It had all the elements of India. Dancers, songs, great speeches, traffic jams, last minute tremors as India began the run up to the India Africa Forum Summit III 2015 (IAFS III). Behind the scenes, event managers like Teamwork Arts India and the invisible man of the Ministry of External Affairs worked overtime to get to the magic dates 26-30 October, New Delhi. An estimated 3,500 African delegates including more than 30 African heads of states descended in Delhi. Much happened, and much did not happen. AFRICA RISING goes behind the scenes to look at the dark faultlines that threatened to make the Summit fall apart. The cynical view is that India tried to dazzle Africa with giving them a little and lot of show bazzi (50 Mercedes Benz cars for transport, 5 star hotels) in order to push for their support in securing a seat in the UN Security Council. On the lines of the Summit we spoke to African leaders to reveal the truth.
The third India Africa Forum Summit started with a logo of a lion that the IAFS III website described as “Proud, Courageous, Bold and on the Prowl, ready to take on the future and seize every opportunity” the website went on about the shared history of the continent and India, of course the colonial struggle and Gondwanaland references could not be left out which were also reiterated by more than 40 national heads that attended the summit and their delegation at various events and press conferences. Sometimes the African leaders also mentioned “Nehru” a name BJP has recently gotten a bit allergic to but then at the end of the event on 30 October Modi announced 10 billion dollars of Line of Credit to African Nations and happiness was just oozing out of Delhi as Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj inaugurated the India Africa Friendship Rose Garden, Ethiopians and Zambians could be seen dancing at Nehru Park, there was a Cultural Showcase produced by Teamwork Arts at Rashtrapathi Bhavan, BMWs were racing through Lutyens’ Delhi, Fashion Shows like “Threads of Banaras” reinstated how important fashion is to diplomacy, there were events at almost every 5 star in the city and much more. Not to forget the 3D sound and light show that went on the whole week at India Gate. The INTACH initially was against the laser show at the war memorial as the conveyor AGK Menon called it “sacrilegious”. The PMO sorted that out as an official said: “The proposed display is a very important component of showcasing the various facets of India’s contribution to peace-keeping operations in several African countries” and nothing more was to be heard of the controversy that included the MEA, PMO, INTACH and Defence Ministry to name a few.
The PMO’s conviction to the summit can be imagined by their arrangements to get the measurements of 42 African Heads for a Modi Jacket before the summit that the heads were supposed to wear at a State dinner. PMO’s generosity knew no bounds when they also gifted “Ikkat Kurtas” to the African Heads, each with a different color and significance but with its grandiose spending at the summit maybe the government did get a bit stingy in some places as no pyjamas were gifted along with the kurta.
Behind the whole glamour and dazzle of the Summit lies a simple fact that India is still as clueless about its intentions and policy towards Africa as it has always been which is evident from how after burning God knows how much fuel the Air India 1 still hasn’t found a single suitable landing strip on the entire African continent. The islands didn’t remain untouched of course– Seychelles and Mauritius were lucky to have been graced by PM Modi’s presence.
IAFS 3 was proclaimed as the biggest diplomatic event in India so much so that it prompted even the Dragon to up its game. Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) started in 2000 in Beijing was this year declared to be a “summit” where the African leaders will once again assemble in Johannesburg in December 2015.
Amidst all the hoobaloo one wonders what did the Summit actually achieve? And then comes wisdom through the Great King and I am serious here. The King of Swaziland who attended the IAFS 3 with his 15 wives, 30 children and 100 servants, was received by the President of India Pranab Mukherjee who said, “India appreciates Swaziland's consistent support for India's candidature at the UN and other international fora.” So is India pitting Africa for a permanent seat? Especially in the light of how oil prices have hit an all time low and Iranian oil sanctions have also been lifted, Africa does need India for its Oil and Gold exports. That’s just one of the many questions and speculations that the summit left us all with. New LOCs are being released by the India EXIM BANK when the earlier ones haven’t even been disbursed. Developmental projects in the smallest of countries like Gabon haven’t been completed as suddenly money through LOCs stops coming and just as suddenly about 90 per cent of India’s FDI finds its way into the tax haven of Mauritius. India’s bilateral trade with Africa is stuck at $71.5billion, a figure lower than China’s $84 billion development aid projects through 2002-2012 and a far cry from the dragon’s present $222 billion bilateral trade with Africa.
While the one million Chinese workers slog in Africa is the three million Indian Diaspora still sitting idle, confused about its identity? The latest figures show four African countries in the top 10 list of Fast Growing Economies with Ethiopia taking a lead. Last year democratic elections were held in more than 11 African countries. Africa is no longer going to be a dark continent. But as Africa rises will India rise with it too?