May 03, 2008

Africa: India-Africa Summit

Daily Trust (Abuja)

2 May 2008
Posted to the web 2 May 2008

An impressive number of African delegations attended the first India-Africa Summit recently convened in Delhi by the government of India. Although China similarly attempted to strengthen its economic and diplomatic ties with African countries two years ago, Indian officials were keen to stress that the Delhi summit was more than an attempt to counterbalance China's growing influence in Africa. There is little doubt however that the increasing focus of Asia's emerging giants is predicated on a renewed scramble for Africa's natural resources, for hydrocarbons in particular, as well as their mutual determination to counter each other's influence in the region. India is reported to be especially worried about China's "encroachment" on the African rim of the Indian Ocean which Delhi has long considered its strategic backyard.

The "Framework for Cooperation" issued at the end of the summit outlines ways in which India and Africa hope to work together in the areas of health, food security, water sanitation, poverty alleviation, manpower and infrastructure development; to reinforce efforts to promote trade and industry, foreign direct investment, development of business enterprises and Africa's integration; and to exchange experiences in security, peacekeeping, governance, climate change research, science and technology. The development of railways, information technology, telecommunication and power generation are expected to be accorded priority attention.

The chairman of the African Union (AU) clearly spoke for all Africans in expressing the hope that "concrete action" will follow the Delhi summit's initiatives. Significantly, India has joined many African countries to insist that while agriculture remains the key to the conclusion of the Doha Round of global trade talks, "any acceptable agreement must adequately protect the livelihood, food security and rural development concerns of developing countries" and bring about significant and effective reductions in trade-distorting domestic support and subsidies provided by developed countries. We particularly welcome the Indian government's commitment to double the number of long-term scholarships for African students, increase the slots for African trainees under its technical assistance programmes, and boost investment in and modernisation of Africa's agricultural sector.

We are persuaded that the mobility of its knowledge-based capital, particularly its expertise in providing cheap generic drugs and low-cost technology, gives India an unassailable edge in the African arena over its Chinese rival which, already saddled with excess productive capacities at home, would much rather import raw materials from and export finished products to Africa. We fear however that Africa would remain economically underdeveloped, unable to derive the optimal benefits from productive investments, unless and until it subsumes its plethora of nation-states into sovereign regional blocs. That will in turn require at least four essential elements to succeed: first, an ideology, Afro-centrism for example, under which necessary changes could be subsumed, validated, and justified; second, organisations that are capable of mobilising popular support in favour of such changes, such as progressive political and civic organisations; third, bureaucracies with the requisite executive capacities and the mental orientation inculcated by the progressive political and civic organisations; and fourth, adequate instruments to guarantee social cohesion.

Projections based on the economics of scale and forward linkage benefits from integrated industries justify our view that sovereign regional blocs would be better-placed to tackle Africa's numerous development and security problems than debt-ridden nation-states with little organic ties which are largely dominated by foreign powers through the mere presence of embassies. West Africa alone is credited with an economic potential greater than those of France and England combined. The potential must first be tapped of course, but political stability and the availability of skilled manpower in the raw-material-rich sub-region will in due time undoubtedly conjoin with the provision of modern infrastructures to attract the required productive investments.

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