Event ReportsPublished on Oct 28, 2010
Taking note of the winds of change sweeping through the resource-rich and people-rich African continent, ORF organised a day-long round-table to unravel the implications of the resurgence of Africa for the India-Africa partnership.
Exploring ways to strengthen India-Africa partnership

Taking note of the winds of change sweeping through the resource-rich and people-rich African continent, Observer Research Foundation organised a day-long round-table discussion on Thursday, Oct 28, 2010 that brought together leading academics, experts and diplomats to unravel the implications of the resurgence of Africa for the India-Africa partnership.

The seminar was divided into two sessions: I) Emergence of a Resurgent Africa: Positive Indicators for Growth and Development II) India-Africa Partnership: Building on the First India-Africa Forum Summit. The dominant narrative that encompassed the day-long seminar was one of Afro-optimism and a shared conviction among all participants that the India-Africa partnership was a win-win proposition that benefited both sides.

In his inaugural address, Mr. Vivek Katju, Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs, outlined key facets of the India-Africa cooperation and mapped out the future of this vital partnership. Mr. Katju underlined that capacity building and human resource development are at the heart of India’s engagement with Africa and stressed the need for African-owned and African-driven development. He added that India and Africa will jointly combat new threats of piracy and terrorism, and will cooperate in pushing reforms of international institutions, including the United Nations. “We are engaged in a common struggle - which is perhaps more challenging - in the common task of development and of lifting people out of poverty,” he said.

Rejecting any competition or rivalry with China in Africa, the Secretary stressed that India’s relations with the continent stand on their own feet. The partnership has to be a mutually advantageous one because an exploitative relationship is something that is intrinsically ephemeral,’’ he said.

Earlier in his welcome address, Mr. M. Rasgotra, President, ORF Centre for International Relations, encapsulated the growing optimism about the continent’s future. He spoke about the rise of democracy in Africa and pointed out that some of the world’s fastest growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa. He underlined the need to develop African resources in Africa for the African people.

The seminar also explored different models of engaging the resurgent continent and ended with a slew of ideas and suggestions that could power the second India-Africa Forum Summit planned for 2011.

The first session took a closer look at the implications of the African resurgence. Ms Ruchita Beri, Senior Research Associate at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), spoke about the African continent’s embrace of democracy and economic reforms. The trend towards democratisation, she said, was unmistakable: About two-third African countries have held multi-party elections and more than 30 countries have accepted the African Peer Review Mechanism. The number of armed conflicts has come down, she said. However, zones of conflict and bloody feuding continue to persist like in Sudan and Chad. Many countries continue to have fragile democratic constitutions, she pointed out.

On this point, participants intervened saying that this was possibly a big opening for India to share its experience in building democratic and electoral institutions.

Mr. Jamal Moosa, Reader, Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, insightfully spoke about the need for contextualizing the African resurgence and its larger implications for the India-Africa partnership. He also spoke about the emergence of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as an opportunity for the continent to widen its developmental options and to reclaim its strategic space. He also pointed out that Africa has been more proactive in engaging India as a balancer against excesses of traditional Western powers and emerging powers. He stressed that India needed to take more risks and build on complementarities with Africa.

Mr. R.K. Bhatia, India’s former High Commissioner to South Africa, chaired the discussion. He argued for the need for “Afro-realism.” “We need to find out where economic growth is coming from and whether the next big thing will be Africa,” he said.

In her intervention, Ethiopia’s Ambassador Gennet Zewide spoke about the transformational impact of the India-aided Pan-African e-network on young Ethiopian students and how Ethiopians have benefited from long-distance education and training imparted by Indian experts through this network.

The second session generated a probing debate on how to add more economic substance and a popular touch to the India-Africa partnership. It analysed some of key features of the maiden 2008 India-Africa Forum Summit and looked ahead to a yet more productive and action-oriented second summit in Africa next year.

Rwanda’s High Commissioner William Nkurunziza stressed on moving the India-Africa partnership beyond government-to-government contacts to a larger interaction between businesses, media and civil society. ’It has to be a complete partnership that involves the government, the people, the media and civil society. The centuries-old relationship between India and Africa must evolve with changing times,” he said. He argued that the India-Africa partnership in the 21st century will be based on “a clearer understanding of the realities and urgencies” of the times we live in and asked India to become “a serious partner of Africa by sharing technologies, experiences and investment”. He exhorted the Indian media to focus on positive stories of African resurgence and renewal that will enable a better understanding of each other’s society and culture.

Earlier, Mr. Manish Chand, Editor, Africa Quarterly, highlighted the need for India to evolve and package its own model of engagement focusing on the three Ts: Trade, Training and Technology Transfer.

As discussant, Mr. Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary (Public Diplomacy) in the Ministry of External Affairs, agreed with the need for a more proactive role for the media in promoting the India-Africa engagement and drew attention to the uses of new age media like twitter to highlight the story of India-Africa relationship.

Mr. Ashok Dhar, Senior Vice-President, Reliance Industries Limited, which has considerable investment in the oil sector, brought a corporate perspective to the discussion.

In his informative power-point presentation, he outlined how Africa, which currently supplies 21 per cent of India’s oil needs, will become increasingly crucial to country’s energy security.

Mr. H.H.S. Viswanathan, former High Commissioner to Nigeria and head, ORF Africa Programme, spoke about how Lions on the Move, subject of a McKinsey report on sunshine economies of Africa, are finding their own voice and telling their own stories in their own idiom.

(This report has been prepared by Manish Chand, Editor, Africa Quarterly)

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