Africa Leaders Don Indian Kurtas In Sign Of Warming Ties

image009 (1)A four-day super summit of Indian and African business leaders, ministers, and, of course, media, gave a boost to Indian influence on the continent and a tweak to China, the other Asian giant in the region.

With over 40 African heads of state in attendance, it was one of the largest bilateral summits in India’s history. At the opening dinner, African leaders sported raw silk Indian jackets (“kurtas”) and Indian head wraps (“safas”), in various colors for each leader.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf opened the Summit and announced a new India-Africa Business Council to promote investment and joint ventures.

Indian foreign affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup, added: “Our partnership is not focused on an exploitative or extraction point of view, but is one that focuses on Africa’s needs and India’s strengths,” alluding to criticisms that China exploits the region’s resources.

India’s minister of commerce and industry described Africa and India as “old friends and old family,” referring to the 2.16 million members of the Indian diaspora that have been living in Africa for generations.

Observers called it a great leap forward in India’s growing engagement with Africa, with a “south to south” focus that highlighted African and Indian concerns.

Among them was the need to reform the U.N. Security Council, now dominated by western nations. India is seeking a place on the Council as a permanent member while Africa is seeking at least two non-permanent seats.

Other expressed concerns were the rise of terrorism, cybersecurity, maritime security and defense cooperation.

Regarding climate change, the Indian leader called for an alliance of solar-rich countries at next month’s Paris climate conference.

For the African countries facing a sharp drop in oil and other revenues, India promised $10 billion in new credit, $600 million in grant aid including $10 million for an India-Africa health fund.

Specific requests to India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj included a defense training program (Lesotho), a cyber city (Benin), deeper defense ties (Somalia), and telecom development (Angola).

It was agreed that 50,000 scholarships will be offered to African students to pursue studies in India.

Indian investment in Africa, estimated at over $50 billion, is more than that of Chinese companies, valued at $26 billion at the end of 2013. But over 90% of Indian funds go to one country—Mauritius, once attractive for its textile industry, and now a popular tax haven. And Mauritius isn’t even on the continent.

“Taking cognizance of the fact that two-thirds of the population in India and Africa are going to be below 35 years of age, India has a great opportunity to reinvent its association with Africa,” observed  Rajen Harshe, visiting professor at South Asian University in New Delhi.

Another summit focusing on India-Africa economic ties will be held in Nairobi next month, followed by the 6th Forum on China-Africa cooperation in Johannesburg in early December.

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