India’s Africa safari opens new opportunities
As compared to the four China-Africa summits held since2000, Indiacould organize only two. But the second India-Africa summit held in Addis Ababa on May 25 can be termed as a landmark event inpushing India’s engagementwith Africa to a new height.
With large parts of Africa now enjoying peace and stabilityand democratic governance, it was high time that India engaged with the Africanleaders at the highest level and reassures them of India’s commitment to helpthem exploit their huge mineral and human resources for their economic andsocial uplift.
The resurgent Africa is offering huge economic opportunitiesfor international investors and the Chinese were smart enough to realize thisin the very beginning of this century.
The billion populated Africa has three times more land areathan India which enjoys advantages over other investors because of its historyof political support against colonialism and its peace keeping missions.
All these factors created a lot of good will for India amongthe Africans. But Indialagged behind China andother countries in economic engagement with Africa.
Probably, the first China Africa summit held in 2000encouraged India to launch a new Focus Africa policy in 2002 culminating in thefirst India-Africa summit in 2008 in New Delhi.
India’s late arrival in Africa was perhaps constrained byIndia’s poor state of economy in the late nineties but the African governmentsrecognize the sincerity of the Indian government to forge a much deeper andless selfish relations than China.
No doubt China has made its presence felt in the Africancontinent with its heavy infrastructure projects and had over USD 100 billionbilateral trade in 2009, India could only achieve a USD 46 billion trade in2010 which was meager USD 5 billion in 2000.
But India’s vast expertise in Information and CommunicationTechnologies, small scale industries and agriculture sector can prove to bemuch more attractive to energize the African economy and social life.
The vast African continent offers much space for both Indiaand China but the analysts can not be faulted for comparing the engagementstrategy of the two countries with the continent, because Africa is thecontinent of the future, where all eyes of the international investors areglued.
Africa is still considered a virgin land yet to beexploited. As the economy rises five percent each year, Africaoffers golden opportunities with the rise in income and purchasing capacitiesof the common man.
The African continent is endowed with not only huge mineralresources (90 per cent of world’s cobalt, 50 per cent of gold, 98 per cent ofChromium, 64 per cent of Manganese and 34 per cent of Uranium) but huge arablearea, almost 60 per cent of the world, lying unutilized because of lack offarming skills among the locals.
In fact, the African continent can meet the foodrequirements of the entire world and the Chinese, Arabs and other Europeanagriculturists are already ahead in the race to acquire huge farm land. Indiangovernment needs to be proactive in encouraging its private investors in goingto African farmlands.
Because of benign and less aggressive strategies the Indiansare now being respected by the ordinary Africans though the Indian soft poweris being dwarfed by the money power of the Chinese.
But the Africans realize that the “Chinese are building ourtoday whereas the Indians are building our tomorrow”.
Perhaps India’s emphasis on capacity building and trainingto help the Africans stand on their own legs has created this impression amongthem.
However, now is the time for the Indians to take advantageof their soft power, with a long history of political support against colonialismand apartheid in the African Continent. The Africans relate themselves withIndians much better than Chinese or the White people.
India’s relations with Africa has to grow at three differentlevels for a comprehensive engagement with them - Economic, Political andMilitary.
In the economic arena, the country has made good moves butstill has to traverse a long road. In the political arena India needs toconstantly engage with the Africans for garnering their support in the UnitedNations Security Council for promoting Indian interests.
High level political visits to the continent are beingextensively done by the Chinese and needs to be conducted from Indian sidealso. Prime Ministerial visits from India are only after two or threeyears whereas either the Chinese PM or President pays annual visit.
As far as military relations are concerned, Indianpeacekeepers have been stationing in Africa since early fifties. On thestrength of this Indiahas been requested by the African Union Commission to help them in training andcapacity building of their nascent standby brigade, designed to be the buildingblocks of their peacekeeping activities.
Most of the African countries send their soldiers formilitary training in India and they have risen to the top positions in theirarmed forces. This needs to be leveraged for deeper defence relations andexport of Indian defence systems to them.
The announcements by the Indian Prime Minister Dr ManmohanSingh during the Addis Ababa summit for a USD 5 Billion line of credit to helpachieve its development goals, besides an additional offer of USD 700 millionfor establishing new institutions and training programs in consultations withAfrican Union and its institutions was largely welcomed as India’s commitmentfor a serious engagement with Africa.
With India raising its stake in Africa, a specter ishaunting Europe and America, the former colonialists and slave masters that thecontinent will come under the sway of emerging powers like India and China.
India and China are sometimes being described as newcolonialists but Indian government is taking all precautions to ensure thatIndia is not dubbed as neo-colonialists.
Indian officials assert that Indian assistance and aidprograms are always free of any strings attached and examples like Pan-AfrianE-network project is a shining example which is not only treating Africanpatients sitting in their countries through Indian doctors, the Africanstudents also take advantage of the classes being conducted in Indian IITthrough satellite video.
India has been organizing business conclaves in India andAfrica with the help of various industry chambers during which both sidesregularly make complaints of lack of air and maritime connectivity between Indiaand Africa.
The Chinese have 17 flight connections with Africancountries whereas India has only two air connections. India and Africaare maritime neighbors. Still, Indian businessmen find it hard to export andimport their goods from each other.
Similarly, Indian missions in African countries are verypoorly staffed. Sometimes two or three African countries are looked after byone ambassador. Most of the embassies have one ambassador and three or fournon-diplomats.
The African businessmen find it difficult to extractinformation from Indian embassies, as they are not employing Indian traderepresentatives or officials.
For a robust trade and investment relations India needs topost more of its bright and enthusiastic diplomats and economic advisors to theembassies.
One small business interaction may lead to millions ofdollars deals with India. Probably India is losing much of thebusiness opportunities due to lack of transport connectivity and improperstaffing.
For a deeper engagement with Africa, India announced anAction Plan, which needs to be followed up with actions on ground.
The Indian bureaucratic lethargy should not be allowed todampen the spirits of the African governments and businessmen who now see Indiaas a serious partner in their quest for economic development. India will helpitself if the African partners are helped.