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Continent future

India’s Africa safari opens new opportunities

As compared to the four China-Africa summits held since 2000, India could organize only two. But the second India-Africa summit held in Addis Ababa on May 25 can be termed as a landmark event in pushing India’s engagement with Africa to a new height.

With large parts of Africa now enjoying peace and stability and democratic governance, it was high time that India engaged with the African leaders at the highest level and reassures them of India’s commitment to help them exploit their huge mineral and human resources for their economic and social uplift.

The resurgent Africa is offering huge economic opportunities for international investors and the Chinese were smart enough to realize this in the very beginning of this century.

The billion populated Africa has three times more land area than India which enjoys advantages over other investors because of its history of political support against colonialism and its peace keeping missions.

All these factors created a lot of good will for India among the Africans. But India lagged behind China and other countries in economic engagement with Africa.

Probably, the first China Africa summit held in 2000 encouraged India to launch a new Focus Africa policy in 2002 culminating in the first India-Africa summit in 2008 in New Delhi.

Economic engagement

India’s late arrival in Africa was perhaps constrained by India’s poor state of economy in the late nineties but the African governments recognize the sincerity of the Indian government to forge a much deeper and less selfish relations than China.

No doubt China has made its presence felt in the African continent with its heavy infrastructure projects and had over USD 100 billion bilateral trade in 2009, India could only achieve a USD 46 billion trade in 2010 which was meager USD 5 billion in 2000.

But India’s vast expertise in Information and Communication Technologies, small scale industries and agriculture sector can prove to be much more attractive to energize the African economy and social life.

 

The vast African continent offers much space for both India and China but the analysts can not be faulted for comparing the engagement strategy of the two countries with the continent, because Africa is the continent of the future, where all eyes of the international investors are glued.

 

Africa is still considered a virgin land yet to be exploited. As the economy rises five percent each year, Africa offers golden opportunities with the rise in income and purchasing capacities of the common man.

 

The African continent is endowed with not only huge mineral resources (90 per cent of world’s cobalt, 50 per cent of gold, 98 per cent of Chromium, 64 per cent of Manganese and 34 per cent of Uranium) but huge arable area, almost 60 per cent of the world, lying unutilized because of lack of farming skills among the locals.

 

In fact, the African continent can meet the food requirements of the entire world and the Chinese, Arabs and other European agriculturists are already ahead in the race to acquire huge farm land. Indian government needs to be proactive in encouraging its private investors in going to African farmlands.

 

Because of benign and less aggressive strategies the Indians are now being respected by the ordinary Africans though the Indian soft power is being dwarfed by the money power of the Chinese.

 

But the Africans realize that the “Chinese are building our today whereas the Indians are building our tomorrow”.

 

Perhaps India’s emphasis on capacity building and training to help the Africans stand on their own legs has created this impression among them.

 

However, now is the time for the Indians to take advantage of their soft power, with a long history of political support against colonialism and apartheid in the African Continent. The Africans relate themselves with Indians much better than Chinese or the White people.

 

India’s relations with Africa has to grow at three different levels for a comprehensive engagement with them - Economic, Political and Military.

 

In the economic arena, the country has made good moves but still has to traverse a long road. In the political arena India needs to constantly engage with the Africans for garnering their support in the United Nations Security Council for promoting Indian interests.

 

High level political visits to the continent are being extensively done by the Chinese and needs to be conducted from Indian side also. Prime Ministerial visits from India are only after two or three years whereas either the Chinese PM or President pays annual visit.

 

As far as military relations are concerned, Indian peacekeepers have been stationing in Africa since early fifties. On the strength of this India has been requested by the African Union Commission to help them in training and capacity building of their nascent standby brigade, designed to be the building blocks of their peacekeeping activities.

 

Most of the African countries send their soldiers for military training in India and they have risen to the top positions in their armed forces. This needs to be leveraged for deeper defence relations and export of Indian defence systems to them.

 

The announcements by the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during the Addis Ababa summit for a USD 5 Billion line of credit to help achieve its development goals, besides an additional offer of USD 700 million for establishing new institutions and training programs in consultations with African Union and its institutions was largely welcomed as India’s commitment for a serious engagement with Africa.

 

With India raising its stake in Africa, a specter is haunting Europe and America, the former colonialists and slave masters that the continent will come under the sway of emerging powers like India and China.

 

Action plan

 

India and China are sometimes being described as new colonialists but Indian government is taking all precautions to ensure that India is not dubbed as neo-colonialists.

 

Indian officials assert that Indian assistance and aid programs are always free of any strings attached and examples like Pan-Afrian E-network project is a shining example which is not only treating African patients sitting in their countries through Indian doctors, the African students also take advantage of the classes being conducted in Indian IIT through satellite video.

 

India has been organizing business conclaves in India and Africa with the help of various industry chambers during which both sides regularly make complaints of lack of air and maritime connectivity between India and Africa.

 

The Chinese have 17 flight connections with African countries whereas India has only two air connections. India and Africa are maritime neighbors. Still, Indian businessmen find it hard to export and import their goods from each other.

 

Similarly, Indian missions in African countries are very poorly staffed. Sometimes two or three African countries are looked after by one ambassador. Most of the embassies have one ambassador and three or four non-diplomats.

 

The African businessmen find it difficult to extract information from Indian embassies, as they are not employing Indian trade representatives or officials.

 

For a robust trade and investment relations India needs to post more of its bright and enthusiastic diplomats and economic advisors to the embassies.

 

One small business interaction may lead to millions of dollars deals with India. Probably India is losing much of the business opportunities due to lack of transport connectivity and improper staffing.

 

For a deeper engagement with Africa, India announced an Action Plan, which needs to be followed up with actions on ground.

 

The Indian bureaucratic lethargy should not be allowed to dampen the spirits of the African governments and businessmen who now see India as a serious partner in their quest for economic development. India will help itself if the African partners are helped.