Summits have their own logic. Heads of State meet. Action plans are launched, topped off by a declaration. Matters are forgotten till the next summit. Will India’s first summit with 14 African nations on April 8-9 go the way of most others? Scepticism apart, there are good reasons to expect this to be a productive summit that might redefine the contours of India-Africa relations in the 21st century. As is only to be expected, it will focus on forging a more contemporary partnership in trade and investment, energy and cooperation on global issues like the UN reforms, terrorism and climate change.
This summit takes place at a juncture when Africa and India need each other more than ever before. True, there is the shadow of the Chinese dragon looming over this bilateral engagement. But as Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has pointed out, Africa looks up to India as a post-colonial role model given its successes on the economic front ranging from the Green Revolution to the IT boom. India’s help is also sought for providing education and training for students and workers, including small-scale entrepreneurs. Besides Mr Wade, nine other Heads of State including South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi will be attending.
A fast-growing India, for its part, needs to engage Africa to enhance its energy security. It already has a stake in an oilfield in Sudan and is seeking equity oil in other countries. India is also seeking to leverage its position as a technology partner to forge closer relations with Angola and Namibia to source diamonds directly. In turn, India stands ready to help these in developing expertise in polishing the gems and jewellery design. India Inc, too, has much to gain. For instance, Senegal has been able to revamp its urban transportation systems due to a joint venture that assembles Tata buses. All of this augurs well for a productive outcome from the summit and prospects for a closer partnership between India and Africa.