Expanding An Old Friendshiphttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/expanding-an-old-friendship/

Expanding An Old Friendship

Indian interests in Africa will benefit from timely implementation of projects.

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The third India-Africa Summit will be held at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on October 29. This is both appropriate and ironic. The former, for Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi forged India’s enduring links with Africa through their uncompromising support for the continent’s decolonisation process and struggle against Apartheid; the latter, because at a time when the Narendra Modi government is engaged in eroding Nehru’s legacy, it is compelled to organise its showcase diplomatic foray at a venue named after his daughter.

The earlier summits were modest in scale, though not in aspiration. Around 15 African leaders participated from the continent’s different regions, as prescribed by the African Union’s Banjul formula. The Modi government has acted boldly to expand the format to bring it in line with the US, Japanese and Chinese exercises. However, thematically and in spirit there should be a basic continuity with the process initiated in 2008.

Africa is complex, diverse, with numerous faultlines. India has wisely kept aloof from its internal politics. It has also pursued the same approach in its assistance programme. It has left it to African states to take decisions on the location of regional training institutions through the African Union (AU). This leads to delays, but is worth the wait. Once these basic decisions are taken, project implementation should be expedited.

India’s overall assistance record is impressive. The total commitment to African infrastructure has been $7.5 billion and this covers, inter alia, 137 projects in 41 countries. The capacity-building programme has covered 40,000 Africans since 2008. However, projects and programmes should be reviewed so that appropriate advantage would result from all this effort. Particular attention has to be given to expanding the distance education and telemedicine programmes to convert them to a virtual university.

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India wants to increase India-Africa trade and investments beyond their current levels of $70bn and $30bn. The Indian private sector is making considerable investments in agriculture, telecom and automobiles, among others. But it will have to show integrity and sensitivity to African concerns, lest it earn the opprobrium that blatantly exploitative Chinese investments attract.

Three areas require particular focus during the summit deliberations. Both India and Africa have vital interests in them.

The collapse of Libya in 2010 and the general unrest in north Africa has caused instability all through the Sahel region now flooded with arms, illicit drugs and terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda offshoots, some of whom have gravitated towards the Islamic State, have been invigorated. The Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabab in eastern Africa are causing death and misery. Thus, terrorism is a major challenge for both. Prime Minister Modi should urge the summit leaders, especially from Islamic countries, to give personal attention to the UN adopting the Compreh-ensive Convention on International Terrorism during the current UNGA session.

The security of the Indian Ocean is vital for African countries on the continent’s eastern shore as well as for island countries that are members of the AU. The security of trade routes should be ideally handled by the littoral states. India has been active in defence through training programmes with many of these countries. The time has come to further develop these ties with the objective of enhancing naval capacities. Modi’s efforts in that direction during his visits to Mauritius and the Seychelles were laudable and need to be built upon.

The two pressing global issues are climate change and UN reform. The summit will be an occasion to remind developed countries that while India and Africa will be forward-looking, they cannot be oblivious to the West’s irresponsibility on this vital issue. It has to be forthrightly asserted that the developed world has reneged on all its climate change commitments and needs to do better.

Africa wants UN Security Council reform in principle, but faces internal difficulties with regard to aspirants. It will be interesting to observe how far it will go to push it at this stage. Doubtless, the summit will be a successful and grand diplomatic event. However, the pursuit of Indian interests in the continent will demand the timely implementation of its decisions.

The writer is a former diplomat