CURRENT AFFAIRS – 01/07/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 01/07/2023

A new chapter in India-Africa ties can be written

There is a slow realisation that Africa, a continent, accounting for nearly 17% of the world’s population today and reaching 25% in 2050, needs to be studied closely. Why? Because India’s rise as a global player is inevitably linked to the kind of partnership it enjoys with Africa.

In the past 15 years and especially since 2014, India-Africa relations have developed steadily but more progress is achievable. In this context, the 20-member Africa Expert Group (AEG), established by the Vivekananda International Foundation, recently presented the VIF Report entitled ‘India-Africa Partnership: Achievements, Challenges and Roadmap 2023’. (This writer chaired the Africa Expert Group established by the Vivekananda International Foundation.)

Africa in transition

The report examines the transitions unfolding in Africa: demographic, economic, political and social. From this blend of changes, stamped by the adverse impact of the pandemic and complicated geopolitics, emerges a continent that is set to transform itself. It is slowly heading toward regional integration and is devoted to democracy, peace and progress, even as Ethiopia, Sudan, the Central African Republic and other countries continue to battle with the challenges posed by insurgency, ethnic violence and terrorism.

Superimposed on this landscape is the sharpening competition among at least half a dozen external partners such as China, Russia, the United States, the European Union, Japan, Türkiye and the United Arab Emirates for strengthening their relations with parts of Africa to ensure market access, gain energy and mineral security, and increase political and economic influence. China stands apart, armed with a consistent and robust policy since 2000 to become virtually Africa’s biggest economic partner. An essay in the report aptly portrays China’s role as ‘the infrastructure developer’, ‘the resource provider’, and ‘the financier.’ It has invested enormously in Africa in terms of money, materials and diplomatic push.

Since 2007, Chinese leaders have visited the continent 123 times, while 251 African leaders have visited China. The VIF report notes that India has a substantive partnership with Africa and a rich fund of goodwill, but it is “essential for New Delhi to review its Africa policy periodically, stay resilient by making the required changes, and place a razor-like focus on its implementation”.

Gist of recommendations

The central part is ‘Roadmap 2030’, a set of nearly 60 policy recommendations that are designed to deepen and diversify the India-Africa partnership. They cover four areas.

First, political and diplomatic cooperation should be strengthened by restoring periodic leaders’ summits through the medium of the India-Africa Forum Summit; the last summit was in 2015. Besides, a new annual strategic dialogue between the chairperson of the African Union (AU) and India’s External Affairs Minister should be launched in 2023. Another recommendation relates to forging consensus among G-20 members on the AU’s entry into the G-20 as a full member. Action is now under way, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent communication to G-20 leaders requesting support for this proposal. The expert group has also suggested that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should have a secretary exclusively in charge of African affairs to further enhance the implementation and impact of the Africa policy.

Second, on defence and security cooperation, the government needs to increase the number of defence attachés deployed in Africa, expand dialogue on defence issues, widen the footprint of maritime collaboration, and expand lines of credit to facilitate defence exports. More can be done to increase the number of defence training slots and enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism, cyber security and emerging technologies.

Third, the largest number of recommendations relate to economic and development cooperation. India-Africa trade touching $98 billion in FY22–23 is an encouraging development. This figure can go up if access to finance through the creation of an Africa Growth Fund (AGF) is ensured. A special package of measures to improve project exports and build up cooperation in the shipping domain has been suggested. A special focus on promoting trilateral cooperation and deepening science and technology cooperation could pay rich dividends.

Fourth, socio-cultural cooperation should be increased through greater interaction between universities, think tanks, civil society and media organisations in India and select African countries. Setting up a National Centre for African Studies will be the right step. Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarships awarded to Africans should be named after famous African figures. Visa measures for African students who come to India for higher education should be liberalised. They should also be given work visas for short periods.

Finally, the report suggests a special mechanism for implementing the ‘Roadmap 2030’. This can best be secured through close collaboration between the MEA and the National Security Council Secretariat through a team of officials working under the joint leadership of the Secretary, Africa in the MEA, and a designated Deputy National Security Adviser.

Relations have developed well and steadily but more progress is achievable, as a new report points out.


India backs 2016 ruling favouring the Philippines in South China Sea

As negotiations continue between China and the ASEAN bloc for a code of conduct in the South China Sea — which diplomatic sources described as a “complex exercise” involving 11 countries — India called for adherence to the 2016 arbitration decision in favour of the Philippines, which has been rejected by China.

A joint statement issued after talks between Enrique A. Manalo, the visiting Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, and his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar on Thursday said that the two leaders “underlined the need for peaceful settlement of disputes and for adherence to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea in this regard.”

Mr. Manalo, who arrived in India on an official visit on June 27, concluded his visit on Friday.

China disagrees

The Philippines had instituted an arbitration proceeding against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration under UNCLOS on January 22, 2013. The court ruled in favour of Manila on July 12, 2016, but this was rejected by China, which had called it “null and void.” China, which claims rights to most of the resource-rich South China Sea up to the nine-dash line, has become more assertive in recent years, leading to flare-ups in the region.

On the ongoing negotiations on a code of conduct, the source said that it involved a lot of details and 11 countries. Though it has a common agenda, ASEAN does not have a common stance on all issues, given the differing views of its member nations. “It goes into a lot of details like what to do and what rules to observe when there is a collision at sea, how to deal with third parties. Also in the end, we have to agree if the code is legally binding or not, and if so who will enforce it, and if it is not legally binding, then what is its status. Negotiations are going on regularly at the technical and legal levels,” the source added.

Seeking support

Referring to the 2016 arbitral ruling, the anniversary of which is in two weeks, the source noted that China does not recognise the ruling and did not participate in the deliberations at The Hague.

On the Philippines’ ongoing tensions with China, the source said that Manila was also doing other things beyond the 2016 ruling to deal with the actual issue, which is the “presence of China in the South China Sea”. Manila is trying to send as many assets there as possible, to show that it is the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone, even while stressing that it only wants to “assert its rights and protect its fishermen”.


Centre to issue norms against ‘dark patterns’ in online advertisements

Concerned over the increasing “dark patterns” of misleading advertisements, creating false urgency, confirm-shaming, forced action, subscription traps and nagging on online platforms, the Union Consumer Affairs Ministry has decided to issue specific guidelines to control them.

Speaking to presspersons here on Friday, Rohit Kumar Singh, Secretary of the Ministry, urged consumers to flag such manipulative online practices on the National Consumer Helpline (NCH) by calling ‘1915’ or through a WhatsApp message to 8800001915. He asked online platforms to refrain from adopting ‘dark patterns’.

Mr. Singh said several governments across the globe have defined ‘dark patterns’ and brought in strict laws against them. He said the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act are enough to curb them, but said the Centre will bring specific guidelines as the menace has increased along with the expansion of the Internet.

Unfair trade practices

He said ‘dark patterns’ distort consumer autonomy using a design architecture that tricks or influences consumers to make choices not in their best interest.

Mr. Singh also wrote to all major online platforms advising them not to engage in ‘unfair trade practices’ by incorporating ‘dark patterns’ in their online interface to manipulate consumer choice and violate consumer rights as enshrined under Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act.

Tactics such as false urgency which creates a sense of scarcity to pressure consumers into making a purchase or taking an action and basket sneaking, the technique to add additional products or services to the shopping cart without user consent, are used widely to lure customers. Subscription traps, the tactic that makes it easy for consumers to sign up for a service but difficult for them to cancel it, and hiding additional costs, particularly by travel and tourism websites, have also come under the Ministry’s radar.

Mr. Singh said using ‘dark patterns’ in online interfaces unfairly exploits consumers’ interest and constitutes ‘unfair trade practice’.


Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Knowledge Centre & Space Museum to be ready in 18 months

The Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Knowledge Centre and Space Museum is expected to be ready in 18 months at Kowdiar in Thiruvananthapuram.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday laid the foundation stone for the project which is jointly promoted by the State government and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).

Mr. Vijayan said that the knowledge centre and museum, named after the former President and scientist, will be an asset to the State which is striving to become a ‘knowledge society’. “Thiruvananthapuram is where Dr. Kalam spent his initial years with the Indian space programme. As such, the project is a fitting tribute to him,” he said, adding that the construction will be completed on time.

Presiding over the event, S. Somanath, chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said the knowledge centre and museum is designed to benefit the younger generation.

The project, planned on 1.3 acres close to the Kowdiar Palace, was originally conceived in 2016, but was delayed on account of the heritage committee objecting to the initial design.

Minister for Food and Civil Supplies G.R. Anil, VSSC director S. Unnikrishnan Nair, V.K. Prasanth, MLA, Mayor Arya Rajendran, M.C. Dathan, mentor (Science) to the Chief Minister, and VSSC deputy director Harish C.S., were among those present.


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