 2016, about 12 Africans were attacked in the same South Delhi over what their traducers called their “free life style”. In October 2014, a mob attacked African students at a central Delhi metro station. Earlier in January of 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.

Envoys from African nations in Delhi have promptly condemned the official handling of the latest attacks and accused Indian authorities of failing to “sufficiently condemn” the attacks or take “visible deterring measures” to prevent a re-occurrence. The Nigerian government also summoned the Indian High Commissioner to Abuja and demanded that the Indian government should ensure the immediate arrest and prosecution of those behind the attacks.

While the interventions of both the envoys from African nations in Delhi and the Nigerian government are laudable, there are several reasons why it is in fact in India’s own interest not to allow the current Afrophobia in the country to fester:

One, as the country prospered economically over the years, it became an attractive destination for Africans both for medical tourism and for higher education. It is estimated that about 40,000 Nigerians visited India in 2015 alone, half of them for medical reasons. India’s educational sector has also been wooing Africans. In 2013 for instance, African students formed 13 per cent of India’s total foreign-student population. Afrophobia, if unchecked, could deny India the potential revenue from both African students and African medical tourists – who will begin to look for countries that will treat them and their fellow Africans more humanely.

Two, India has also been trying to expand its relations with Africa, including trade relations. In 2014 for instance her pharmaceutical exports alone to Africa increased from US$247.64m in 2000 to US$3.5bn. In 2015, the country hosted an ambitious Indo-African summit, which witnessed a high level of participation from all 54 African countries. At that summit 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 – as part of its strategies of ingratiating itself to the continent. In fact research by McKinsey & Company has suggested that India could increase its trade with Africa to $160bn by 2025 if it focused on expanding trade in information technology, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods and infrastructure development. With Africa largely seen as the new economic frontier by the newly emerging economies, India cannot hope to maximize its opportunities in the continent while Afrophobia rages in the country.

Three, India has been increasingly turning towards Africa for its crude oil needs as part of its strategies of lessening its dependence on Middle East oil. The country has a huge appetite for energy and together with China, is among the largest consumers of energy in the world. The International Energy Agency for instance predicts that oil consumption in India will increase from 4 million barrels a day to 10 million a day by 2040. India imports 80 percent of its crude oil needs, with about 22 per cent of this coming from Africa. In fact over the past decade, India has secured new oil supplying contracts from Nigeria, Angola and Sudan. In the area of crude oil diplomacy, India needs Africa as much as the continent needs it. And this is precisely why it ought to rise up more determinedly to stem the tide of Afrophobia in the country.

Four, India sees itself as competing for influence with China, not only in Asia but also in Africa. While China has been able to use its considerable economic clout to forge strong ties with Africa, India hopes to be competitive by marketing itself as a country that has the better interests of Africa at heart and is willing to play a more constructive and forward-looking role in Africa than China. With the slowdown in China’s economy – and the consequent reduction in trade with Africa - India has an opportunity to step up its game and gain some market share. It however cannot do this when it is treating Afrophobia in the country with kid gloves. True there is also racism in China, but it is subtler and rarely results in mob attacks as we have been witnessing in India at least in the past three years.

Five, what some of the purveyors and sponsors of Afrophobia in India fail to appreciate is that there are good opportunities for retaliation in Africa especially in countries like Nigeria with a large expat Indian population. In fact the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Confederation of Indian Industry estimated that as of January 2015, the number of Indians and people of Indian origin living in Africa totalled 2.76 million. In contrast to this, there are only 25,000 African students in India, about a fifth of whom live in Greater Noida, a purpose-built city around 30km from New Delhi - according to the Association of African Students in India.

Six, India has not hidden its quest for a permanent seat in the United Nation’s Security Council. In this, it is counting on the support of Africa’s 54 members. The country also needs Africa’s political support as allies in the demand by the developing countries for a fairer global trade, finance and political rules in such global organisations as the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other global forums. Certainly India cannot take Africa’s support in this regard for granted if the continent does not feel respected or feels that it is doing enough to curb Afrophobia in the country.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @JideoforAdibe

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