New Delhi: India is set to announce a substantial aid package for Africa this week as it looks to deepen linkages with the resource-rich continent, where it once wielded considerable influence but has, in recent decades, found itself jostling for prominence with China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the host of the third India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, will be making the announcement on the aid package—estimated at between $7 billion and $15 billion—on Thursday, when he sits down with the leaders of some 40 African countries and representatives of 14 others in a bid to rescript ties between Asia’s third largest economy and the world’s new growth pole.

The summit is billed as the biggest gathering of foreign dignitaries in New Delhi since the 1983 Non-Aligned Summit. Previous India-Africa summits—the first in New Delhi in 2008 and the second in Addis Ababa in 2011—were smaller events with India and representatives of select African countries participating.

Among those African leaders expected to attend the summit are Presidents Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

The summit comes at a time when India is looking to position itself as a “leading power" rather than a “balancing power", and spur domestic economic growth through programmes such as Make in India, Digital India and Skill India. It follows Africa’s launch of Agenda 2063, a roadmap “to how the continent should effectively learn from the lessons of the past, build on the progress now underway and strategically exploit all possible opportunities available in the immediate and medium term, so as to ensure positive socioeconomic transformation within the next 50 years", according to the African Union website.

It includes an assessment of “the changing nature of Africa’s relationships with the rest of the world".

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, an expert on India-Africa relations at the 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 are looking for support from the other for representation," she said.

Interacting with a group of African journalists in New Delhi on Friday, Modi said the aim of the third India-Africa Summit is to “set substantially higher and ambitious targets for our development partnership. We also aim to make it more effective, drawing upon our experience over the past decade... We will also address key challenges of our times, including food, health and environmental security. We will create conditions that stimulate trade and investment flows between our countries. We will work together to address the problems of climate change. We will explore new areas like a sustainable Blue Economy." Both sides will also deepen security cooperation, including on maritime security, in order to counter terrorism, Modi said.

With Africa facing an Islamist insurgency and terrorism, Indian analysts have of late been pushing for the start of a formal India-Africa dialogue covering these subjects. Meanwhile, China is said to be looking at setting up at least one naval base in Africa—along Namibia’s Atlantic coast in Walvis Bay, that could dock as many as six Chinese warships, according to news reports in January. This comes on the back of China investing more than $180 billion in Sub Saharan Africa in areas ranging from energy to transportation during 2005-2015, according to a study by the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute think tank. China-Africa trade in 2014-15 was worth $200 billion.

Once at the forefront of the campaign for decolonization and ending apartheid, India’s influence on the African continent began to wane because of India’s focus on refashioning ties with the West at the end of the Cold War. How much ground India lost in influencing the mindscape in Africa became clear when African countries voted for Japan instead of India in the elections for non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in 1996.

Since then, India has been trying to regain the ground it has lost to China and other Asian nations, positioning itself as a partner of choice in areas such as healthcare, education and investment and trade. India-Africa trade was almost $70 billion in 2014-15 and Indian investments into Africa in the past decade amounted to $30-$35 billion. Since the 2008 India-Africa Summit, India has committed $7.4 billion in lines of credit to African countries of which more than $3 billion have been disbursed, according Indian government figures. “Concessional credit is responsible for the creation of about 137 projects in 41 countries today," Navtej Sarna, secretary, West, in the Indian foreign ministry, told reporters on 16 October. “We have set up a Pan-African e-Network for education and health purposes and this has been extremely successful. In about 48 countries this is functional. So, capacity building has been one of our strongest planks of cooperation," he said.

The successes notwithstanding, Indian officials and diplomats are loathe to compare the inroads made by China into Africa with the efforts of countries such as Japan, the US and Europe, besides India.

“No matter what other countries may or may not be able to do, each country has its own strength, each country has its own potential and each country has its own possibilities in terms of trade promotion," said Sarna when asked about the huge difference in India-Africa and China-Africa trade numbers.

That Indian firms have been making their presence felt in Africa, albeit in a slow and steady manner, is evident from the enlarged footprints of Bharti Airtel Ltd and the diversified Tata group. Tata Africa Holdings, based in Johannesburg, has a presence in 11 countries, according to the company’s website. Bharti Airtel has a presence across 17 African countries.

“We are quite satisfied with our journey in Africa. Airtel is the largest mobile operator in Africa in terms of geographic footprint and one of the top consumer brands in the continent," a Bharti Airtel spokesperson said in emailed comments when asked about the company’s experience in Africa.

“Without doubt, Africa is the last remaining growth frontier on the world map and its large pool of young population is its biggest strength. We have a very optimistic outlook for Africa as a future growth market," the spokesperson said.

According to African diplomats, the continent would like to see a greater Indian commercial presence across the continent. “There are immense opportunities in the area of providing affordable health care," said a diplomat from West Africa who did not want to be named. “We want Indians to invest, not just trade. We welcome Indian investments in all areas. There are immense opportunities. We say come and use them and not worry about others, we want partnerships with all," he said.

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