January 26, 2014
By Vijay Naik
As India and South Africa celebrate the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's last Satyagraha in South Africa this year, both India and the continent of Africa, comprising 53 nations, are ready to forge political, economic and strategic ties in practically every field of human activity. Ruled by colonial powers for over a century, India and Africa were bound by their proximity of thought to fight against the forces of imperialism. African Leaders Kwame Nkruma (Ghana), Haile Selassie (Ethiopia), Samora Machel, (Mozambique), Jonas Savimbi,(Angola), Jomo Kenyatta, (Kenya), Nelson Mandela, (South Africa) Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Leopold Sedar Senghor (Senegal) had close and friendly ties with India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and later with Indira Gandhi. Their struggle for freedom created a common bond of friendship.
India has made a conscious effort to recognize the services rendered to mankind by the towering statesmen and women leaders of Africa. South Africa's first (post apartheid regime) President Nelson Mandela was awarded Jawaharlal Nehru Award for international understanding in 1979 and ‘Bharat Ratna’, India’s highest civilian honour soon after his release from 27 years of imprisonment in 1990. Julius Nyerere, First President of Tanzania and South African cleric and activist Desmond Tutu were honored with Gandhi Peace Prize in 1995 and 2000 respectively. Among the recipients of Indira Gandhi Peace Prize are the first President of Namibia Sam Nujoma (1990); 12th President of Nigeria Olsegun Obasanjo (1995); 7th United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (2003); Kenya's Environmental and Political activist Wangari Maathai (2006) and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2012).
The foundations are not only enduring, but have become a bridge for future cooperation. That these ties were not translated into economic partnership for the last few decades has been a matter of worry.
India and Africa with a combined population of 2 billion can achieve many a goal of making the world a place to live with a sense of equality and sustainability. Africa which imports most of its food from the West has a potential to become world's food basket in the years to come. India can certainly play a pivotal role in transfer of technology in the field of agriculture, software, pharmaceuticals, communications etc. The buzz word for India in Africa today is 'capacity builder'. It is often debated whether India is engaged in competition or in a race with China in Africa. The answer is negative. India is going its own way, steady and sure to help African nations in their path of economic development. It is gratifying to note that a number of countries in Africa today have an enlightened and visionary leadership, which is aware of the dangers of economic colonization. When asked about his apprehensions, Foreign Minister of Mozambique Oldemiro Baloi speaking in Maputo and Ambassador of Ethiopia to India Ms.Genet Zewdie speaking in Delhi expressed near similar opinions. Mr. Boloi said, ''We are aware of the danger, but we have learnt from the past and would not allow any country to re-colonize Africa. We see large opportunities in cooperation with India, a trusted friend." Ms. Zewdie added, ''We do not see India as a land grabber." However, while China's investment in Africa stands at staggering $140 billion, India's investment stands at around $50 billion, thus giving a vast scope for India to expand its economic cooperation.
In the last few years, during visits to Ethiopia, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, DR Congo, Mozambique, Egypt and Kenya, I came across marvels (tangible assets) that China has built in Africa like roads in Kinshasa, ministerial buildings in Maputo, huge stadiums in some countries, an impressive building housing headquarters of African Union in Addis Ababa etc, but as one travels to the interiors of these countries, one finds tremendous goodwill created by Indian companies in the remotest parts, as they continue to assist local people to become self sufficient in their trades and vocations. There is a realization and recognition in the government quarters about India's 'Africa friendly' policy and about the encouragement that it is giving to the private sector to expand its trade and business relations with the emerging continent. While Kirloskar is a household name for the African famers for the last half century or so, roads of many capital cities today are dotted with billboards of Tata, Bharati (Airtel), Reliance, Godrej, Karuturi, Birla, Jindals, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, etc. Farmers from Punjab have helped farmers in Burkina Faso to enhance their yield of crops; another company Omika distributed cycles to the farmers making them mobile in the remotest parts of DR Congo; gave them improved varieties of seeds which increased their yield. Prominent PIO (Person of Indian Origin) Jose Prankyan who launched Mozambique Holdings Group of Companies employ 1100 workers, including 100 Indians. I remember, ONGC Videsh gifting footballs to the schools and colleges in Khartoum as a gesture of goodwill, when it was engaged in construction of a pipeline in Sudan. The second and the third generations of Indian Africans have contributed their might for over a century to the economies of many African countries.
When a team of Indian journalists called on Foreign Minister of South Africa Ms. Maite Mashabane in April 2011 in Pretoria, she said that she has a dream of connecting the entire continent by a road network form north to south and east to west. A continent with Indian and Atlantic oceans touching its shores is ripe to take a leap, and the prospects thereof are making the phrase already in vogue ''Scramble for Africa'' more and more popular.
India continues to extend cooperation to the comity of nations to fight the scourge of piracy by Somalia's armed groups to secure sea lines for cargo and passenger ships. During the visit of President of Puntland (a region in northeastern Somalia) Abdi-rahman Muhamud Farole to India in May 2012 both sides discussed joint measures to deal with piracy. That India is an important ally of Africa in fighting growing terrorism was evident when India supported the French and Malian troops in their fight against al-Qaeda linked militants in Mali.
The two way cooperation is a work in progress. Apart from bilateral ties and regular dialogues with number of African countries, India hosted a foreign ministers conference of 48 least developed countries in February 2011. Out of these there were as many as 35 countries from Africa. Extension of Lines of Credit, Africa- E Connectivity Project and other development assistance initiatives were discussed. At the fourth International Conference on LDCs held in Istanbul in May 2011, India offered a credit line of US$ 1 billion; 250 additional Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) scholarships and a grant of US$ 5 million to support the Istanbul Programme of Action.
Among the landmark conferences, the first-ever India Africa Forum Summit held in Delhi in April 2008 and a follow-on second summit held in Addis Ababa in May 2011 stand as shining examples of India's commitment to Africa. In the second Summit, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced a US$ 5 billion credit line to Africa for the next three years. He also declared India’s support to the development of a new Ethiopia-Djibouti railway line to the tune of US$ 300 million. In addition, India offered an additional US$ 700 million to establish new institutions and training programmes in consultation with the African Union and its institutions. Following the success of the Pan-African E-Network, as a next step, India also announced the proposal to establish an India-Africa Virtual University. Another landmark initiative is the proposal to establish an 'India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade' in Kampala, Uganda. However, it is my view that Banjul Formula under which these summits take place needs to be amended to allow more countries (from 14 countries to at least 20 at a time) to take part in the Forum Summits.
Setting up of 'Africa - India Editors Forum' in Addis Ababa in 2011 was a step forward in enhancing connectivity amongst media. 'Africa Connect' portal run by the Indo Asian News Service with the help and encouragement of the Ministry of External Affairs of India has also picked up momentum and continues to exchange news and views about important developments, thereby giving strength to India's Africa policy in order to create mutual trust for a better tomorrow.
(The author is a member of Africa-India Editors Forum and Consulting Editor of Sakal Papers based in New Delhi and can be reached at email@example.com)
(This is special article commissioned by External Publicity Division of Ministry of External Affairs on the occasion of 65th Republic Day)