By Parul Chandra
China may be gradually spreading its tentacles in Africa, but India too is spreading its wings quietly and stealthily to counter its neighbour’s increasing presence there.
So as China aggressively targets Africa’s natural resources, India too has been busy expanding its footprints on this vast continent through various development and infrastructure projects. Of course, like China, India too is eyeing the rich mineral resources that some of the African countries posses, among them oil and uranium. But New Delhi is careful to emphasise that “India has a deep involvement with Africa and it’s not just the resources we are interested in.” Rather, as a senior MEA official remarked, “India is a partner in Africa’s socio-economic development which is modelled on South-South cooperation.”
The official added, “The cooperation is voluntary as we don’t want to push anything down anyone’s throat. We’re doing what is possible within our limited means and it’s more a partnership than a donor-donee relationship.” India, perhaps, would also be wary of the manner in which the Chinese have been expanding their presence in Africa not only through their sheer physical presence but also the “hoarding of African resources” they stand accused of.
India, on the other hand, is careful not to appear as the domineering force as in its growing engagement with the African nations. “Our strategy is to work closely in partnership in Africa and to forge a new relationship to meet the needs of our countries,” remarked an Indian diplomat.
Indeed, New Delhi heralded the beginning of the year on an African note with a visit by the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure. The two sides signed an agreement under which India will assist this influential West African nation in carrying out geological surveys for exploring minerals. New Delhi would also like to source much-needed uranium from Mali to meet its requirements for generating nuclear power. Indeed, officials indicated that the MoU with Mali for minerals exploration is a precursor to similar MoUs with other African countries.
Namibia is another African nation from whom India has been getting uranium. And Niger is yet another country with whom New Delhi is in discussions for sourcing uranium. Oil is yet another natural resource that India has been getting from some African nations. Nigeria supplies a substantial quantity of crude oil to India and it, in turn, makes available to them refined petro-products. Angola is yet another African nation from whom India is importing crude.
With piracy in the Indian Ocean region a cause of great concern for several nations including India, New Delhi hopes to work with African countries like Kenya to combat this menace.
The Indian engagement with Africa includes extending assistance in agriculture, infrastructure, health, etc. India has set up a pan-African e-network, free of cost, for tele-education. Of the 53 African nations, 47 are part of it. New Delhi has also lent its support to the Cotton Four — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — as also Uganda and Nigeria who are seeking a change in the cotton policies of the EU and the United States.