In the more recent times, the gradual broadening of India’s global economic reach and influence along with Africa’s immense potential have only provided fresh opportunities to boost the bilateral ties between the two sides.
South Africa in diplomatic and economic strategic parlance is already regarded as the corporate captain of African continent.
New Delhi had also strongly backed South Africa’s entry into the coveted international block BRIC, comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China.
According to Indian Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma, India has set a target to explore opportunities for a comprehensive market opening trade pact with South Africa as the two nations are likely to touch the 10 billion US dollars bilateral commerce.
In fact, during his stay in Johannesburg the minister has given a further boost to efforts to work out a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Trade between the countries has risen to over 7.7 billion US dollars in 2009-10 and during the visit of South African President Jacob Zuma to New Delhi in June, the two sides had set a target of 10 billion US dollars trade by 2011-12.
However, despite the historic ties and keenness to drive economic cooperation, it is also a fact that India so far has a relatively small 5.91 per cent slice of the African trading pie.
Both sides, therefore, have reasons to continue to enhance mutual cooperation and tap potential business opportunities especially by the small and medium enterprises to set their footprint in each other country.
Today, China is Africa’s third largest trading partner after the U.S. and France; and hence there is urgent call to promote India-Africa trade and economic relations.
Making a path breaking gesture, by early 2001-02 New Delhi even had decided to ignore the protests from the west and particularly the United States and started investing in countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. By early 2003-04, in fact, India had completed a $200 million pipeline that links Port Sudan on the Red Sea with the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The much infamous Darfur 9XX) controversy did not bog down India.
In retrospect, say Indian officials, the New Delhi India Africa Forum Summit in 2008 marked a new beginning though by 2003 itself, the then NDA regime was giving a much push to the policy of ‘development cooperation’ for greater India-Africa partnership.
In fact, the NDA regime undertook a Focus Africa programme beginning from 2002-03 laying emphasis on the Sub-Saharan African region with added approach on seven key players in the region, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana.
Official estimated also say put together these countries account for around 70 per cent 70 per cent India’s total bilateral trade by the start of fiscal 2003-04.
Initially, products like cotton yarn, fabrics and other textile items; drugs and pharmaceuticals; machinery and instruments; transport equipments; and telecom and information technology were identified. It was also decided India’s exports to the region would be enhanced through integrated efforts of the Government of India, India Trade Promotion Organisation, Export Promotion Councils, Apex Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Indian Missions and institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of India.
Now how do we checklist the issues and broad areas on how India has been benefiting from the enhanced ties?
Firstly, Africa possesses several vital ingredients that could potentially fuel the Indian growth.
Secondly, Africa has vast stretches of cultivable lands that can collectively become the food basket of the world and India’s cooperation can only help itself, says an official handling IBSA files.
Likewise, many parts of Africa have large untapped hydrocarbon resources that are drawing considerable international interest. Foreign investments into these sectors will provide the necessary growth impetus for the African nations. Namibia, for example has tied up to help India procure plutonium.
Other factors and initiatives also played catalytic role in strengthening the India-Africa economic partnership through path-breaking initiatives like the annual CII-Exim Bank Conclave on India Africa Project Partnership stands out as the most enterprising event.
These bring us to look at synergy and new trends in Indo-African trades.
The mutual trade has risen almost four-fold in the last five years, from US$ 9.9 billion in 2004-05 to US$ 39 billion in 2008-09.
India’s exports to Africa have risen from US$ 5.6 billion in 2004-05 to US$ 14.6 billion in 2008-09, whereas India’s imports from Africa have risen from US$ 4 billion in 2004-05 to US$ 24.3 billion in 2008-09.
The South Block officials also say India’s investments in Africa during 1996 to December 2007 amounted to US$ 5.7 billion. Mauritius (US$ 3469.7 mn) and Sudan (US$ 1153.1 mn) are top destinations of India’s investment. Major investments have taken place in oil and gas sector; important investments are also in areas such as infrastructure development, telecommunications and rural electrification, transport sector, railways, educational and manpower development and IT sector.
Other areas of cooperation:
The South Block officials claim there is a significant boost to strategic ties between India and African nations only underlining New Delhi’s enhanced prestige in the comity of nations.
“Besides cooperation in the IT, health care, agriculture, mining, small industry, infrastructure and hydrocarbon sectors, an important element of Africa policy relates to defence cooperation with select countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Lesotho and Botswana,” said one of them.
It is in this context, they say, the External Affairs minister S M Krishna has held a informal meeting with a few select experts for starting a process under which some select ‘knowledgeable people’ from African countries can be brought in for cooperation and working closely with organizations like the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, the Indian Council of World Affairs, the Association of Indian Diplomats and even select universities.
The government of India is also keen to workout a sustained attention to Africa at the political level.
“We are not stagnant on these," says an official even as he pointed out that the Vice President Hamid Ansari paid visits to Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.
S M Krishna visited Mauritius and Mozambique and New Delhi also hosted crucial meetings with the top leaders and nation heads of Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Botswana.
New Delhi is working with the renewed momentum for the important India-Africa Forum Summit in 2011, say bureaucrats in the MEA.