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India-Africa Forum Summit: A Big Leap Forward? – OpEd

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India will host the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) in Delhi from 26-29 October. This represents an ambitious effort by the new government to boost relations with Africa. There are some novel features of this Summit and challenges to face in the future in meeting the high expectations that will undoubtedly be generated.

The first edition of the IAFS was held in Delhi in April 2008, and the second was held in Addis Ababa in May 2011. The participation at these summits was organized through the African Union (AU), which invited a selected list of African states. 12 African countries participated in the IAFS-1, while at IAFS-2, 15 countries participated. The model was for India to cooperate with African states trough the AU, since India did not have resident missions in many African states.

The substantive decisions at IAFS-1 and IAFS-2 do indeed reflect the great potential and desire of the top leaders on both sides to widen and deepen cooperation for mutual benefit. IAFS-1 adopted the Delhi Declaration, mostly on the global situation, and the Africa-India Framework for Cooperation. Under the latter instrument, India pledged to increase the volume of Lines of Credit for Africa from $ 2.15 billion to $5.4 billion over the next five years. The framework document expresses the desire to strengthen cooperation in the following sectors – Agriculture, Trade Industry and Investment, Small and Medium Enterprises, Finance, Regional Integration, Peace and Security, Civil Society and Governance, Science and Technology, Information and Communications Technology, Education, Health, Water and Sanitation, Culture and Sports, Poverty Eradication, Tourism, Infrastructure Energy and Environment, and media and Communication.

The Framework adopted at IAFS-1 is well drafted, comprehensive and ambitious, and it was to be followed up by officials on both sides to develop and implement specific and concrete cooperation activities. A Ministerial meeting was held in Delhi in March 2010, which adopted a Plan of Action and a road map for the Second Summit. Among the specific projects agreed upon to be financed by credits from India were: (a) Setting up of Human Settlement Institutes in 5 African countries. (b) Establishment of Vocational Training Institutes in 10 African countries. (c) Indian assistance for a Pan-African Stock Exchange (d) a $ 300 m credit line would be made available for financing an infrastructure project under regional integration. (e) Strengthening capacity of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.

IAFS-2 adopted a 32 paragraph Addis Ababa Declaration largely on global issues, and an Africa-India Framework for Enhanced Cooperation. The word “Enhanced” was meant to dispel any impression that this was a routine affair. A few new initiatives were included. India offered $ 5 billion for the next three years under lines of credit and an additional $ 700 million to establish new institutions and training programmes in consultation with the African Union and its institutions. As a follow-up to the successful Pan-African E-Network Project, it was proposed that an India-Africa Virtual University would be established. In implementation of recommendations emanating from the two summits, several conferences and workshops have been organized. Scholarships and fellowships in India increased substantially, while a number of capacity building institutions were set up in Africa. Approval rates of Lines of Credit doubled to over $ 1 billion per year, while India Africa trade doubled from $ 34 billion in 2008 to $ 68 billion in 2011.

Despite these results the limitations of the India-AU model became apparent. Cooperation between African states and India slowed down because of the extra layer of the AU in between. This was manifest by the time preparations for IAFS-3 were underway in 2014. IAFS-3 had to be postponed due to numerous reasons. For IAFS-3 a different approach was followed, of reaching out and connecting directly with all 54 African states, despite the limitations of the Indian diplomatic network. This approach has resulted in a much bigger IAFS-3, with over 50 countries sending delegations. The size of the meetings poses formidable logistics challenges as well as producing satisfactory outcome documents.

Other major countries have also had similar partnership mechanisms with Africa. China has held five meetings of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation at Ministerial level since 2000, the next would be held in December 2015 in South Africa. The US has held a meeting of the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in August 2014. Japan has decided to hold the Japan-Africa Summit (TICAD) every three years, with the next to be held in Africa in 2016. China ensured attendance of 48 countries (including 40 leaders) in 2006, the US hosted 50 countries (including 47 leaders) in 2014 and Japan had 49 countries (including 37 leaders) in 2013.

The IAFS-3 is set to build upon the foundations of the previous two Summits and will certainly discuss global issues such as UN reform, terrorism, migration, internal conflicts, and climate change, in addition to further developing cooperation initiatives. New areas such as renewable energy are promising. The high expectations generated by the Summit will need to be fulfilled. Bilateral meetings will add much value to the Summit.

The Government of India must ensure that strong mechanisms are put in place for implementing agreed activities, and make the necessary reforms in administrative and financial processes for this. Once a project document has been approved at a certain funding level, it should not be necessary to go to the Ministry of Finance for approving expenditures on each project activity. This slows down project implementation.

India’s diplomatic network in Africa is also relatively small. India has diplomatic missions in 29 African states. In comparison, China has missions in 50 countries, including Libya. Japan has missions in 33 countries. The US has missions in 50 countries. To implement an ambitious programme of cooperation such as that envisaged by IAFS, it would be necessary to strengthen India’s diplomatic network, by increasing the number of countries with resident missions, and also deploying sufficient human resources at New Delhi and in the Missions.

The forthcoming IAFS-3 holds out the promise of stepping up India’s engagement with Africa, a continent which has high potential for development and contributing to prosperity of its peoples.

The author is a former Ambassador of India who has served in Africa


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