NEW DELHI: India has its task cut out in Africa - to gain the advantage lost to China. New Delhi has at last realised the immense potential Africa offers and has organised the first India-Africa conference which formally begins on Monday, though the summit is slated for March 8, 2009.
Unfortunately, the focus on Africa is more of an after-thought triggered by Chinaâs growing reach and clout in the continent. Last year, China went on a massive publicity blitz when it organised the China-Africa summit in Beijing.
Indiaâs traditional links with African countries go back much further than Chinaâs. During Indiaâs anti-colonial struggle, several African countries were also going through similar movements to gain independence. Mahatma Gandhiâs role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa is now part of history. In the first decade of Indiaâs independence, links with Africa remained intact, but gradually, as India itself faced domestic problems, interest in far away Africa waned.
Now however, much of this has changed. Africa is one of the richest continents whether in oil, gas, minerals, diamonds, and Indian industries are spreading their wings there. The Tatas are well established in South Africa.
Indian pharmaceuticals companies are providing life-saving drugs, including AIDS retroviral drugs, at costs less than half of western manufacturers. Indiaâs image among thinking Africans is said to be much better than that of the Chinese, who some regard as exploitative like the former colonial rulers from the old world.
âThe focus of India has been, and shall continue to be, on capacity-building and human resource development in Africa. There are many Africans who come not only to study but also there are batches which come for dedicated courses in capacity-building,â minister of state for external affairs Anand Sharma said while inaugurating the India-Africa editorsâ conference on Tuesday.
India is also keen to get a handle on Africaâs hydrocarbon assets to meet its surging energy needs. âIndia has a very cordial and old relationship with countries in Africa and we are now going to move forward in a big way, to further consolidate this relationship and give it a new shape.
We will certainly look aggressively at Africa for oil and gas assets to ensure energy security for the country,â petroleum and natural gas minister Murli Deora said.