India loosens purse strings to woo resource-rich Africa

India sought to deepen strategic and economic ties with resource-rich Africa as it held its first summit meeting with African leaders on Tuesday and sweetened the pot by offering financial help.

Indian Premier Manmohan Singh, playing host to the presidents of five African states and senior leaders of nine other countries, announced export tariff cuts that he said would benefit 34 of Africa’s 53 countries.

“India wishes to see the 21st century as the century of Asia and Africa, with the people of the two continents working together to promote inclusive globalisation,” Singh said in a speech.

He more than doubled financial credit to Africa to $5,4-billion in the next five years from $2,1-billion in the preceding five years.

Singh also offered to partner Africa in developing agriculture, infrastructure, education and small-scale industry, along with information technology, and said half-a-billion dollars would be handed out in project aid.

He also announced a raft of measures, including preferential market access for exports. Products covered by the tariff concessions include cotton, cocoa, aluminium ore, copper ore, readymade garments and non-industrial diamonds.

The two days of talks with countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, South Africa and others that Indian officials say are aimed at defining “the roadmap for future engagement”, were slated to end on Wednesday.

An unflinching supporter of Africa’s independence struggle against colonialism, India once enjoyed close ties and wielded considerable influence with many African countries.

But analysts say New Delhi’s focus on the United States and Europe since launching market reforms in 1991 has eroded its support base in Africa, while countries such as China and Japan have made great inroads on the continent.

China’s bilateral trade with Africa stood at $56-billion annually in 2007/08 while India’s trade with the continent totalled $30-billion, according to government figures.

With India’s economy growing at nearly 9% a year, New Delhi is looking at Africa’s vast mineral and hydrocarbon resources to fuel its growth.

DRC President Joseph Kabila noted in a speech that Africa’s past engagement with other countries had resulted in “words and speeches [that have] remained mere words for decades”.

“We need immediate visible projects,” he said.

African Union head Alpha Oumar Konare recalled New Delhi’s “support” for the continent’s struggle against colonialism and said infrastructure, health, education, science and food security were areas where it wanted Indian know-how.

“India must keep its ear open to the aspirations of the [African] people,” Konare said, adding Africa was willing to share its vast resources with India.

He also urged Africa to shed its image of being a “mere market for raw materials, purchased at low prices with no advantage to us”.

“We want to deal with equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit … We want to deal with other countries on an equal footing,” he added.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that though many African and Asian countries became independent at around the same time, Asian economies outstripped their African counterparts because of “the anti-private-sector attitude” adopted by several leaders of the African continent.

But now “those policies have been corrected”, he said, urging Indian companies to set up units in Africa. — AFP

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