Book Review - India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power , Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol 46, No 3, December 2012, pp485-487.

Book Review - India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power , Canadian Journal of African Studies, Vol 46, No 3, December 2012, pp485-487.
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  Emma Mawdsley and Gerard McCann (eds). India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power, Cape Town: Pambazuka Press 2011. 240pp. While immigration and Cold War politics contributed to various intercontinental linkages during the twentieth century, over the past decade Africa has become increasingly entwined with the rapid economic and geostrategic rise of Asia.  India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power  , edited by Emma Mawdsley and Gerard McCann, provides a much needed foundation for scholarly investigation of India’s   growing role in Africa – so far overshadowed by interest in China’s relations with the continent. While some studies have  begun to examine the big picture issues of Indian engagement – such as geopolitics, resource security, trade and investment – Mawdsley and McCann note “an empirical lag in the field of India-Africa studies” (p3), which they hope this book will begin to address.  India in Africa  thus provides an excellent balance in its chapters between wider analyses of economic and strategic issues, and more focused case studies of political and commercial relations. As would be expected comparison between India and China, and examination of their interactions, is a strong theme running through the essays. These emerging powers are rivals for political influence and economic ties, with Fantu Cheru and Cyril Obi noting in Chapter 1 “India-Africa Relations in the 21 st  Century” that India is still a long way behind China and continues to have swings in its foreign policy between competition and accommodation. While Cheru and Obi emphasise that their contributions to trade and investment provide an important, “alternative to the condition-laden, asymmetrical relations into which African countries have been hitherto locked with their Western trading partners and financial institutions” (p12), they also note concerns over possible negative implications for democracy and human rights – ultimately concluding that the outcomes derived from relations with India “will lie in the hands of Africa’s political and economic elites” (p26). In Chapters 2 and 3 Padraig Carmody and Sanusha Naidu provide a useful catalogue of the historical, economic and geopolitical drivers for India engagement; while in Chapter 11 Alex Vines focuses more specifically on India’s security concerns in the Indian Ocean. Vines examines the evolving security relationship between India and nations of the Indian Ocean rim, arguing that “concern about Chinese expansionism has resulted in the Indian navy seeking to deepen its defence and commercial engagement with the Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius and Mozambique” (p199). With the Indian Ocean and its adjoining waterways  stretching from the Australian coast to the Strait of Malacca, to the Strait of Hormuz, to the Bab el Mandeb, to the Mozambique Channel, India’s oceanic backyard takes in a catalogue of maritime chokepoints and is of such vital economic and strategic importance that India recognises all “major powers of this century will seek a toehold in the Indian Ocean region” (p189). A significant portion of the collection focuses on case studies of India-Africa relations. In “The Impact of India-Kenya Trade Relations on the Kenyan Garment Industry” Paul Kamau and Dorothy McCormick draw on the examples of ten Kenyan garment manufacturing firms to assess the impacts of competition with Indian garment producers, both in the Kenyan clothing market and in overseas export destinations. This study concludes that competition with Indian-produced products has undermined the Kenyan garment industry, and advises that the Kenyan government “works to strengthen clusters in the industry to enable provision of much needed supply-related infrastructural support” (p85). Aleksandra Gadzala takes a wider comparative view in “Chinese and Indian Entrepreneurs in the East African Economies”, examining the business strategies of Chinese and Indian businesses in Kampala,  Nairobi and Lusaka, and analysing the triangular relationship between those and local African enterprises. Gadzala argues that while Indian entrepreneurs continue to initiate commercial projects in Africa, many find themselves out-competed by Chinese rivals who seem to have stronger diasporic networks. The economic impact of Indian relations with East Africa is also the focus of chapters by Gerard McCann and Renu Modi, while Zarina Patel and Zahid Rajan present a personal account of the history and cultural significance of the Nairobian magazine AwaaZ, which  publishes stories relevant to the city’s ethnic Indian population. The situation in Sudan is examined in more depth in “Fragile Fortunes: India’s Oil Venture into War-Torn Sudan”, where the Indian oil company ONGC-Videsh controversially began investing as Western oil companies withdrew in 2002. Luke Patey highlights that debate surrounding this in India focused on whether the situation was safe for the company, rather than the human rights abuses that oil revenues were facilitating. While Patey’s chapter concentrates on the technicalities of how this deal was arranged, it also provides interesting food-for-thought when discussing comparisons with Chinese investment policies. West Africa then gains some attention in the chapter “India Goes Over to the Other Side: Indo-West African Relations in the 21 st  Century”, by Simona Vittorini and David Harris. Vittorini and Harris provide a short  summary of India’s growing ties with West African nations, and more detailed accounts of Indian investment in Liberia and Ghana, arguing that the outcomes of India engagement are difficult to generalize and should be examined on a case-by-case basis.  India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power   is a useful collection of essays that provides a good foundation for future investigation into Indo-African relations. One preliminary finding of this research is that while some Western commentators contrast Indian engagement to Chinese as being less detrimental to African interests, many of the policies and outcomes are similar. However, India remains the less influential of the rivals, with Cheru and Obi asserting that, “India cannot match China’s ‘deep pockets’ when it comes to resource diplomacy, state backing for private sector investments, and the provision of credit and aid to African countries” (p13). The scope of the book is by no means comprehensive, and the editors themselves note that some of the chapters “have a preliminary feel to them” (p4), but this is a reflection more of the need for further research than of the researchers represented here.  India in Africa  is a valuable starting point for those interested in exploring these developing relations. David Alexander Robinson, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.
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