Team 9 Opens A New Innings In India-West Africa Relations

Updated: Mar 6 2004, 05:30am hrs
Trade with civilisations in the east coast of Africa across the Indian Ocean goes back to centuries before the Christian era. Both India and Africa shared colonial oppression and were partners in the anti-colonial struggle. People of Indian Origin (PIO) who reached the African shores in the mid-19th century also bind us. In the post-Indep-endence period we shared

similar experiences in nationbuilding.

Nevertheless, Africa, particularly West Africa, has rema-ined a relatively neglected area in Indias foreign policy, perhaps due to fewer PIOs in the region compared to eastern and southern Africa, or due the language barrier. Therefore, the recent initiative, the Techno-Economic Approach for Africa-India Movement or Team 9, is a welcome move.

Team 9 envisages special co-operation amongst the eight West African Countries, viz, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote DIvoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and India. The recent first ministerial meeting of Team 9 countries in New Delhi has helped in clarifying issues of common concern and the logistics of co-operation. While India and the West African countries share similar developmental challenges, the particular developmental needs of the region were not known. Apart from Senegal and Ghana, with whom we have a long history of political and economic co-operation, the rest are unfamiliar. The meeting ended with the agreement to identify and implement priority projects and corporate schemes. India has extended credit facilities of $500 million for these projects.

Indias engagement of the West African countries is driven to some extent by its energy needs. India is one of Asias largest energy consumers. With growing imports and stagnation of production at home, energy security is an issue of high priority for the government. Of late, India has been diversifying its energy imports to reduce the dependence on the Persian Gulf region. It is estimated that around a quarter of our crude imports come from Africa (mainly Nigeria). Moreover, India has also invested in oil equity, i.e., investment in oil and gas blocks in various regions, including Sudan in North Africa. And now it is turning its eyes on West Africa.

The Gulf of Guinea region, covering west and central Africa, is the latest hot spot of the world oil industry. West Africas growth potential in energy is considered to be greater than that of Russia, the Caspian or South America. The US Energy Information Administration calculates that the region will be producing nine million barrels a day by 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa has about 7 per cent of proven world oil reserves according to EIA.

Indias interest in West African oil is spurred by a number of factors. First, the oil from Gulf of Guinea is of high quality, being low in sulphur. Second, the bulk of the new discoveries are found offshore away from potential conflict on shore. Thi-rd, Africas oil markets are open to foreign participation. Fin-ally, only Nigeria is an OPEC member, which sets limits on member countries output levels.

India is not the only country wooing the West Africans. The US has recognised the importance of the region with African oil being deemed of national strategic interest. The first stop of President Bushs African safari in 2003 was Senegal.

This leads us to the question as to why would the West Africans be interested in techno-economic co-operation with India when they have western developed countries displaying interest in the same According to some West Afri-can diplomats, most of the western technologies are too advanced and hence not suitable for developing economies. On the other hand, the Indian model of economic development would be more suitable for their environment, besides being priced competitively.

A highlight of the Team 9 initiative is that while the government will play the role of facilitator, a major role for the private sector is also envisaged.

The writer is an analyst, specialising in India-Africa relations

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