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New Delhi: India is gearing up to host representatives of all 54 member states of Africa for the third India-Africa Summit next week billed as the biggest gathering of foreign dignitaries in New Delhi since the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit.

The summit meet in New Delhi is expected to see the participation of heads of states or governments from at least 35 African countries with the others represented by ministerial delegations as India tries to ramp up its presence and influence on the continent.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari are some of the high profile participants expected to attend.

The 26-29 October summit is the third in the series of summits hosted by India in a bid to rescript its ties with resource-rich Africa—seen as the world’s newest growth pole. The inaugural summit was held in New Delhi in 2008 while the second organised in the Ethopian capital city of Addis Ababa in 2011.

“It’s a continent today that is marked by economic resurgence and some of the fastest growing economies in the world are on the African continent. It’s a continent with vast amounts of arable land, its a continent that is resource rich, its a demographically young continent—65% of Africans are below the age of 35 years. It’s got a long coastline, very important in trade and strategic terms—26,000 kilometres," said Navtej Sarna, secretary (west) in the ministry of external affairs, at a press conference.

Challenges facing India and Africa—like terrorism and exploring ways to deal with poverty, disease, illiteracy and hunger—will be areas of discussion.

India’s association with Africa spans decades—Sarna said, recalling how Indian leaders had supported African states in their struggles to end colonial rule and in their fight against apartheid. Indian leaders had close relations with African leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. India has also been part of almost a dozen UN peace-keeping missions on the African continent. Currently India is part of four peace keeping missions in four African countries with some 4,500 Indian soldiers.

However India’s ties with African countries waned in the 1990s thanks India’s focus on refashioning ties with the West at the end of the Cold War. Proof of the gathering influence of other countries like Japan became evident when a number of African countries voted in favour of Japan rather than India for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in the mid-1990s.

In recent years, a number of Asian countries like China, Malaysia and South Korea have been building ties with Africa but the Chinese presence and engagement in Africa dwarfs all.

According to Sarna, since 2008 India “thought it useful to start a structured engagement in the form of a forum summit. Africa by then had already started similar engagements with different partners. They have a partnership in different formats with the Chinese, with Japan, with the European Union, with South Korea, with Turkey and the United States."

India’s engagement was meant to lay out a three-layered relationship—bilateral, regional and pan-African with the concentration being on boosting trade relations, training and skill development of African students and youth and sharing India’s adaptable technologies with Africa, Sarna said.

India’s efforts have begun to bear fruit, he said, with trade at $70 billion and poised to grow further. Indian investments in Africa amount to $30 billion to $35 billion and Indian disbursements of concessional lines of credit amounting to $3.8 billion of the $7.4 billion committed.

According to the summit schedule, India will host senior officials of the 54 countries on 26 October followed by a meeting of foreign ministers of participating countries on 27 October. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host the heads of state and government on 28-29 October for the summit.

On 30 October, Modi will meet leaders of individual Africa states.

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