Magazine article The World Today

India Calling

Magazine article The World Today

India Calling

Article excerpt

Indian traders once sold glass beads to an eager African market, now its expertise centers on science and technology. China's inroads into Africa are well known, India's approach has been much quieter. This month, the India-Africa Forum meets for the first time in New Delhi, offering a fresh insight into this modern-day scramble for Africa.

iNDIA HAS ENJOYED LESS WESTERN SCRUTINY OVER ITS Africa policy than China. Like China, it has done deals with Sudan and has avoided criticising the Sudan government on Darfur. In November 2006, India voted against a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council that would have put responsibility on Khartoum to end the violence.

India is also involved in Zimbabwe, with trade worth $40 million in 2006 and in January, its acting ambassador in Harare praised the 'good cordial relations' between the two countries and stated that both were 'partners in development'.

Its Africa policy is driven by economic interests. But competition, particularly with China, is also pushing New Delhi to deepen its presence on the continent.

There are already important business relationships. Oil from Nigeria, for example, provides ten percent of India's global imports; and last year's visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the first by an Indian prime minister since 1962, indicated the new significance of the links.

South Africa is a major exporter of gold to India which polishes South African diamonds. Trade between them has been growing at about thirty percent annually and South Africa accounts for more than two thirds of Africa's exports to India.

Mauritius is India's single largest offshore investor, providing $1.9 billion during just one quarter of last year. For India, ore and metals still dominate imports from Africa and uranium may become the focus of a new push as its ambitious civil nuclear programme begins to show results.

Over the past five years, India has extended credit worth $2 billion to African countries, of which more than half has already been taken up. Its economic links are moving beyond its traditional Indian Ocean and Commonwealth partners. Investment in Côte d'Ivoire, for example, is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2011, which represents ten percent of all Indian foreign investments over the past decade.

India's flagship oil and gas company, ONGC Videsh, produces Sudanese oil and has invested $2 billion in eight African countries, including Nigeria, Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire and Gabon. In 2005, a package deal created to compete against the Chinese by an ONGC-Mittal consortium resulted in additional Nigerian oil exploration rights.

SAFE SEAS

On a diplomatic level, New Delhi has reopened its embassy in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. It currently has missions in nineteen of the 47 sub-Saharan countries and plans others soon in Burkina Faso, Niger and Gabon.

India's concern about Chinese expansion is very real and most visible in the African-Indian Ocean rim, with deepening ties such as defence agreements with Mozambique, Madagascar and the Seychelles. The opening of an Indian surveillance installation in Madagascar symbolises the importance of the Indian Ocean as New Delhi's backyard. The majority of India's imports and exports travel by ship, so keeping sea lanes safe is a strategic priority. Increasingly it is China, rather than Pakistan - which is seen as a Chinese proxy - that worries policy makers in New Delhi.

OUT OF SIGHT

But India pushes in fits and starts and, unlike China, does not have the focus of containing Taiwan, or the weight of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council to provide a political spine to its Africa policy. New Delhi still seeks Security Council reform and its peacekeeping commitments are aimed, in part, at strengthening its case. There are nine thousand Indian troops in Africa for the UN.

The India-Africa forum summit is a modest effort compared with Beijing's Africa jamboree in November 2006. …

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