The commerce between India and Africa will be of ideas and services, not of manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of western exploiters.
These are the words of Mahatma Gandhi during his stay in South Africa while describing the potential political and economic ties between Africa and a future democratic India. Well, much water has flown since with India becoming an Asian superpower with a democracy to be proud of yet much of Africa still remain under the shadow of war and poverty being resulted by the exploitative nature of some developed western colonial powers.
Several high-profile African leaders travel to New Delhi this week for the inaugural meeting of an Africa-India forum summit scheduled for March 9,2008. The African continent is known for the international scramble for its precious natural resources over the years and political and economic analysts have pointed to the fact that India has finally realized how important is Africa to her when it comes to countering regional rival China’s influence in the continent. New Delhi and Beijing may be fighting for international supremacy but it cannot be denied that India’s influence on Africa since the colonial days are much deeper compared to communist China’s. Apart from the mutual economic benefits that would result from a high-profile Indo-African summit, the world’s largest democracy has much more to offer to the war ravaged continent. This week’s inaugural summit may be modest compared to China’s massive Africa summit in November,2006, yet it would lead further insight to the fact that Beijing is New Delhi’s number one concern when it comes to international influence and policy-making.
As national elections are scheduled for next year, analysts feel that the India-Africa summit could showcase a foreign policy success for the ruling UPA government. New Delhi does not want this summit to be compared with China and senior government ministers have ruled out any competitive motive behind the summit. In the words of Anand Sharma, minister of state for external affairs,
The focus of India has been, and shall continue to be, on capacity-building and human resource development in Africa.
14 African heads of state and the heads of all eight regional groups are in the invitation list. India businesses are well-settled in Africa and have been providing employment opportunities for the local population. According to economic analysts India’s cheap medicines are very popular in the continent, particularly in fighting AIDS. Furthermore, a research has revealed that African states are more comfortable in dealing with Indian economic interests rather than Chinese ones due to long-standing colonial roots. Many consider Beijing to be as exploitative as the imperial powers.
India should not regard Africa only as a source of natural resources and there are signs that New Delhi is keen to invest in the continent’s human capital. This is a relationship that could define the future geometry of African politics and India’s democratic experience would be of immense help in eradicating Africa’s regional wars and bloody politics.