India and Africa: Global partners in resurgence

May 23rd, 2008 - 6:20 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Manish Chand
The beat of African drums, ancient Sanskrit mantras intoned in classical style, dancers sporting colourful African masks, elegant Mohiniattam dancers - cultural and national boundaries blurred when nearly 100 musicians and dancers from India and Africa came together recently in a celebration of the centuries-old bonds between the two billion people of these ancient lands. The gala show, held against the floodlit ruins of the 16th century Old Fort in the Indian capital, was a befitting precursor to the first India-Africa summit in April that brought leaders of 14 African countries to Indian shores to craft a partnership anchored in historical goodwill and moored to their economic aspirations.

The cultural intermingling on stage between the two lands, separated by vast distances but akin in spirit, was reflected in the summit, with African leaders lauding India’s economic transformation and holding up New Delhi as an exemplar that African countries can do well to emulate.

India’s offer to assist Africa in ushering in a green revolution has moved the partnership beyond high-sounding words to gut issues that directly impinge on the lives of millions of their people. This intermeshing of dreams and ideals has created a sense of camaraderie that resonates till this day and finds echo in the popularity of Indian film stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai from Mozambique to Morocco.

Two documents that emerged from the summit - the Delhi Declaration and the India-Africa Framework for Cooperation - outlined a pragmatic paradigm of the India-Africa partnership to face the challenges of the new millennium, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it.

The global horizon of the partnership was not lost on anyone. The two sides agreed to intensify their collaboration not only in bilateral areas ranging from agriculture, food security, technology and trade to energy and capacity-building, as also on global issues like UN reforms, climate change, terrorism and multilateral trade negotiations.

India announced a slew of measures focusing on technology transfer and human resource development that underlined its approach towards the African continent.

These included granting preferential market access to 34 least developed African countries, more than doubling lines of credit to $5.4 billion over the next five years and increasing the ‘Aid to Africa’ budget by investing over $500 million in capacity building and human resource development projects.

The summit, termed as “historic” and “successful” by Indian and African leaders, also put the spotlight firmly on the unique nature of India’s multi-faceted partnership with the resource-rich continent, dating back to ancient times when Indian traders set sail in their wooden dhows in search of trade and later in the shared struggle against colonialism and apartheid.

India, even before it became independent, broke diplomatic ties with apartheid South Africa when Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became the country’s first prime minister, was in the interim administration. Makhan Singh, Pio Gama Pinto, Fitz D’Souza and Amba Lal, people of Indian origin who played a sterling role in the freedom struggle of their respective countries in Africa, are now the stuff of collective folklore on the continent.

In post-colonial times, the focus has shifted to economic emancipation and the collective dreams of over two billion people for a better lifestyle and a higher standing in the fast mutating world order.

India’s rise as an economic power and a key global player and Africa’s resurgence, spurred by vigorous reforms and discoveries of huge reserves of oil in some countries, will fashion a more contemporary partnership that is marked by a desire to see each other prosper and find their rightful place in an expanded UN Security Council.

India seeks to partner Africa in its resurgence, as Manmohan Singh said first in his address to the Nigerian National Assembly last year and repeated later at the April summit. “India and Africa have a shared destiny and common future. Ours is a relationship that must be brought to full bloom.”

Empowerment of the African people and its youth - the continent’s most precious resource - is India’s guiding mantra as it shepherds an old and trusted partnership into the whirling currents of the 21st century.

Building bridges and connecting cultures are thousands of African students and officials who are educated and trained in India every year. Over 1,000 officials from sub-Saharan Africa receive training annually in India and thousands of African students get scholarships under the flagship Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.

Over 15,000 African students study in India annually, many of who go on to occupy key positions in the government and business in their respective countries.

India’s pharmaceutical companies that compare with the best in the world have managed to come out with cheap retroviral drugs for combating HIV/AIDS that could go a long away in mitigating the debilitating impact of this disease in the continent.

India’s flourishing private sector is increasingly looking at Africa as its chosen investment destination. Tata buses and trucks and Kirloskar pumps have become iconic brands in Africa. Be it energy, infrastructure or hotels and telecom, Indian companies have struck their roots in the continent. Bilateral trade has jumped from a few million dollars a few years ago to nearly $30 billion.

Besides, Indian engineers, doctors, accountants and teachers - part of a vibrant and ethnically diverse Indian diaspora - are present in many African countries. Indian peacekeepers in various conflict zones in Africa enjoy enormous goodwill as the Africans find a sense of connection with them, says Lt. Gen. Jasbir Singh Lidder, who heads the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

India’s vigorous support for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), prompt response to emergencies under the ‘Aid to Africa’ programme and lines of credit worth $1.5 billion to sub-Saharan Africa under the Team-9 initiative underlines its focus on sustainable development and empowerment in the continent.

Technical and financial collaboration between India and Africa are epitomised in a slew of projects like the IT Park in Mauritius, the Entrepreneurship Training and Development Centre in Senegal, the Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in IT in Ghana, the machine tools facility in Nigeria and Hole-in-the-wall IT training centres in various African countries.

With Africa emerging as a global oil hub, Indian companies have been quick to pitch their tents in the thriving hydrocarbon sector in the continent. ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of India’s oil major, has invested over $1 billion in Sudan’s Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Co. Both private and public sector companies are actively scouting for fresh opportunities in Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and the oil-rich countries of West Africa.

As India emerges as a knowledge power, technology has become a defining motif of India’s quest for the transformation of Africa - embodied in the Pan-African e-Network, the brainchild of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The ambitious e-network seeks to bridge the digital divide by bringing the benefits of tele-education and tele-medicine to 53 countries of the African Union.

India’s development-centric approach has come in for generous praise from many African leaders who see in India as a rising economic and knowledge power and a source of technologies that are ideal for the African continent.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has lauded India for its help in the reconstruction of African countries and stressed on increased cooperation between the two sides in the area of the UN reforms.

By all accounts, the partnership between India and Africa is set to grow stronger in the days to come and a permanence of mutual interests aimed at mutual empowerment will ensure that it will survive the vagaries in the international system.

“The 21st century is often described as the Asian century. India wishes to see the 21st century as the century of Asia and Africa with the people of the two continents working together to promote inclusive globalization,” Manmohan Singh has noted in a prophetic tone.

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