Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Great Scramble for Cooperation

In a symbol of the growing partnership between the world's largest democracy and Africa, Ethiopia will be hosting the second India-Africa Forum Summit in Addis Ababa. The last summit was held in New Delhi two years back. If the draft text is anything to go by, the final outcome could see India extending an even longer line of credit to Africa (all to be given to Indian businesses to do business in Africa with Indian talent) and Africa expressing support for accelerated UNSC reforms with a permanent seat for India.

The Western media is already pretty nervous about the new orbit that South-South cooperation has entered into. Both before and after decolonization of the continent, the West has exploited Africa relentlessly, starting from nothing less than the Slave Trade. India and China both vehemently supported African Freedom movements and did not do so to recolonize the continent. Their interest in Africa stems for an understanding that International trade is not a zero sum game and that the West is no longer the only source of wealth in the world.

Likening the summit as a part of some great "New Scramble for Africa" belies a very poor understanding of what India intends to do in Africa. The aim is to build capacity, grow trade and improve infrastructure so that Africa can experience an age of prosperity while Indian companies can find a new market. It is a winning combination. India's skill training abilities and business skills, acknowledged the world over, fit perfectly with Africa's wealth in minerals and young, hardworking individuals.

Of course, it's not all about business. India's Navy has a presence in the Gulf of Aden, a part of International efforts to fight piracy. The Indian Navy has taken a lead in binging all Indian Ocean littoral states together to ensure peace in this crucial water body. Furthermore, people-to-people ties are strong, with an Indian diaspora present in virtually every African country (and of course the India-connect in South Africa) and thousands of African students studying in colleges across India using scholarships provided by the Indian Government. Clearly, the partnership goes well beyond the narrow goal that any 'scramble' would entail.

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