India’s Engagement with Ebola-hit Africa and beyond

India - Africa Summit

India - Africa Summit

India which has postponed the much talked about “grand” India-Africa summit to be held in the first week of December, may now organise it in February-March next year. Lack of sufficient quarantine facility to isolate high-risk travellers from the Ebola-hit Africa has been cited by officials as the key reason for the postponement of the India-Africa summit.

But that doesn’t mean the government under Narendra Modi has lowered its priority for the continent. Rather it is utilising the time gap until holding of the third India-Africa summit next year in February-March (tentative time frame) as an opportunity to fill all minor and big holes coming before its commitment for the continent. According to official sources, the Prime Minister wants to make the India-Africa summit a “grand successful event” with New Delhi making major announcements for developmental agenda of Africa. While quantum of financial assistance to over a dozen African countries like Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Mozambique, Cost Rica and Tanzania may witness a three to four-time increase, countries like Kenya, Somalia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros and others along Indian Ocean will see larger Indian engagement, including defence one.

Diplomatic sources say India will have a “focused rather than a generic approach” towards Africa and the time gap in between postponement and rescheduling of the summit is being used to cull information regarding specific requirements of each African country. In September, the Ministry of External Affairs effected a change in its administrative set up and moved Santosh Jha, a Joint Secretary for administration to a corresponding post for the Africa summit.

However, since then Santosh Jha is waiting for his new assignment, yet New Delhi has moved in fourth gear all its energy to drive Africa agenda to a logical conclusion. This can be assessed from the fact that Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj is learnt to have asked Indian ambassadors posted in various African countries to submit details of India-led projects and their status. They have also been told to expedite consultations with local governments regarding projects which are not able to come up largely due to land acquisition problems. India funded projects in Africa include information technology centres, agriculture and polytechnic and diamond cutting and polishing institutes and setting up of ITI like vocational training institutes. But there are countries which are not able to shoulder even a partial funding for these projects designed by New Delhi as crucial.

For example, Ghana, a city-state which is located in West Africa is not able to implement India funded institutes for information technology, agriculture, polytechnic and ITI like vocational training centres. Botswana, a landlocked country, located in Southern Africa, has expressed its inability to finance additional costs required for full-fledged operation of the proposed diamond institute. The first-of-its-kind in the African continent, the Surat-based Indian Diamond Institute (IDI) has been selected to help Botswana set up the institute where training in diamond cutting, polishing and grading along with jewellery manufacturing will be given. India has already started working on setting up of the diamond institute, but Botswana, it is said, wants New Delhi to finance even the cost of running faculties for the institute.

Broadening the bandwith of cooperation

In any case, sources say, India under a new dispensation is committed to broaden the framework of engagement with Africa and hence, will do away with irritants coming in the way of projects in Botswana and other African nations. With regard to the proposed India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade (IAIFT) in Kampala in Uganda, difficulties are primarily coming in the way of setting up of infrastructure for the institute. Despite this, officials from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), the nodal agency for setting up the IAIFT, are optimistic that the institute will start functioning soon from a rented premise in Kampala. Another flagship institute: the India-Africa Institute of Education, Planning and Administration (IAIEPA) is being set up in Burundi. This apart, in North African nations like Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan, New Delhi has planned to set up technical institutions. These plans and projects which underline New Delhi’s quest for maximizing efforts for capacity building and human resources development of Africa, is going to get a fillip-is what officials from the MEA say.

Emphasis on cooperation for infrastructure

As for infrastructure development, a total 200 Line of Credit are in operation in Africa. From constructing new railway line to rehabilitating old railway infrastructure, setting up of textile and cement factories, tractor assembly points, refineries, oil pipelines, erecting power transmission are projects India wants to complete in two-three years . So far, New Delhi has allocated $5.8 billion for these projects. But given the delay in implementation of these projects, ambassadors have been told to see how such nagging problems could be resolved so that all projects meet their completion deadlines. Ambassadors have been clearly told by South Block that no India promoted projects should suffer due to minor funding issues.

Such directions from higher authorities, say officials, are proving highly motivating for Africa-based Indian missions. To fight Ebola outbreak too, India has contributed $13 million so far. Of this, $2 million has been given to purchase protective gear for those at the frontlines of fighting the disease. India is thinking of funding more for Ebola. Quantum of this fund is at the discussion level, however. In all, the government under Narendra Modi wants to leave no impression of its being slack towards Africa. Even as due to Ebola outbreak in Africa, it cancelled India-Africa summit, but it did so while keeping the African Union in loop.

Official sources say the government is also considering a request from the African Union for sending a medical team to highly hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. New Delhi is in fact ready to provide any assistance, within its limit, to Africa, the continent where so far around 5,000 people have fallen victim to Ebola. According to experts, India doesn’t want to base its engagement with Africa on any give and take factor, but under south-south cooperation which to them rests on shared relationship of developing countries. Nonetheless, come next year, mists over India’s Africa agenda would be clear when New Delhi leaves no stone unturned to make the forthcoming summit highly sustentative. All 54 countries would attend the summit, claim MEA officials. However, only time will tell whether this is mere braggadocio or a reality.

Related Information:

Ebola Virus Outbreak in India