New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday will lead a delegation to Africa to strengthen ties between 15 nations on the continent and Asia’s third largest economy.
On 24-25 May, Singh will sit with representatives of 15 African nations chosen by the African Union (AU) to represent the continent at the second India-Africa summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
Foreign minister S.M. Krishna and commerce minister Anand Sharma have been laying the ground for the summit over the weekend. The meet follows the first India-Africa conclave held in New Delhi in April 2008. Singh will follow up his visit to Ethiopia with a tour of Tanzania before returning home on 29 May.
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“I think this is a very important visit for bilateral ties,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, head of the National Maritime think tank. “India has identified the US, the European Union, etc., as entities to engage with vis-a-vis its strategy of globalization and growth. India should also be including Africa in this list because Africa’s collective GDP (gross domestic product) is greater than India’s; it has a smaller population, and a landmass that is 10 times more. There are many opportunities beckoning in Africa.”
The summits are attempts by India to rescript ties with Africa with which it shared a good equation in the 1950-60s when it backed African countries in their fight against colonialism. The country saw its influence wane in later decades as it focused on refashioning ties with the West at the end of the Cold War, and liberalized its economy.
With India looking for resources to fuel growth, and backing for its ambition to become a global power, Africa seems a natural partner as “both are looking at a mutually beneficial arrangements”, said Ruchita Beri, senior research associate at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a Delhi-based think tank.
“As their economies grow, India and Africa share similar views on reform of global governance institutions, including the United Nations Security Council, where both sides are looking for support from the other for representation,” she said.
According to the latest commerce ministry data, bilateral trade was in excess of $46 billion in 2010, and is estimated to reach $70 billion by 2015. Africa-India bilateral investments reached $90 billion in 2010.
Evidence of this can also be seen on the ground. In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), giant billboards of US beverage giant Coca Cola compete for mind space with Airtel. In South Africa, signboards advertising a Tata Motors’ showroom are right next to those of General Motors.
In neighbouring Mozambique, JSW Steel Ltd has acquired coal mining assets and Jaguar Overseas Ltd is constructing a science and technology park in Maluana, 60km from capital Maputo. The project is expected to be completed by next year but Mozambican science minister Venancio Simao Massingue told a group of visiting Indian journalists last month that he had visions of the 966 hectare (ha) park “turning Maluana into the Bangalore of Mozambique”.
Javin Oza, head of the India-Mozambique Chamber of Commerce, said India needed to further upgrade its profile in the continent. “India is lagging behind South Africa, China, even Brazil. China is here in a big way in infrastructure. They not only fund infrastructure, they are also donating projects,” he said. “We can do a lot more in areas like irrigation, which is what is needed in Mozambique.”
Indeed, Chinese presence across Africa seems to dwarf all. In Mozambique, China is building the main football stadium and the main games village to house athletes participating in a regional football event this year. The airport in Maputo is also Chinese-built. In DRC, the parliament building and the main boulevard in capital Kinshasa are built by the Chinese.
This competition, according to Ernst and Young, is set to grow. “While the (2008-2009) global economic crisis may have provided a tipping point for Africa, the fundamentals underpinning the positive shift (on the continent) were laid over a longer period of time,” said a report the consultancy brought out in January. “With the end of the Cold War, armed conflict across the continent decreased significantly and Africa entered a new era of political and economic reform.”
Estimates show Africa is home to 90% of world’s cobalt, 50% gold, 98% chromium, 70% tantalite and 34% uranium. This is attracting not only China but also Iran, Malaysia, South Korea and Brazil, said Beri.
Government officials say it is not right to compare strategies of different countries. “China is ahead of us in Africa. There is no denying that,” said a government official. “They have a different strategy, a different approach, given that their system of governance is different.”
“That is why we have a different approach, which is building human skills and capacity, training people in Africa,” said a second official. Both officials requested anonymity.
Between 2009 and 2013, “India has committed to double the amount and offer additional lines of credit amounting to $5.4 billion,” according to the foreign ministry. “Pan-Africa institutes related to foreign trade, diamond processing, education planning and administration, and information technology are planned. Another 15 vocational training institutions will be set up.”
Som Mittal, head of lobby group National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), said there is natural complementarity between India and Africa in skill development. “Africa does not have a baggage of technology,” Mittal said. “What we develop for the Indian market in IT, for example, can be easily adopted in Africa.”
According to African officials, this is the type of cooperation they are looking for. DRC’s planning minister Olivier Kamitatu Etsu said he wanted “tie-ups between Indian and Congolese universities that will help educate and train our youth in computers and IT, just as I want Indian companies to help refurbish railway lines here, set up electricity grids. These are our development priorities”.
“It’s not a question of which country comes in first or which comes later. It’s never too late to start to do the right things,” according to Mozambique’s Massingue. “The opportunities in Africa are enormous. And we want the participation and cooperation of all.”
Graphic by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint