New Delhi: India is wooing oil and mineral-rich Africa, seeking to match the clout enjoyed by China, as it seeks to fuel its energy-hungry economy and boost its global profile, analysts say.
At a busienss meeting in New Delhi last week Indian businessmen met delegates from 33 African nations to discuss potential deals worth $10 billion.
The capital will host an India-Africa political forum in April that will be attended by key African nations including Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, besides eight regional economic groupings.
A senior Indian foreign ministry official said “Africa’s importance for India is manifold.” It is the largest bloc (of countries) in the United Nations and support from this bloc is important if India wants a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
An unflinching supporter of African struggle for independence from its colonial rulers, India once enjoyed close ties with many African countries and wielded considerable influence across the continent.
But with India looking towards the United States and Europe after launching market reforms in 1991, there has been an erosion of its support base in Africa -- with countries like China and Japan making considerable in-roads.
“A measure of China’s influence in Africa can be gauged by its volume of trade, which has grown to $55 or 56 billion annually in a short span,” said the official. By contrast, India’s bilateral trade with the continent stood at $25 billion in 2006-2007, according to industry figures.
India’s desire to give a new impetus to its ties with Africa was shown when it announced a 60% aid increase to the continent for the next financial year in February to Rs800 million.
AK Pasha, an African Studies scholar at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said evidence of the shift away from New Delhi came in the mid-1990s when India lost a non-permanent UN Security Council seat to Japan.
“That was eye opener for India when many of its traditional supporters lined up behind Japan,” he said. Independent security analyst Uday Bhaskar noted that “the slippage in India’s attention towards Africa came at the end of the Cold War.”
“Today, India is competing for influence and resources in Africa -- recognised as a continent with enormous potential -- with all the major powers including China,” he said.
India’s junior foreign minister, Anand Sharma, told AFP that the April meeting would aim to “deepen and diversify India’s engagement with Africa... We hope this forum will define the roadmap for future engagement.”
But analysts said the way ahead for India in matching Chinese influence would be tough. “Summits are fine, but I don’t think it yields any purpose. What we need is a dedicated Africa policy which involves business, diplomacy and public opinion,” said Narendra Taneja, an energy expert with the international oil and gas newspaper, Upstream.
“Africa has changed considerably, it’s the last frontier when it comes to natural resources -- the kind needed to sustain economic growth in India and China,” Taneja said. “It’s true that historically we know Africa much better than China, but practically China wields more influence today than we do.”