In the biggest diplomatic event New Delhi will hold in decades, India is set to host the third edition of its summit with the leaders of the renascent African continent in the last week of October, a defining step that is expected to push the envelope for multi-tiered engagement between the two emerging growth poles of the world.
Ending months of speculation, India’s external affairs ministry announced on March 25 that the third India-Africa Forum summit will be held on October 29, and will be preceded by meetings of senior officials and foreign ministers of India and 54 African countries.
IAFS-III: Raising the Bar
Unlike the previous two summits in New Delhi and Addis Ababa, India will be inviting leaders of all 54 African countries, as opposed to the earlier Banjul formula which envisaged the participation of African leaders in the summit as heads of the Regional Economic Communities. This makes the IAFS-III the biggest diplomatic event New Delhi will host after the 1983 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, and signals the Modi government’s strategic resolve to place multifarious relations with the vibrant African continent on a qualitatively different plane.
“The difference in this one is going to be that in order to fully reflect the way we are engaging the continent, we would be inviting all 54 members of Africa unlike in the previous Summits where the engagement was with a limited number according to a formula worked out by the AU. So this would a first in that sense also,” said Navtej Sarna, secretary (west) in India’s external affairs ministry and the chief pointsperson for India’s Africa policy.
Microcosm of India’s Africa policy
The October 26-30 India-Africa summit will be a microcosm of India’s multi-faceted engagement with the continent that harks back to shared anti-colonial solidarity and has morphed into a multi-dimensional relationship that has been mutually empowering and rewarding. This is reflected in burgeoning trade and investment – bilateral trade has exceeded $70 billion and investments from Indian companies into Africa have already crossed $32 billion dollars. Development partnership, pivoted around capacity building and human resource development, is already on an upswing.
Over the last two summits, India had pledged to set up over 100 training institutes in different African countries, encompassing a wide array of areas ranging from agriculture, rural development and food processing to information technology, vocational training, English language centres, and entrepreneurial development institutes. “These capacity-building institutions are in various stages of implementation,” said Sarna. “There are three vocational training centres that have already been set up in Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda, and several others in the pipeline nearing completion,” he added. Over the last decade or so, India has provided soft loans in terms of Lines of Credit of over $7 billion to African countries, which comprise nearly two-thirds of all Lines of Credit given by India in the last 10 years.
Human empowerment remains the animating mantra of India’s Africa policy – 22,000 scholarships have been awarded to African participants under a host of schemes. And the Pan African e-Network Project continues to shine as the emblem of India’s commitment to stimulating the renaissance of the African continent by providing e-medicine and e-education to African people. The e-network is now active in 48 African countries.
The third summit is expected to raise the bar and will build upon substantive outcomes and plans outlined in the 2008 New Delhi Declaration and 2011 Addis Ababa Declaration and Africa-India Framework for Enhanced Cooperation, the all-encompassing documents that serve as templates for expanding this mutually enriching partnership revolving around enhanced trade, capacity-building and training.
The third Summit is, therefore, poised to be more than a showpiece diplomatic event, celebrating the exuberance, enterprise and energies of the two regions; it will be an occasion for review as well as mapping the road ahead and pushing the envelope to harness new opportunities unleashed by the parallel and interlinked resurgence of India and Africa. The possibilities of mutually empowering cooperation are virtually limitless.
Africa’s choice: The more, the merrier
Clearly, there is much more India can do. There is a tendency to compare India’s engagement with Africa with that of China’s spectacular success in the continent in areas of trade and investment. China’s bilateral trade with Africa is three times more than that of India’s with the continent. But such comparisons are misleading as the two Asian giants have different histories of engagement with Africa and have a different set of core competencies and capacities. China’s prowess lies in infrastructure, and India excels in knowledge industries and skill building. With Asia’s two powerful countries courting the continent with renewed vigor, Africa, which has decisively shed the stereotype of a “Hopeless Continent” to become a “Cape of Good Hope,” should not be complaining.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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