Brotherhood during a crisis

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Brotherhood during a crisis

Tuesday, 30 June 2020 | Lokesh Kumar

Despite the fact that India is adversely affected by the virus, it has acted as a responsible stakeholder towards Africa and given it a helping hand

COVID-19 created multiple challenges for the world and Africa is no exception. The healthcare system is very fragile and underfunded and there are only 200 ventilators on the continent. Even South Africa, which has one of Africa’s best public health systems, has approximately 1,000 ICU beds, of which 160 are in the private sector. Dr Norman Matara, Secretary-General, Zimbabwe’s Association of Doctors for Human Rights, says, “We knew (COVID-19) was coming. Our Ministry of Health continued telling us that they were prepared, but when the virus eventually reached here, we saw that the Ministry was not prepared at all. The isolation centres did not have the capacity to deal with severe cases of COVID-19. There were no ventilators, no ICU staff, no ICU nurses, no anaesthetists, so we don’t know what they were saying. How were they prepared when they did not even have ICU facilities to deal with one patient?”

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report warns of severe economic pain across Africa amid the pandemic, with growth contracting to 2.6 per cent in the worst-case scenario and an estimated 27 million people pushed into extreme poverty. The World Bank has said that sub-Saharan Africa could fall into its first recession in a quarter-century.

The relationship between India and Africa is rooted in shared values and principles mirrored in close bilateral and multilateral cooperation. The pandemic recently augmented India’s image as a capable international partner as it proactively reached out to the African continent. According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), more than 25 African countries are getting medicines including Hydroxychloroquine, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, besides antibiotics, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-asthma and cardiovascular drugs. The list also includes other medical devices like injections and thermometers. In addition, India has extended telemedicine support by partnering top Indian institutions with local African institutions to engage and train healthcare workers of Africa to mitigate the crisis. 

To meet the common challenge in this difficult time, India has also supplied essentials to Madagascar, Seychelles and Comoros under ‘Mission SAGAR.’ This medical diplomacy is built on historical goodwill shared by India and Africa. India has been one of the largest suppliers of generic drugs in East and Southern Africa, comprising 40 per cent of its total export along with petroleum products. It has an existing telemedicine and  Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme for training Africans in the healthcare sector. In addition, India has also reached out to the Indian Diaspora in Africa by maintaining close contact with the community. They have been assured of all possible help within the limitations posed by the pandemic. A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar took the personal initiative to call several presidents on the continent to assure them of India’s support to Africa in fighting the pandemic. Despite the fact that our own country is adversely affected by the pandemic we have acted as a responsible stakeholder towards Africa and given it a helping hand. Our relationship with Africa thus goes beyond strategic reach and economic interest. It is more to do with the emotional connect that we share and solidarity that we feel for each other.

In the meantime, China, being Africa’s largest trading partner, is providing medical protection equipment, Coronavirus testing kits, ventilators, medical masks and so on in African countries during this epidemic. The main objective of this Chinese collaboration is to raise Beijing’s image globally as a leading provider of humanitarian aid and “public goods” in the global public health sector.

According to Professor Harsh Pant, an authority on international relations, this “Donation Diplomacy” of China is primarily aimed at achieving three immediate objectives. Since the origin of the Coronavirus in Wuhan, the first is to have a global outlook on China, to change it, to build goodwill abroad and to revive China’s image globally. We see that China has also been successful in establishing this diplomacy in African countries to some extent, but the racial discrimination against African citizens that has taken place in the city of Guangzhou in China during the time of this epidemic has damaged China’s policy to some extent. Overall, China’s diplomacy towards Africa has received a mixed response during COVID-19, but it still has helped China successfully establish its economic and political influence in the entire world, including African countries.

Thus, we see that both India and China, through their respective health and charity diplomacy, have been strengthening their bilateral and multilateral relations with Africa. But there is a difference in this view of India and China. While China is mainly focussing on establishing its own political influence and structural development in African countries, India is focussing on the development of local capabilities in African citizens. That’s why at the end of this disaster, India’s historical, social, economic and cultural relations with African countries will be strengthen like never before.

(The writer is Assistant Professor and Research Scholar, Department of African studies, DU)

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