India is expanding its footprint in Africa so aggressively that a mighty buzz has arisen about Sino-Indian rivalry for influence on the continent. On the face of it, India and China are not in the same league when it comes to trade with Africa. While India’s two-way trade with Africa soared from about $1 billion in 2001 to $46 billion in 2010, it is eclipsed by China’s, which surpassed $120 billion in 2010. Still, officials in both countries were forced to respond to talk of rivalry after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May offered $5 billion in loans to help Africa meet its development goals, $700 million for new institutions and training programs, and another $300 million line of credit for a new rail line between Ethiopia and Djibouti. Singh announced the loans at the second India-Africa Summit, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They follow a $5.4 billion credit pledge at the first India-Africa Summit in 2008.
“Chinese and Indian leaders have stressed that India and China are not competitors but cooperative partners. It is a good thing that international community focuses on Africa,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters when asked about denials by Indian officials that the Addis Ababa summit was an attempt to counter China’s influence.
India’s foray into Africa is far from philanthropic. As with China, India needs access to Africa’s vast energy and natural resources to sustain its fast-growing economy, projected to expand by 8.5 percent between 2011 and 2012. “That requires further deepening engagement in Africa. Natural resource diplomacy is one of [the strategies for engagement] — be it oil, coal, uranium — and another is about widening other connections that India has on the continent — building infrastructure, agriculture expansion,” CNN quotes Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at the London think tank Chatham House, as saying.
In May, India put forward a framework for its “partnership” with Africa that emphasizes skills transfer, capacity building and trade. Among 80 institutions it plans to finance are an India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade in Uganda, the India-Africa Institute of Information Technology in Ghana, an India-Africa Diamond Institute in Botswana and an India-Africa Institute of Education, Planning and Administration in Burundi, according to Ruchita Beri, senior research associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis in New Delhi. Other institutions at the pan-African level will focus on food processing, integrated textiles, weather forecasting, life and earth sciences, agriculture and rural development; at the regional level, they will include soil-, water- and tissue-testing laboratories, regional farm-sciences centers, seed production and demonstration centers and material-testing labs for highway development; at the bilateral level, they will include institutes for English language training, information technology, entrepreneurship development and vocational training. India also proposes to set up an India-Africa virtual university with 10,000 new scholarships and raise the number of training slots and scholarships available to Africans under the India Technical and Economic Cooperation program.
Africa watchers say India’s approach to Africa differs, deliberately, from China’s, in placing emphasis on what they term “co-development” — building strong, mutually beneficial bilateral ties with African countries. India cannot compete with China in terms of acquiring mines, oil fields and other resources in Africa, so it’s doing what it is good at, which is to help build infrastructure development in Africa and create goodwill through a positive role, they say. India’s business links in Africa are also growing. One of the most recent examples is telecoms giant Bharti Airtel Ltd.’s $10 billion acquisition last year of mobile phone operations across Africa from the Kuwaiti firm Zain Group.
If there is rivalry for the heart and mind of Africa, it is between China and the United States, despite Washington’s insistence to the contrary. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton asserts, however, that China plays a dirty game in Africa. Whereas the United States demands proof of “democratic practices” and “good governance” before extending its hand to Africa, Beijing has no such concerns. “We are… concerned,” says U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “that China’s foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance, and that it has not always utilized the talents of the African people in pursuing its business interests.” But it is China, not the United States, that is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest trading partner.