India’s multifarious relations with the resurgent African continent has deepened and acquired a new traction over the last decade or so, especially since the inaugural India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in New Delhi in 2008. India is set to host the third edition of IAFS early next year, which will bring the leaders and representatives of all 54 African countries to the capital Delhi, and is expected to mark an all-round acceleration of this burgeoning partnership. This will also be the first India-Africa Forum Summit, which will be hosted by the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi.
In this wide-ranging conversation with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and Editor of “Two Billion Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship,” Ethiopian ambassador to India Gennet Zewide strikes an upbeat note about the future trajectory of the India-Africa relations and hopes that this partnership will “tripled, multiplied and even quadrupled” under the new Modi government in New Delhi.
The Ethiopian envoy, a former education minister of the East African country, the seat of an ancient civilization, also speaks about the win-win partnership unfolding between India and her country, and the transformative impact of India’s Line of Credit on the country’s sugar industry, which promises to turn Ethiopia from an exporter into an importer of sugar in days to come.
(Excerpts from the interview)
Q. We have a new government in India. How do you look at the prospects of the India-Africa partnership developing in the days ahead?
A. India and Africa share a longstanding relationship, and it has only strengthened over the years. For example, the presence of African embassies in India has grown. When I came here in 2006, there were merely 24 African embassies, but now the number has increased to 42. Any country would not open an embassy in any country if it does not see the relationship flourishing. The second example is that, in 2003 or 2000, during the rule of the BJP government in India, the Line of Credit for Africa was initiated. Now that initiative has grown manifold. The India-Africa relationship has been elevated and institutionalized into the India-Africa Forum Summit. Two editions of the summit have been held in 2008 and 2011 in New Delhi and Addis Ababa respectively. New Delhi is going to host the third summit soon. We can conclude that at each stage our relationship has grown. Also, our strengths have grown over time.
So, this relationship was forged by the BJP, and it has grown by leaps and bounds. And Africans expect a further growth and a further strengthening of the relationship because of what we have experienced so far. Be it the Lines of Credit or Indians investing in the African market or trade, our relationship has never witnessed any stagnation ever. India is also helping us in capacity building by setting up training institutions and awarding scholarships. So, what the BJP government started has bloomed beautifully.
Q. Now we have a BJP government, and that too, with a comfortable majority in parliament. Do you, therefore, see this relationship acquiring greater force and diversifying into new areas in the days to come?
A. Sure. The BJP started the LOC and it blossomed. Line of Credit is one of the instruments, but we also want this government to encourage investors for value creation in Africa. We have plenty of natural resources, be it agriculture or in mines. Therefore, if Indian investors come, add value to our country and be our growth partners, it will help to strengthen the relationship between the two sides. And it is not just for the benefit of Africa, but for the benefit of the Indian investors as well. Today, if you take the 10 fastest growing countries in Africa, seven of them are in Africa. Moreover, when the rest of the world is stagnating or growing negatively, Africa is growing at the rate of 5-6%, which is more than the average growth rate of most countries. So, Indians should come and take advantage of this economic vibrancy. It is a win-win situation for both the sides. So, we want the present government to encourage the Indian investors, among other things.
Q. India has a special relationship with Ethiopia. Are you satisfied with the way the bilateral relations have evolved? In which areas do you see the India-Ethiopia partnership growing in the future?
A. If I say I’m not satisfied, I would be lying because all indications, numbers and realities show that the relationship between India and Ethiopia is blossoming. This is manifested in several way — the Line of Credit, the growing Indian investment. There are close to 620-plus investors who have invested in Ethiopia in various projects. And it is not because we have huge reserves of oil or gas, but because we have fertile land and a pro-investor/investment government. We offer good investment opportunities. Moreover, the Indian government is also assisting us in capacitating our manpower. We have tie-ups with various Indian institutions like NIFT and CLRI. Besides, we are also in the process of forging a tie-up with a metallurgical company to train our workforce. Also, Indian educational institutions like IITs and IISC have opened its doors for our students. We are also beneficiaries of ICCR scholarships. So, our relationship is diverse. Our trade has grown from a mere $200 million to $700 million in the past 6-7 years. And we are aiming to push it to $1 billion by 2015. What do we need in the future? What is true for African countries is true for Ethiopia as well and that is, we need more investors. Like any other developing country, a large proportion of our population is young and these youngsters need jobs. Since Indian investors have created plenty of jobs in the past, we could become the fastest growing economy in Africa with more investments coming in.
Q. To be more specific, one of the areas of co-operation which has been stunningly successful is the sugar industry. India has provided LOCs worth 640 million USD for Ethiopia’s sugar industry. How do you see the role of India in transforming Ethiopia’s sugar industry?
A. I will go back to the history of the sugar industry. When the sugar industry was nationalised by the former military government after the original owners, the Dutch, left, they were not performing well. They became liabilities for us; so we thought of revitalising it and also starting a new and bigger one because a study done by the EU showed that there is a shortage of sugar in Europe. So, we wanted to capitalise on that opportunity. We are blessed with a fertile soil that is appropriate for growing sugar. In fact, our sugarcane can grow within 12 months as opposed to 14 months —- which is the usual time taken to grow sugarcanes. Also, the yield is very high. So, we ventured into it, and the first country who we asked to accompany us into this venture was India and we have been given 640 million USD by India already.
Today, Ethiopia has stopped importing sugar which means we are saving our foreign currency. The new factory is expected to be commissioned soon. And when it is commissioned, we will also start exporting sugar. It will mean saving and gaining foreign currency both. However, one can also imagine the kind of labour market it will create. Moreover, the farmers will get buyers too. More importantly, when we use this line of credit, we are using Indian goods and services so; you can imagine the kind of technology transfer that will take place – which is very important for the future. So, we are not just looking at it in terms of jobs but also technology transfer which will be the future of sustainable development in the area. It’s a major milestone. From being an importer, we will become net exporter. And it would also mean that we would be able to capture the EU market that was studied few years ago.
Imagine Ethiopia transforming its economy from agriculture to industry. We have a vision of transforming our economy to industry in the year 2025. Also, in the same year, we aim to become a middle-income country. This sugar industry is the first milestone in that journey and India has played a very important role in this process.
Q. Indian generic drugs play the role of life-saving drugs for diseases like HIV AIDS. However; there is a lot of controversy surrounding the same. How do you look at co-operation in the pharmaceutical sector?
A. Indian drugs are very appropriate for Africa because they are generic. They are not branded with fancy names and packaging, which add to the cost of a drug. Africa cannot afford costly medicines for obvious reasons. Indian generic drugs’ quality may vary from drugs sold by other brands but they are effective nonetheless. They have been characterised as ineffective because some cultures don’t value cheap things. For these people, cheap things signify cheap quality. But the Indian government should create a big campaign to create awareness on this subject.
Q. The third edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit will be the first forum summit to be hosted under the new government in New Delhi. What are your expectations from this summit?
A. Firstly, I would like to congratulate the new government on receiving the biggest mandate in three decades. This is marvellous. India has a vibrant and efficient democracy. Even in the remotest of places, people have the opportunity to elect. This is the kind of efficiency that we want to achieve. It also shows the Indian government’s commitment to the democratic process.
We expect more infrastructural development and approval of funds from the Indian government. Africa is ensnared in many problems —- instability and terrorism — and one of the reasons behind all these is poverty. In our own pockets, we are growing but we are not inter-linked. We expect infrastructural developments that will link us so that we can trade with each other. Our interaction with the Indian government at each level, at the union level and the bilateral level, is to connect Africa together. We have the resources, but we don’t have the technology. What was started during the BJP government, we want it to be tripled, multiplied and even quadrupled. And we will not fail you as we have demonstrated in the past.
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