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Looking towards Africa

Ahead of the third India-Africa Forum Summit in the national capital, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that New Delhi was committed to the continent’s economic growth and its integration with the global economy. “Today as one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, India is attaching the utmost importance to its economic engagement with the African countries,” the External Affairs Minister said. Underlining substantial trade and investments, she termed Africa as a frontier of “new opportunities”, she said, “we are interested in Africa’s economic growth and its integration with the global economy.” Suffice to say, the Minister is right. India needs to intensify its relationship with African countries through bilateral, regional and pan-African formats. The Summit is scheduled to be held in New Delhi from October 26-29, 2015. 

The third edition of the summit will see a meeting of Foreign Ministers on October 27, followed by the arrival of heads of various African countries the next day. So far India’s development assistance was routed through the African Union (AU). But the vast continent has countries with varied needs and priorities for development. Therefore, it is necessary that India must engage with these countries directly or through regional groups.

 Since the First India-Africa Summit in 2008, India has committed $7.4 billion Line of Credit (LoC), of which $6.8 billion have been approved and $3.5 billion has been disbursed. The money has created 137 projects in 41 countries. However, the setting up of projects and institutions has been slow due to the delay in preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs) for African countries. India, with the help of AU, could set up Pan-African e-network for education and health in 48 countries. Since the first summit, New Delhi extended 40,000 scholarships for pursuing their study in India. Indian pharmaceutical companies supplied generic drugs to contain HIV-AIDS in Africa. 

However, its role in containing the recent Ebola outbreak was limited. It is  ironical that while Africa seeks closer engagements, New Delhi’s response has not been up to speed. While there are 43 African Missions in New Delhi, India has set up permanent missions in only about 25 countries. Closer engagement with the continent is vital, considering that some of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. It is a continent that has large amounts of arable land and rich in natural resources including oil and gas. It is a demographically young continent – 65 per cent of the African population is under the age of 35. It has got a long coastline, very important in trade and strategic terms, of 26,000 km. Thus far, China’s presence in the African continent has made all the headlines. It is time India stepped up its engagements unless we want another Nepal-like scenario.  Prime Minister Modi looks to change the status quo in the region.

Apart from development concerns, however, there are areas where both sides stand to gain. Bilateral trade has reached $ 70 billion. The volume of trade needs to expand. Investments by Indian corporates in the resource-rich continent are in the range of $30-35 billion. There is a 2.7 million Indian diaspora in Africa. There is ample scope for setting up fertilisers plants in Africa with buyback arrangements. New Delhi depends upon import of pulses from countries like Tanzania to meet its shortages. Nigeria exports oil to India. Mozambique has huge gas potential and there are new hydrocarbon discoveries in North Africa including Somalia. During the meet, many African business delegations will be coming for the business forum meeting and trade ministers’ meet. One hopes that such engagements sort out some of the structural problems in trade and investment between the two sides. The discourse on Indian foreign policy, under Prime Minister Modi, has found a refreshing emphasis on improving business and trade ties. The upcoming India-Africa Forum Summit offers the Modi an opportunity to further the discourse to the benefit of both India and Africa.
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