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India Seeks To Deepen Political, Trade Ties With Africa

  • Anjana Pasricha

Indian leaders and businessmen are headed to Africa for a summit aimed at forging closer political and economic ties with several African countries. The Indian push for increased trade follows China’s deep investments in the region.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to arrive Monday in Ethiopia, along with leaders of 14 African countries, for the second India-Africa Forum summit.

Indian officials say they will re-enforce the message that New Delhi wants to deepen its engagement with Africa, which is considered rich in resources and challenges for foreign businesses.

Rajiv Kumar, the Director of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says Indian companies are at an advantage because of common ties that date back to the time when India and several African nations were European colonies.

“It’s a mixed bag as usual," said Kumar. "There are situations and there are countries which are different. But overall because of long historical connections we have had with large parts of Africa, it is not a difficult environment to work in. In fact, Indian companies find it quite conducive to work there….the ones who have gone recently have done well.”

The Indian delegation includes representatives of such industries as telecommunications, consumer and agriculture products, power, mining, and information technology.

Many of these businesses have already invested billions of dollars in Africa, while others are scouting for new investment opportunities.

Many observers say India is trying to catch up with China. Beijing has emerged as a key trading partner with several African countries and has sought access to the continent’s rich natural resources, such as minerals, oil and gas.

However, Rajiv Kumar says India’s and China’s investments in Africa have been very different.

“Our approach and our connection with Africa has been very different," he said. "It has been mostly our private sector companies that have been active in Africa, while the Chinese, the great majority have been public sector state enterprises which have been there. And we have not had that single-minded focus on resource extraction in Africa. And also we rely a lot more on indigenous entrepreneurs, joint ventures and labor. So the level of need is different, the approach is different.”

Indian officials stress that New Delhi’s interests in Africa are not in competition with any other country. The government says its focus is to increase trade and investment and assist African countries as they seek to develop education, industry, agriculture and infrastructure.

India’s trade with Africa was about $40 billion in 2010, but is expected to grow to about $75 billion over the next two years.

The countries attending the India-Africa summit include Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Namibia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Swaziland.