Manmohan kicks off week of high-wire Africa diplomacy

May 22nd, 2011 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Addis Ababa, May 22 (IANS) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh touches down in Ethiopia Monday for his second summit with African leaders that will bolster India’s development-centric partnership and unveil fresh aid, trade concessions and training institutes for Africa against the backdrop of China’s surging influence in the continent.

It will be a week of high-wire Africa diplomacy as Manmohan Singh will not only co-chair the second India-Africa Forum Summit beginning Tuesday, but also hold bilateral meetings with over half a dozen leaders from African countries.

He will go to Tanzania, home to around 40,000 people of Indian origin, May 26 - the first visit by an Indian leader to the East African country in 14 years.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon are among those accompanying the prime minister on the two-nation Africa tour.

The two-day summit is being held against the backdrop of a resurgent Africa — which is clocking an average economic growth of five to six percent and is home to half a billion middle class consumers - that is being courted by major and emerging powers for its resources and markets.

Manmohan Singh will co-chair the India-Africa Forum summit with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, chairman of the African Union (AU) and president of Equatorial Guinea.

The two sides will seek to fashion a robust strategic partnership that will entail expansion of trade and investment on the one hand and closer coordination over a range of global issues including terrorism, piracy, climate change and the UN reforms.

The 53-nation AU is critical to India’s ambitions for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. India has supported two seats for Africa in an expanded Security Council. Almost all African countries back India for a permanent seat in the powerful Council.

This is the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Ethiopia. Leaders from 15 African countries will be present.

These are Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Namibia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Swaziland. Jean Ping, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, will also take part in the summit.

The summit will culminate Wednesday in the Addis Ababa Declaration and the Africa-India Framework for Enhanced Cooperation which will map out an ambitious blueprint of the India-Africa engagement for the next few years.

India hosted the first forum summit in April 2008.

At the summit, Manmohan Singh is expected to announce fresh lines of credit worth $500 million for a host of infrastructure projects and increase the number of scholarships for African students under the Indian government’s flagship Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.

The action plan launched by India and Africa in March 2010 will be fleshed out, including on India setting up 19 training institutions in African countries.

These include four pan-African institutions like the India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade (Uganda, East Africa); India-Africa Institute of Information Technolgy (Ghana, West Africa); India-Africa Diamond Institute (Botswana, southern Africa); and India-Africa Institute of Education, Planning and Administration (Burundi, Central Africa).

India will also set up 10 vocational training institutes, with two for each region. They include: East Africa - Ethiopia and Rwanda; West Africa - Burkina Faso and Gambia; North Africa - Egypt and Libya; and Central Africa - Burundi and Gabon. Besides, one human settlement institute will be sent in each of the five African regions.

Unlike China which has tended to focus on hydrocarbons and extractive resources in Africa, India has prided itself on putting capacity building at the heart of its engagement with Africa. Trade, technology transfer and training are in fact the three pillars that frame India’s multi-faceted engagement with Africa.

India believes its engagement with Africa, grounded in the shared struggle against colonialism, is aimed at resurgence and empowerment of the African people. This will be the central message of Manmohan Singh at the summit, a top official source disclosed.

Free trade deals with regional economic communities like the 19-nation Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) are also expected to be firmed up during the summit.

A wave of Afro-optimism has swept Indian corporates about investing in Africa. India has set a target of increasing bilateral trade with Africa from $45 billion to $70 billion by 2015. Indian investments in joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa are touching the $33 billion mark, says Commerce and Trade Minister Anand Sharma.

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