India-Africa summit: A big step-up in foreign policy ambition

  • Bhaswati Mukherjee, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 27, 2015 14:56 IST
Officials of African countries pose for a photograph with their Indian hosts on the first day of a four-day summit meeting between India and 54 African nations, in New Delhi. (AP)

The India-Africa Summit this week welcomes heads of State and government from 54 African countries, including the president of Egypt and two kings from Swaziland and Morocco. This is no small achievement since India has missions in only 29 African countries while only 42 African nations have a representation in India. It demonstrates India’s growing clout and credibility as a reliable partner for sustainable development in Africa.

The summit represents the largest gathering of African leaders outside Africa and the biggest conference of heads of State and government in India after the NAM Summit in 1983. The event will commence with official-level consultations followed by summit-level meetings on October 29 and bilateral meetings the next day.

Much innovative thinking has gone into the preparations by the Prime Minister’s Office and the MEA, led by Syed Akbaruddin, who is the special coordinator for the summit.

India and Africa’s expectations from the summit include increased large-scale investments in Africa, as demonstrated by the substantive flow of funds and services to Africa by different Indian industrial groups, notably the Mittals, the Tatas, and the Exim Bank. Many African leaders reportedly wish to meet the chairman of the Exim Bank. A business session has been organised where the delegation can meet leaders of India Inc to explore investment opportunities. Indian companies have already invested $30-35 billion in Africa. Industry chambers including the CII, Ficci and Assocham have organised a business exhibition highlighting the main areas of cooperation such as infrastructure, agriculture, energy, innovation and health.

From India’s perspective, over $7 billion of concessional credit has been approved for nearly 140 projects in more than 40 African countries over the last decade. Over $3.5 billion has reportedly been disbursed. Big announcements are expected for further increasing the lines of credit, and on investment in green energy, blue economy and space. The focus would be on our investing in Africa in those elements of technology which have a direct bearing on development and which have been successfully implemented in India, such as renewable energy. Food security and investment in agriculture in Africa are also important, given that arable land in Africa is huge compared to India and represents big opportunities for private Indian investment.

From the political perspective, our candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council would require total African solidarity and support. There is now greater understanding within the African Union about our concerns on this issue. Indeed, without their support, the recent General Assembly’s Decision 69/560 on UNSC reform would never have come to fruition. The summit provides a valuable opportunity for Africa to reiterate its support for India.

The summit also demonstrates how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reinvented Indian foreign policy with the understanding that India needs to demonstrate its leadership of the developing world, especially Africa. The unprecedented participation takes this initiative up a few notches.

Bhaswati Mukherjee is a former ambassador

The views expressed are personal

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