Magazine article New African

The Never-Ending Learning Curve: A Recent Conference in London on Indian and African Relations Produced Silent Fury Amongst the African Attendees

Magazine article New African

The Never-Ending Learning Curve: A Recent Conference in London on Indian and African Relations Produced Silent Fury Amongst the African Attendees

Article excerpt

The gathered experts (most of whom were from Indian political and economic think-tanks) discussed the growing relationship between India and Africa. But the weight of the contributions, even from the African experts, seemed to be focused on the motivations and experiences of Indian entrepreneurs, businesses and government on our continent.

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We got a clear idea of why India was engaging (access to mineral and agricultural resources, markets, strategic rivalry with China etc) and the fact that the engagement was, unlike with China, largely private sector-led. Also explored were India's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean and partnerships with the Indian-majority islands of Seychelles and Mauritius; and even India's attitudes to aid, both as a recipient and a giver.

As a rising economic and nuclear power, and perhaps soon to be a member of the most exclusive club--the UN Security Council--there was nothing wrong with this focus on India's ambitions in Africa. What was galling was how one-sided it was. There was very little about what Africa wanted from India, no examples of how African businesses or entrepreneurs were faring in India, whether indeed there were barriers to our access to Indian markets, etc.

Simply put, the Indians were coming into Africa, much as the Chinese are already doing, paying generously for our raw materials, but none of our businesses seem to follow our raw materials back into the Indian market. Every stage of the production chain is seemingly controlled by Indian companies. The thought began to occur: If this situation persists, how will Africans ever be able to produce world-beating businesses? The contribution that finally broke the camel's back and produced the aforementioned fury was the statements that were made about "training". As part of their engagement, one of the things, it was said, the Indians could positively contribute, was providing teachers and training for Africans.

While one welcomed the passing on of knowledge, it was clear that despite the conference being about the relationship (and, one hoped, partnership) between India and Africa, for those who were on the platform this was not going to be a relationship of equals-our continent was always going to remain the junior partner--just as it has with the West over the last half a millennium. …

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