Rejuvenating Closer Ties

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Nov 2015 13:35:38

THE recently concluded India Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi has put into sharp focus the significance of a vibrant India and a resurgent Africa to once again work in close cooperation. India has a long association with some African States and some key personalities of that region had close ties with their counterparts. One may mention here the name of Abdel Nasser, the late Egyptian President, who easily outgrew his African geographical
limitations, and Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister of independent Ghana, who put before the world the need for African unity. This was reciprocated as each of Africa’s 54 countries and the African Union participated in this highly successful Summit, attended by over 30 Heads of State and Government.
Geographical proximity, identical historical experience binds India and the African nations. Africa’s natural resource and India’s capability to use these are bound to benefit us. Moreover, Africa has a constant presence not just in the lives of Delhiites due to roads named after their leaders but also there is great social and cultural affinity between our country and that continent.
India has obviously used the summit to stitch together bilateral ties with individual countries in a bid to go through the bureaucracy and internal politics of the African Union (AU) to close the gap between this country’s promises and their execution. India had committed $ 2.5 billion worth lines of credit to African nations at its first summit in 2008 in Delhi and $ 5 billion at the second edition at Addis Ababa in 2011. But of the $ 7.5 billion committed at the two earlier summits, only $ 3.5 billion has actually been disbursed.
Both sides are possibly to blame as major projects were apparently held up due to various extraneous factors. However, whatever may have happened in the past, Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi went ahead to announce $ 10 billion concessional aid in this summit and grant of $ 600 million over the next five years. Apart from this, 50,000 scholarships have been offered to African students while uninterrupted supply of life-saving medicines would also be ensured. These commitments represent a substantial increase over previous ones.
Though the next summit is scheduled to be held after five years, Mr. Modi proposed a Joint Monitoring Mechanism (JMM) with the African Union (AU) for effective implementation of projects and better coordination with the countries. This proposal would ensure that there is a dialogue at regular intervals and issues sorted out at these meetings.
Delving into the trade ties with the African countries India’s trade jumped six-fold to touch $ 70 billion and is expected to be around $ 100 billion very shortly. Bilateral trade has doubled in five years, investment flow increased and aid projects cover over 40 countries. This is, however, a far cry from the China-African trading relationship with $ 200 billion.
India has considerable investment in African economies and more than 165 Indian companies invested there between 2003 and July 2015 in telecom, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, health care etc. With Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, in so far as South Africa is concerned, this country was the largest purchaser of gold but imposition of import duties hit purchases of the metal in 2013 and 2014. Some of these duties have been eased by the Modi Government but the South Africans appear not quite satisfied.
In recognition of late Dr. APJ Kalam’s vision in creating the Pan-African e-Network, currently linking 48 African nations – from the New Delhi towers of public sector Telecommunication Consultants India Ltd. (TCIL) – the operation has been extended in its present form by more than five years from July 2016. The network connects universities and hospitals in the African nations to counterparts in Indian cities for professional advice and training. This has brought considerable benefit to many African nations as now they do not have to come to India for consultation or minor surgical treatment since these can be handled through the e-Network tele-medicine facilities.
The Summit stressed on co-existence, dialogue, mutual understanding that India and Africa share so that both can contribute jointly for handling conflicts and crises. Apart from this political nexus, the cooperation with the AU countries would, in the coming years, help in economic strengthening in the areas of infrastructure development, IT, education and health sectors. With India’s expertise in physical infrastructure development, which happens to be vital for Africa’s growth, there is a huge potential for collaboration with most if not all the countries of the
continent. In this context, it may be mentioned Mr. Modi’s particular stress to “make solar energy an integral part of our life and reach it to the
most unconnected villages and communities”, thereby hinting to set up solar plants in some of the African countries.
Indeed, India-Africa partnership is anchored in the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit. This vision takes us beyond our strong bilateral relationships, our close ties with regional economic communities and aims to develop a new paradigm of cooperation which takes into account Africa’s own aspirations for pan-African institutions and development programmes.