FE Editorial: The race for Africa
But it isn’t so simple. Infrastructure that stays in Africa helps the aam aadmi — starting from the 1,860-km long Tanzania-Zambia railway, the 58,000-sq mt Cairo conference centre, to a harbour in Mauritania (see Mark Mobius’s article in the adjoining columns) and a lot more, China’s presence is overwhelming. China’s purchase of a fifth of Standard Bank, the continent’s biggest bank, means its Africa influence will rise. Its bilateral trade with Africa is thrice India’s, and it even has a trade deficit with Africa. India’s hearts-and-minds strategy, and leading with private sector firms, may still win—don’t forget India’s GDP growth will be higher than China’s in a few years and is less resource-intensive—but will take some doing. The government track record in building infrastructure is dismal, so it is to be hoped the $300mn aid for the Ethio-Djibouti railway line will be used up by private firms. India’s track record in weather forecasting or creating agriculture institutions in recent decades is equally uninspiring. India’s best hope is its private sector—the ICICIs, the Daburs, the Taj Group, Punj Lloyd, Ranbaxy, Cipla, Bharti Airtel … They were focusing on Africa anyway, but the Prime Minister’s visit has raised the hope the government will do its best to help them venture into Africa—the kind of help that wasn’t forthcoming when Sunil Mittal wanted the government to allow dual listing of firms, critical to the success of the MTN deal he was working on.
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