With 41 of the 54 African heads of state and government in attendance, the Third India Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi was a melting pot of cultures. In a power-packed day prior to the event, Modi met with 19 heads of state separately, followed by an evening where the leaders wore colourful kurta-pyjamas and Modi’s signature sleeveless jacket. At the end of the day, it was not just colour but a lot of business too. The big ticket announcement included a concessional credit of $10 billion to Africa over the next five years. In addition to that there will be a $600 million grant plus 50,000 scholarships in India over five years.
The wooing of Africa is important mainly due to the multiple benefits its brings to the table for India. Being the fastest growing continent, Africa is looking for investment across industries. While the United States and the European Union were early investors, of late China has invested big time in the continent. While China notches up $ 200 billion in trade with Africa, India is at $70 billion. The reason for the interest in Africa for all other nations is the abundant natural resources―oil & gas, coal, iron-ore, manganese and even gold. The advantage that India offers over all other nations is the historical trading links with Africa. Also, many of the problems that Africa faces are what India has tackled over the years.
It is here that the NDA government is looking to offer technological solutions to many of the African problem areas. This includes electricity generation, improved agricultural output and healthcare solutions. India has already rolled out a plan to generate 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 and reduce emission intensity by 30-35% by 2030. As part of the solar plan, India is wooing Africa to join an alliance of solar-rich countries at the November 30 COP-21 meeting in Paris. In agriculture, while Africa has 60% of the world’s arable land, it accounts for just 10% of the agricultural produce. That’s one area where India can assist after the success of the Green Revolution. Already there are Indian companies that have set up mega farms in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Another issue that both India and Africa face are seeking is reforms at the UN Security Council. Modi in his speech to the heads of state emphasised that the institution cannot be representative of the world unless there is a voice for Africa that accounts for a quarter of the UN members, or for the world’s largest democracy with a sixth of the world’s population. It is still early days. But now that the government is looking to woo Africa, that should happen on a more sustained basis. That can only happen when some of the largest Indian companies look to invest in the continent.