Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a key announcement at the second India-Africa summit on Tuesday, extending $300 million assistance to a new Ethio-Djibouti Railway line.
It signals that New Delhi now wants to step up its presence in the big infrastructure projects in the continent, an area China is synonymous with in Africa.
This railway line is much needed for Ethiopia. With Eritrea gaining independence, Ethiopia is completely dependent on Djibouti for an outlet to the sea. At the same time, African countries are seeking out Indian investments for regional integration through connectivity, Indian officials said.
Vivek Katju, secretary, west, in the MEA said many African leaders spoke about India taking a bigger role in infrastructure for regional connectivity at the retreat meeting of the leaders attending the summit.
Katju, while answering a question on India being compared with China in the race for Africa, said: “We are not in race with any country in Africa. The race is a figment of imagination. Our partnership with Africa is direct, and we do what they want us to do.”
However, signalling of India getting into major infrastructure projects in Africa, a forte of China, is very significant. As far as Africa is concerned, while the EU is known as the biggest assistance-giver, US is known for food assistance, and China in infrastructure and India in capacity building.
For example, many facilities of the African Union, parliament building in Malawi, dams to electricity generation in Kenya, China’s investment in infrastructure is all too visible.
“China has built infrastructure projects in Africa mainly in exchange of getting resources. But that has not been our approach”, said an Indian official.
More players coming into the infrastructure augurs well for Africa, which according to various estimates has unmet investment needs of $10 billion to $17 billion.
Prime Minister had hosted a retreat lunch for the African leaders attending the summit. It was a traditional Indian affair.