Third India-Africa Forum Summit: A Curtain Raiser
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A Round-Table discussion on the forthcoming ‘India-Africa Forum Summit’ scheduled in New Delhi from 26-29 October 2015 was held at the VIF on 12 Oct 2015. The gathering was briefed by a panel of 3 experts on Africa, Ambassador R. Rajagopalan, Ambassador H.H.S. Viswanathan and Ambassador V.B. Soni.

The salient points that were made / emerged were:

1. Africa’s emergence has resulted in concerted efforts by major nations to interact with the continent as a whole - through AU and also sub-regionally and bilaterally. Those holding 'Forum Summits' with Africa are the US, China, Japan, Turkey and India.

2. It is not only the African natural resources that have prompted major nations to move in that direction, but also the new strategic significance of the continent.

3. India’s engagement with Africa up till now has been episodic. While heightened activities are witnessed around India-Africa Forum Summits, these are usually followed by long periods of lull. The interregnum needs to be carefully monitored and not allowed to lag by default.

4. Africa will be guided by the Banjul consensus on continental / regional / sub-regional development and by the 'Agenda-2063' vision document. Not-withstanding the same (like China, the US and others), our decision this time to 'jettison' our earlier pattern (of interaction with a nominated few - as recommended in that document) and inviting all the 54 states, will lead to rich dividends.

5. India’s perceived 'benign neglect' of the region long has been rued by many African countries. Diplomatic engagements, therefore, need to be undertaken more frequently, especially at the higher levels, in order to set the perception right.

6. A 'top-down' approach when it comes to diplomatic exchanges is preferred by many African leaders. The ‘bottom-up’ approach pursued by India often tends to run out of steam or get bogged down due to obvious tangles. There have been rather minimal contacts at the highest levels between India and Africa. Many African leaders have been frustrated with our inability to host them 'more frequently'. This single aspect needs to be corrected urgently. We can easily host far more than what we are now doing. Regular contacts during the UNGA gatherings should be formalised and upgraded to HoG level. State visits of President / Vice President / PM should be urgently augmented to cover the widening gap in frequency of such visits. In any case, EACH African nation should receive a ministerial visit EACH year - not a difficult proposition.

7. India’s diplomatic presence in Africa also needs to go up substantially. A greater outreach to Africa at all levels – bilateral, regional and continental – is desirable.

8. Since AU would continue to have a role in India - Africa cooperation, AU should be encouraged to have an office in Delhi.

9. Choice of words in defining partnership can play an important part in building bridges of cooperation with Africa, a region that remains deeply conscious of how the world looks at it. 'Development Assistance' had given way to 'Development cooperation' and is now termed as 'Development Partnership' that correctly indicates our philosophy - that is no more help or assistance.

10. There being no conflict of interests, India and much of Africa can potentially cooperate on a number of international forums, including the United Nations, WTO, IMF and climate negotiations. With India looking to raise its international profile, there is greater need for India to engage Africa more robustly.

11. With many African economies showing healthy growth rates, Indian private entities need to be sensitised and encouraged to invest in infrastructure projects in Africa. Agriculture, food-processing, health, and education are among other sectors where Indian companies can participate. Unlike China, it is the private sector that will drive Indian investments in Africa.

12. Constant comparison by the media with China should be discouraged. Our programmes are classically different and Africa understands and looks at India differently. We need to emphasise that aspect. Our approach is 'non-mercantile' and we should re-iterate this at each opportunity.

13. There should be local ownership for projects financed by Indian Lines of Credit. While it is generally so, we should ensure it is also seen as such - that would mitigate fringe criticism on this account.

Event Date 
October 12, 2015
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