Modi’s Africa safari: India hosts summit to kick-start relations

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The upcoming India-Africa Forum Summit, the third in and largest in a series, offers major opportunities for India to enhance its trade relations with Africa against a backdrop of China’s economic slowdown.

India will host a major summit with Africa as it aims to boost commercial and political ties with the continent amid China’s slowdown, as Premier Narendra Modi seeks to raise the country’s global profile.

More than 50 African nations are expected to join the India Africa Forum Summit on October 26-29.

It is the biggest gathering of foreign leaders in India since the 1980s, prompting authorities to convert a stadium into a makeshift convention centre.

Expanding trade, enhancing energy and security ties, United Nations reforms and climate change, top the agenda for talks.

Analysts say the major focus would be on India’s efforts to tap opportunities with Africa, where the largest commercial partner is China.

Catherine Makokera from Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said the scale of the summit was a clear sign that India is stepping up its economic diplomacy.

“The meeting provides an opportunity to build on linkages which are seeing a recent resurgence following the slowdown in the Chinese economy,” she said.

India could prove a viable alternative to China for the African economies, said Richa Sekhani, an Africa specialist from Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation.

She said Africa is the region most vulnerable to China’s economic downturn. China is highly dependent on the continent for its mineral resources, oil and cheap labour. Recent months have seen a deterioration in Africa’s trade balance with China.

“The summit will be a test for India to make the best out of the circumstances,” Sekhani said.

With its long-standing presence in the continent, India is seen as a good partner by a resurgent Africa whose leaders ae beginning to look beyond China to reduce dependence, she said.

China has invested in key infrastructure projects such as highways and airports, with bilateral trade recorded at 200 billion dollars. But India’s trade has jumped 20-fold, to 70 billion dollars, in the last 15 years.

Energy will feature prominently in the talks as India faces huge energy deficit and imports 70 per cent of oil, mostly from the politically volatile Middle East.

“The fact is that several countries including China, Brazil, US and Malaysia are engaging with Africa, which has seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies. There is enough space for all countries to progress,” Ruchita Beri, of Delhi’s Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, said.

Senior Indian diplomat Navtej Sarna underlined historical ties with Africa.

“Throughout the period of struggle for African independence against colonialism, against apartheid, against discrimination … we have been brothers in arms.”

India’s assistance includes a commitment of 7.5 billion dollars toward African infrastructure with 137 projects in 41 countries.

It has also promised 100 training institutes in areas from ranging from agriculture to information technology, and has 4,500 troops in four major peacekeeping operations in Africa.

Indian farmers have leased lands in Ethiopia, while the country’s top oil and gas firms are looking to invest in African countries.

Under the business-oriented Prime Minister Modi, the summit could give India’s relations with Africa a new footing, Beri said.

Ties with Africa are important for India’s global aspirations.

India has positioned itself as the voice of the developing world and has urged UN reforms. Support of African countries is vital for its bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

“Chances are that Modi will use the India-Africa summit in New Delhi to move decisively away from a past that was rooted in idealism and intent, and not enough action,” an editorial in the Hindustan Times stated.

“It is a plain fact that Africa needs partnerships. And India remains in a position to leverage Africa’s quest for development as it seeks to play a larger role in the global stage.”

Some controversy also surrounds the summit participation of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

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