It was only in September last year that India opened its consulate in Lome, the capital city of Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa that borders Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso. The news naturally did not hit headlines in India but the move is noteworthy as it reflects New Delhis increased efforts in expanding its footprints and bilateral ties not only with countries in West Africa but also the Francophone nations — those that use French as their official language.
Besides Togo, countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Benin are also among the Francophone nations. French is the official language in about 20 countries in Africa.
“India which has typically been focused on East and North Africa, is now consciously looking to diversify and expand ties with other countries, including the Francophones in the continent. Expansion of ties with many of these countries is more strategic in nature than just pure investments,” Sankalp Gurjar, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, told India Narrative.
Analysts said that the influence of the Francophone countries could amplify their unique identity and use it as a binding factor in the future.
It is worth noting that India’s increased engagements with these countries will also allow New Delhi to leverage its position in these countries, many of which are still very poor and looking for countries that could financially assist them. While China is already an influential force in Africa, it is primarily invested in a few countries. “There are several countries in Africa which have no major dealings with China and this is critical for India,” one of the analysts said.
The Diplomat noted that Chinese private sector push into Africa is not evenly distributed. About 12 countries “account for two-thirds of total investment on the continent. They include Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, the Republic of Congo, Zambia, Ghana, Algeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),” it said.
Togo First, a portal promoting investment, noted that New Delhi’s current objective is to “boost economic cooperation between India and Africa, and strengthen ties with Indian diaspora living in Africa”.
India’s main import items from Togo include natural phosphates, ferrous and copper waste and scrap.
Togo, in a bid to draw investments, has brought in place several measures. The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in a study said that the small country has even eliminated the requirement to obtain an economic operator card while reducing the time as well as registration costs.
The ORF study added that West African countries have started various reforms in recent years. Starting a business has become much easier and less costly. Benin, for example, has created a one-stop shop for investment, eliminated the need to notarize company bylaws, and reduced minimum capital requirement. Burkina Faso too has reduced the paid-in minimum capital required to register a company, and has cut the cost of soil survey in half and time to process a building permit application by a third.
Gurjar also said that Togo’s geographical proximity to the Sahel countries – a group of African nations including Burkina Faso, in the western part of the continent which has become prone to terror attacks also provides India to play a key role in security related aspects with the French military force now pulling out of the region.
Meanwhile, with more than three million people of Indian origin living in Africa today, the Indian diaspora too plays an important role in cementing New Delhi’s role in the continent.