Empowering Africa

India’s extension of a $5 billion credit line to Africa to help it achieve its development goals should silence those who have been accusing it of engaging in a ‘neo-colonial grab’ for the continent’s resources. Unlike most countries that go to Africa to exploit its resources and sell it weapons, India has signalled that it is keen to partner Africa in achieving a better life for its people. Besides helping Africa with massive credit on easy terms, India will engage in institution building there.

It has also announced an array of initiatives to provide Africans with opportunities in education, training and capacity-building. Critics have accused India of aggressively pursuing Africa’s natural resources and dealing with authoritarian regimes that are involved in gross violation of human rights. While it is true that India is keen to access Africa’s oil, diamonds and uranium, India’s strategy to build influence there has been different from that used by the West or China.

Instead of selling arms as the west has done to prop up dictators, India has sought to reach out to people through capacity-building. Even as it accesses uncut diamonds from Africa, it is providing training in cutting and polishing to locals there. Those who are critical of India’s role in Africa would do well to explore the many people-centric initiatives that India is involved in there.

India has always enjoyed public goodwill in Africa. It has a long history of interaction with African countries. It supported their anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles. And it has a large population of Indian origin living there. Few countries in the world enjoy the kind of goodwill that India has. Delhi must build on this as it deepens interaction with Africa.

It must learn from the mistakes of other countries. China for instance uses its own people to execute projects. This has resulted in tens of thousands of Chinese being moved to Africa. This has triggered anger among the local population. India must also bear in mind that while doing deals with authoritarian regimes there, it must not alienate the local population.

The western media is pitting India against China in Africa. India must avoid falling into that trap. China’s investment in Africa is far greater than that of India. Its strategy is vastly different. India must resist the temptation of following China’s path through Africa as its strengths and priorities there are different.

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