by Latika Adlakha

The West was left aghast when India decided to abstain from picking a side during the Russia – Ukraine war. Owing to the drop in Russian oil prices during the war, India ramped up its imports of Russian oil by over 50% since April 2022. This sent a clear message to the rest of the world that energy needs drove the strategic relations between the two nations. India’s demands for oil were fulfilled primarily by West Asian countries such as Iran, Iraq and the UAE which is the heartland of energy. However, the rise of transnational terrorist outfits in the region and India’s urge to speed up the diversification of its energy supply has steered its attention toward Africa. 

Africa has emerged as an essential ally in sectors of oil and technology. In the wake of globalisation and the growing interdependence among countries, India-Africa ties have strengthened over the years with energy holding an indispensable place in their bilateral relations. Africa supplies almost 26% of the total crude imports of India. The energy cooperation between India and Africa is a part of a multi-layered and complex web between the two which includes Indian investment in sectors much more than energy such as educational infrastructure and the building of roads and railways. There are various initiatives taken by India and African nations which gave a major platform for India to invest in the energy sector, such as the oil ventures in Nigeria taken up by India’s ONGC Videsh Limited and Mittal Energy. India’s two largest oil companies, Indian Oil Corporation and Hindustan Petroleum have doubled their oil imports from Nigeria. Of India’s 15% oil imports from Africa, 12% is mainly from Nigeria, and the other 3% collectively from Angola, Algeria, Egypt and Equatorial Guinea. The state-run Indian companies have invested close to $8 billion USD  in African oil. 

The inevitable factor that plays a role in the current energy diplomacy relations is the limited availability of oil resources globally. The road ahead will consist of countries exploring alternative energy sources. Africa has diverse renewable energy resources which are enormous in quantity and unequally distributed. The continent has an unlimited solar potential (10 TW), plentiful hydropower (350 GW), wind (100 GW) and geothermal energy (15 GW). This opens a plethora of opportunities for India to engage with and establish an unfeigned relationship with the continent. Their shared colonial history allows both the stakeholders to have transparent and mutually beneficial diplomatic ties. 

The major cooperation between India and Africa on renewable energy is through the International Solar Alliance (ISA), a multilateral body co-founded by India intended to increase the deployment of solar energy technologies in order to ensure energy security and drive energy transition in member nations. Currently, 33 African countries are members of the ISA, making up most of the alliance. India holds a first mover advantage to tap Africa’s solar resources through the ISA. The exchanges in the solar sector between India and Africa are shaped by the fact that African states have the required resources but no technology. This allows India  to create a collaborative platform through the provision of technology, capacity building and even employment generation. India has taken several steps to leverage its solar power credentials as part of the ISA programmes. 

In 2020, India’s National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) procured the Project Management Consultancy Contract to develop a 500 MW solar park in Mali and Togo, supporting the ISA through private investment. This marked the first step for India towards procuring a seat in the solar setup of Africa. NTPC is further eyeing similar opportunities in other African ISA member countries like Sudan, Mozambique, Gambia, Malawi and many others.  Given that only 24% of the Sub-Saharan Africans have access to electricity and the generation capacity of Africa excluding the South is only 28 GW, it becomes crucial for India to step in and seize its place in the sector. With ISA as a major asset, the country will get an edge to ensure the right utilisation of African solar energy. 

Although the concept of electric vehicles has not been popularised in Africa yet, a significant amount of the global reserves of rare minerals such as cobalt, lithium, graphite, etc., used in EV batteries are in Africa. Interestingly, 80% of the cobalt mines in Africa are owned by Chinese firms. This portrays the country’s dominance in the resource race for battery manufacturing. The Democratic Republic of Congo supplies over 70% of the world’s cobalt, and China has a huge monopoly over these mines which makes the production of lithium-ion batteries a potential geopolitical struggle as well. If the idea of a sustainable future is to move away from fossil fuels, geopolitical implications must also be factored in, as experts weigh in on a probable takeover of African resources by China.

Fostering a relationship with Africa is crucial for India owing to the similar colonial histories that the two regions share. This connection makes it important for India to engage with Africa in terms of investment, infrastructure and knowledge. India should invest in Africa with a sense of friendship and fraternity to ensure that we do not follow the Chinese model of intrusive and hegemonic interventions. Public policies and international diplomacy always work on a sense of optimism. Although it is not precisely clear whether Africa could lead the world in terms of renewable energy such as solar, wind, biofuels or hydropower, we can assume that it holds the anchor to it, especially in the northern part of Africa. India is always at the forefront of initiating and executing projects pertaining to sustainable energy usage. India needs to aid Africa in such endeavours to ensure they endure as partners to drive sustainability and tackle climate change.  

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Blog written by Latika Adlakha, Research Intern at Centre for Public Policy Research.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

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