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Viewpoint: India's growing interests in Africa

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) and Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema at the 2nd Africa-India Forum Summit
Image caption India's fast-growing economy is helping it to increase its influence across the world, including in Africa

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's six-day visit to Africa kicked off on 23 May with the inauguration of the 2nd Africa-India Forum Summit in Addis Ababa.

Accompanied in Ethiopia by a high profile delegation of ministers and India's most powerful chief executives, this is already the third visit to Africa by Manmohan Singh in his eight years as prime minister.

Whilst India's presence on the continent is not new, this visit is certainly symbolic of the opening of a new chapter in India-Africa relations, designed to expand the "strong and purposeful partnership between India and Africa", as Manmohan Singh declared before leaving for Africa.

Africa and India are two of the fastest-growing regions in the world.

Economic growth in Africa has averaged 5% in the past decade and, with a growing domestic market, major and emerging powers are competing to consolidate their positions in the continent.

With the growth of India's economy at an average rate of 9% per annum since the early nineties, New Delhi has expanded its reach and its influence in many parts of the globe, including Africa.

Chasing China?

Bilateral trade between India and Africa has recently boomed. With a 15-fold increase from 2001, trade soared to $46bn (£28bn) last year, and it is expected to reach $70bn by 2015.

Image caption Indian investments across Africa have increased substantially in recent years

Beside oil, the other main areas of trade are pharmaceutical, gold, diamonds, and information technology.

India is now Africa's second major trading partner after China.

Further, observers are keen to see India's late arrival in Africa as part of its strategy to catch up with its old arch enemy.

But New Delhi is firm in its claims that it is not planning to counter Beijing's rising influence in the continent. In fact, India does not have the same financial and political clout as China.

Trade-wise, India's investments in Africa are less than half of China, which is aiming to reach $110bn this year.

Equal relationship?

These unprecedented levels of Indian engagements in Africa are often seen purely as a means of extracting resources and opening new markets for the Indian economy, not much dissimilar to Chinese dealings in the continent.

Image caption Manmohan Singh has now visited Africa three time during this time in office

Equally, India's hands-off approach to African state sovereignty is seen as largely analogous to that of China, even if utterly different to that of the West.

If India is not currently feeling the heat of Western opprobrium to the extent of China in Sudan, it is most likely only because India is hiding behind China to the extent that it is a smaller investor and trader, it is a democracy and considered more multilateral in its foreign policy.

India may one day face the same pressure and the same dilemmas as China over the balance between sovereignty and, for instance, concern for human rights.

However, unlike China which has focused on resource extractions and large infrastructure projects, India's relationship with Africa, it is asserted, rests upon equality, mutual trust and a transparent approach.

India's own model of inclusive development is claimed to be accessible and transferable to Africa.

India's private-led engagement offers its African partners skills transfer and triple-A technology (affordable, adaptable and available).

To some extent, it also focuses on capacity building, value addition and human resources development rather than just resource extraction - and in the case of China the importation of Chinese labour to build the infrastructure associated with the deals.

New Delhi has recently signed a deal with 19 education institutions in Africa and it is planning to set-up diamond processing facilities in Botswana to help the country move up the value chain.

Global politics

Equally important to India-Africa relations are India's global power aspirations.

Whilst aiming to be the voice of developing world in negotiations at various global fora, New Delhi has lobbied for the restructuring and expansion of the United Nations and almost all African countries back India's bid for a permanent seat at the UN.

The new deal that India is planning to put on the table at the second India-Africa forum indicates India's intent at deepening this burgeoning partnership.

Proposals for new ways of strengthening trade and investments relations between India and Africa include the implementation of free-trade agreements with Africa's, the launching of a fresh line of credit with no links to India's own commercial interests, as well as support for two seats for Africa in an reformed Security Council.

These initiatives seem likely to bolster India-Africa partnerships.

If India lives up to its promises, it does still however remain to be seen how African states will respond to India's new advances, and indeed, how Africa will respond to this new multi-polarity in its international affairs.

Dr Simona Vittorini and Dr David Harris both teach at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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