Six-day visit to Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam sets the stage for a big diplomatic push into the continent

In the eight years he has been Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh has roamed the far corners of the globe but touched down on the soil of Africa only three times. This week, he will add two more African entry stamps to his passport — Ethiopia and Tanzania — with his six-day visit to Addis Ababa for the Second Africa-India Forum Summit and to Dar es Salaam, setting the stage for a big diplomatic push into a continent that is of growing economic and strategic interest for India and Indian companies.

In a statement released prior to his departure for Addis Ababa on Monday, Dr. Singh said Africa is “emerging as a new growth pole of the world” and that India's partnership with the continent based on the three pillars of capacity-building and skill transfer, trade and infrastructure development was a “living embodiment of South-South cooperation.”

Here in the Ethiopian capital, India is evidently the flavour of the week with a cultural festival showcasing films like 3 Idiots and Sholay drawing capacity crowds. A large Indian business delegation — including industrialists with extensive Africa operations like Adi Godrej, Sunil Mittal and Sanjay Kirloskar — has been camping here for three days. A symposium of African and Indian editors was also held on the sidelines, with both sides undertaking to build a future media partnership.

Though many countries, including China, Japan and Turkey, have held partnership summits with Africa, the Indian initiative is the first to make it to a second iteration. One reason, perhaps, is the practicality of the forum summit, with the number of African countries limited to 15 as per the ‘Banjul formula' adopted by the African Union (AU). The AU through its own process chose the participants this time: Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Namibia, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Swaziland.

But Indian officials say any decisions and commitments — including an enhancement of existing lines of credit already totalling more than $5 billion — will be implemented across the 53-nation continent through consultation.

After the Africa-India event, Dr. Singh will have summit meetings with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania before returning to New Delhi on May 28.