'India, Africa looking at deeper political, economic engagement'

Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi, Sep 16 (IANS) India and Africa, with a combined population of 2.3 billion and very old civilisational ties, are looking at deeper political and economic engagement and the upcoming India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) next month would see many fresh ideas thrown up, said a top official on Wednesday.

Navtej Sarna, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, also said that India and Africa have a "collaborative partnership", which distinguishes it from the ties between Africa and other nations.

Addressing the inaugural session of 'National Consultation on India-Africa Partnership: Priorities and Prospects', Sarna said that India and Africa are looking at "a very tangible political and economic engagement, which keeps in view several facts", including that together both comprise one-third of the world population.

Sarna said the 54 countries of Africa, each have their own peculiarities, their aspirations and ambitions. He said the continent is set on a path of development, governance, democracy, of empowerment, education and improving health standards, which is encapsulated in Agenda 2063, which was adopted by the members of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January this year.

While Africa has less population than India, it has 10 times the land mass. "Africa has huge arable land", which needs agricultural technology and cooperation, said Sarna. Africa also has great potential for blue economy with its 26,000 km of coastline, besides the scope for maritime and security cooperation.

He said India is only seven years old in its partnership with Africa in the IAFS format, which began in 2008, while Japan, the EU and China have two decades old partnership with the continent. India has invited all the 54 African countries for the mega summit in New Delhi October 26-29, in the largest such diplomatic engagement in recent years.

He said India's strengths in partnering with Africa lie in the area of capacity building and training and scholarships. Since the second IAFS in 2011, India has given 25,000 scholarships to African countries, "which gives tremendous satisfaction" to those imparted the training.

Sarna said India has had "less successful institution building" with regard to Africa, with many institutions on the anvil, but with many not complete. But he said "the nature of the collaborative partnership" with Africa is important. "India never says that we are setting up this institute, in this African country; here is the money, here the institute, run it. This is what distinguishes ourself from others," Sarna said, adding that the African countries feel "a vested interest" in the institution, a sense of ownership.

On the subject of concessional credit provided by India, Sarna said it was "more successful than perceived". He said India offered $7.4 billion in the past two forums and of this $7 billion has been approved. There are 140 projects happening over 41 countries, and "seen across the board, this is very successful".

He said in order to take the partnership forward, India is "deep in engagement with African heads of missions" and "trying to understand each aspect of engagement better". He said this has been put into draft documents, which has been sent to negotiators in Addis Ababa. Later the two sides would sit together to plan out the framework of the summit and declaration and a joint action plan will be worked out.

The summit would see "departures from past" with both sides "coming out with fresh ideas", he added.

The consultation was organised by think tanks, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in collaboration with Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), Brookings India and and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) at the India Habitat Centre.