If the Asian century is upon us, surely Africa cannot be far behind. Yet, the continent so disparagingly dismissed by many using the Conradian epithet 'heart of darkness' has begun to be viewed as one with immense possibilities in a new global scenario. This was clearly not lost on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he visited Nigeria and South Africa.
"We seek to become close partners in Africa's resurgence," Mr Singh said while addressing the Nigerian Parliament.
India stands to gain from closer interaction with the resource-rich continent. China whom India sees as a competitor, is already firmly entrenched in the continent harnessing its resources for its burgeoning economy. In the process, as legendary rockstar Sir Bob Geldof stated at the recently-concluded HT Leadership Summit, the dragon has not exactly played by the rules when dealing with regimes accused of human rights violations. India, being a democracy, certainly cannot take that route. True, this may mean that India will lag behind China for years to come, but this is a price worth paying. India has several advantages when dealing with many African countries.
First, there is a great deal of admiration there for the Mahatma and Jawaharlal Nehru. Our first PM was considered one of the foremost proponents of the Non-Aligned Movement, which Africa's tallest leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Kenneth Kaunda were associated with. Ties with countries like South Africa go back into history and generations of Indians have made Africa their home. India's emergence on the world stage has been viewed with admiration in many African nations. India, while doing business in Africa, can expand the scope of its activities to help many of the desperately poor countries out of the morass they find themselves in. Our extensive IT expertise, competitive pharma products and skilled workers are just some of the things that Africa could do with. India already provides aid to many African countries.
But alongside, India must use its moral authority to speak up on behalf of those living in terror of dictatorial regimes and who have been victims of ethnic cleansing. The problem of displacement in Africa is one of enormous proportions.
These are all areas where India must engage itself, if for nothing else in its own enlightened self-interest.