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India Tries to Counter China's Influence in Africa


India is responding to China's growing presence in Africa by strengthening its involvement in the African Indian-Ocean rim, according to a just released report by London's Chatham House research center. Tendai Maphosa reports from London the first India-Africa summit begins Tuesday in New Delhi.

India is increasingly looking over its shoulder at China and viewing its neighbor as a main rival and competitor, especially in and around Africa.

The Chatham House report says India is taking steps to counter China's influence. These include increased overtures towards nations such as Mauritius, the Seychelles, Madagascar and coastal African countries such as Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania.

Report co-author Alex Vines tells VOA that Indian involvement in the region is nothing new. He says trade between the Indian sub-continent and Africa dates back to the 14th century.

"The trade links are nothing new at all and they were deepened through colonialism. The Portuguese used Mozambique Island as a stopping point for Goa, the Portuguese colony that was set up in India and the latter under British colonialism, even for a while what is now Kenya and bits of Uganda were managed, they were administered from Bombay," said Vines.

Vines adds that the rupee, India's currency, was used in a number of countries along Africa's east coast and still remains legal tender, though they are now known as Seychelles and Mauritian rupees on those islands. Vines also points out that there is a large Indian diaspora in Mauritius, the Seychelles, Kenya and South Africa.

According to the Chatham House report, India's strategy is not limited to commercial ties but includes concerns over its security, as Alex Vines explains.

"An Indian surveillance base was opened up recently in the northern part of Madagascar," continued Vines. "It is mostly about protecting shipping. The surveillance is about keeping the sea lanes open and to ensure that Chinese expansionism is also checked."

The two-day India-Africa summit, Vines says, is a clear sign that India intends to consolidate its influence beyond Africa's Indian Ocean zone. He says Nigeria is just one of many African countries cooperating economically with India.

"This is about Indian expansion. India has been active in West Africa especially in Nigeria. The uplift of oil from Nigeria has reached some 12 percent of imports of crude oil to India," he said.

India has invited leaders of 14 African countries chosen by the African Union to represent the continent. Twelve heads state are expected to attend the summit.