October 25, 2015 11:24:54 pm
New Delhi will host the third India-Africa Forum Summit over the next four days. It is one of the largest gatherings of African countries outside Africa – all 54 nations of the continent will be represented — and provides an opportunity for India to forge a constructive and deeper alliance with the resource-rich continent. For the most part, India has lagged behind China, which has aggressively used foreign policy, seamlessly aligned to its economic security interests, to build infrastructure and sew up vital supply contracts. The current deceleration in the Chinese economy provides India an opening to gain a better footing.
The fall in commodity prices, making it less of a seller’s market, strengthens India’s leveraging position. But there is an inherent complementarity of interests: African countries have, for long, suffered from the so-called resource curse, wherein countries fail to use their mineral wealth to boost economic well-being. India’s lack of mineral resources, on the other hand, comes in the way of its high-growth ambitions. But it can provide a market for African resources, which can compensate for reduced Chinese demand.
Fertilisers are a good example. There is a vast scope for India to set up urea plants in natural gas-abundant African countries — from Algeria to Gabon. Similarly, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Togo have huge rock phosphate reserves, which India lacks. The fact that Africa is vital to India’s food security is also demonstrated by the large quantities of pigeon pea (arhar) it is importing from Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. One could extend the same logic to coal and minerals — from iron ore, copper, lead and zinc to cobalt — for which India offers a huge market to commodity-exporting countries.
To be sure, there are also other reasons that India should push for better ties with African countries. Support for India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and its stand on climate change and public food stockholding issues, not to forget security matters extending to piracy in the Indian Ocean, are no less important concerns.
But in all these, India should leverage the one asset that it has more than China — goodwill. China has, for long, been resented for “resource colonialism”, especially by western and southern African countries. India, by contrast, is not seen to nurse any expansionist aims. That image can be further enhanced through India offering assistance for capacity-building and training, and expanding its scholarship programmes for African students in India.
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