By Yonas Abiye
Addis Ababa, May 26, 2011 (Ezega.com) – Seeking to inject fresh impetus to India’s strategic ties with African countries, Indian PM Manmohan Singh spent six days here in Addis Ababa, arriving from visiting Tanzania.
The Indian PM who was accompanied by a high-level delegation, was accorded a ceremonial red carpet welcome at Bole International Airport where Hailemarim Desalegem, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Indian diplomats were present to receive him.
As a host capital, Addis Ababa, the seat of the AU, was colorfully decorated with posters and banners to hail leaders participating in the meeting attended by leaders from 15 African countries.
The 2nd Africa-India Forum Summit which aims to widen cooperation between the two fast growing economies of the world is also intended to create a business platform for Indian investors with their African counterparts. This is apart from brainstorming and adopting a comprehensive framework to reinforce the regional cooperation in a wide range of fields to support bilateral cooperation between African countries and India, as well as discussion on possible ways to combat the twin threats of terrorism and piracy
As the leaders discuss significant aspects of the India-Africa partnership with the objective of enhancing and widening India’s desire for “mutual benefit”, criticisms from media pundits are also mounting that the Asian giant strives to catch up with China in what has been dubbed “the new scramble for Africa”.
China and India Competition
The China comparison, which India faces often, is likely to keep lurking in the background. China’s ties with African countries has drawn a lot more attention than those between India and Africa, and many observers asked whether India is, or should be, competing with China on the African continent.
Bilateral India-Africa trade has grown from about £620m in 2001 to £28.5bn in 2010. According to India’s ministry of commerce and industry, this will reach £43bn by 2012.
Some 250 Indian companies have invested, mainly in telecommunications and chemical and mining companies.
Similarly many reports also indicate that India remains about a decade behind its Asian rival, China, with two-way trade standing at £75bn, a 43.5% increase from the previous year, and up from just £620m in 1992. China has built roads, bridges, railways and power stations in return for access to markets and resources.
Although the first summit, which took place in New Delhi in 2008, wasn’t groundbreaking, it was the first step towards establishing a framework for cooperation between India and African countries on areas ranging from business to humanitarian assistance to security.
One of the things that came out of it was India’s pledge to grant preferential market access to least developed countries, of which many are Africans.
Accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur and a high-level delegation, PM Singh was also expected to hold a sideline discussion with PM Meles Zenawi in a boost to the ever increasing of their bilateral relationship in various pillars of capacity building, investment and infrastructure development as well as financial assistance.
PM Sign’s visit to Ethiopia is the first ever visit by an Indian Prime Minister, although Indian President, S Radhakrishnan, visited Ethiopia in 1965 and then President V.V. Giri in 1972. Full diplomatic relations were established in 1950 with Sardar Sant Singh as the first Ambassador to Ethiopia.
India enjoys much goodwill here. Ethiopia values India as an” important partner” in its development efforts. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi frequently states publicly that China and India are Ethiopia’s preferred partners.
According to documents, the early Indian community in Ethiopia was predominantly from Gujarat. They came to Ethiopia in the later years of the 19th century.
During the imperial times, there were also tens of thousands of Indian teachers in schools all over Ethiopia, even in some remote parts of the country. The numbers of the Indian community fell very significantly during the Derg era.
Currently, there are around 2,000 estimated Indian citizens residing in various parts of Ethiopia – the majority being new investors and their employees.
After meeting with Prime Minister Meles last week, Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, indicated that his country has offered to invest $4.78 billion in various projects in Ethiopia over the next few years, of which nearly $1 billion is already in the pipelines.
India is the largest foreign investor in Ethiopia with approved investment of $4.78 billion, said Sharma, adding that the current investment volume is nine-fold increase from just $500 million five years ago. It is a reflection of the growing Indian business interest in the continent where Indian investment is targeted to reach $70 billion by 2015.