Why India is essential to Africans

Abdoulaye Wade

Now, more than ever, the future of Africa is bound up with that of India’s.

As Senegal’s elected leader, I have found over the decades that many if not all trails ultimately lead to India, and particularly so when it comes to political and economic innovations of global significance. The correspondence between Albert Einstein and Gandhi in 1932 may have ultimately inspired the creation of the United Nations. It was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955 who conceived the visionary Non-Aligned Movement, an idea that redefined independence for many post-colonial nations. Now, more than ever, the future of Africa is bound up with that of India’s.

This week, the largest delegation of African heads of states ever to meet on Indian soil have come to New Delhi to christen the new era of a “South-South” partnership. Although Indian trade with Africa is centuries old, the age of dependency, colonial reflexes, and one-way development is at an end. Indian trade with South Africa alone has increased by 75 per cent over the last five years.

Much has been written about the spectacular growth of China in Africa’s emerging economy, but too little attention has been paid to India’s role in the burgeoning economies of the continent. After France, it is India that leads the list of Senegal’s trading partners, not China. And the potential for trade and exchange between Africa and India has only begun to be scratched.

Africans can well appreciate India’s complex historical experience with multiculturalism and colonial intrusion and learn from India’s emergence as a world-class economic power. The challenges of development that ensued in India’s post-colonial era, and the nation’s subsequent economic expansion — ranging from an innovative green agricultural revolution to the information technology boom — provide a hopeful model for many African nations.

Historic affirmation

The Declaration that we are signing this week in New Delhi at the African-Indian Summit is an historic affirmation of this budding South-South relationship. And if there is much that Africa can learn from India, there is also much that India can gain from its relationship with Africa. In return for sharing Indian know-how and investment resources, Africa’s rich but relatively untapped natural and human resources can help meet India’s rising demands for energy, food, and minerals. Indian businesses eager to tap into a vast region of emerging markets and a fast-growing middle class should be energised by the cultivation of these commercial and technical opportunities. I anticipate that Indian companies will be entering into partnerships and joint ventures in Africa, not only in the historically-linked East Africa region but also in most of the continent’s 54 nations.

A hefty credit line of $2 billion that the Indian government opened in 2003, earmarked for projects in nine sub-Saharan nations, primed the pump for this week’s forum. To cite one example, Senegal has been able to revamp its urban public transportation fleet through the creation of an Indian-Senegalese joint venture assembling Tata buses in the town of Thies. Similarly, Arcelor-Mittal signed a $2 billion agreement in 2006, resulting in the production of iron ore in south-eastern Senegal, a prerequisite for building Senegal’s next generation of infrastructure, including a new port, a new administrative capital, and a north-south railway.

What is particularly striking about the emerging South-South cooperation is that it is fostering not only development but “sustainable” development in Africa.

Indian firms are helping to finance improvements, like infrastructure projects, which stay in Africa and raise the standards of living for millions, not just an elite few.

In Senegal, an Asian company cannot now be awarded an infrastructure-related contract unless they have partnered with a Senegalese company. As a result, Indian companies are not only investing in Senegal but transferring technology assistance, training, and know-how to Senegal at the same time.

For perhaps the first time in its history, Africa finally has a leading trading partner who does not relate to it through the filter of dependence, charity, or a colonial mindset. By sharing the experiences of our respective “diasporas,” India and Africa can foster prosperity — and do so in ways that would have pleased the forbearers of global development themselves, Gandhi and Nehru.

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