Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on April 9, 2008
During the Cold War, leaders from China and India liked to polish their Third World cred by emphasizing their ties with countries in Africa. The Chinese and the Indians could present themselves as natural allies of the Africans, since all had only recently gained their freedom after enduring years under domination by Western colonialism.
The days of the Chinese and Indians wanting to present themselves as leaders of the developing world are long one, of course, and now the two Asian giants are focusing on Africa for different reasons. With the Chinese and the Indian economies booming, both countries want to boost ties with the continent in order to secure access to new export markets as well as access to the raw materials their factories need. “We bump into Chinese companies everywhere,” Ratan Jindal, CEO of Jindal Stainless, told BusinessWeek last year. (For more on the competition between the Indians and the Chinese for resources, see this BusinessWeek story by my colleagues Frederik Balfour and Manjeet Kripalani from last December.)
That’s why the Chinese hosted a big China-Africa gathering in late 2006 and it’s why the Indians are hosting one right now. Top officials from over a dozen African countries were in New Delhi yesterday for the first Indo-Africa summit, which closes today.
The Indians are behind the Chinese in expanding ties with Africa, according to this story from AFP. India’s trade with Africa amounted to $30 billion last year, compared to $55 billion in Sino-African trade. And China attracted representatives from almost 50 African countries to its summit, compared to just 14 for India’s. The November 2006 Beijing summit concluded with the Chinese companies signing deals worth $1.9 billion with African counterparts.
Maybe we’ll see similar big numbers for Indian companies with the conclusion of the New Delhi meeting today. Indian Prime Minister Singh says he wants to boost ties and yesterday promised to increase financial credit by over 100% to $5.4 billion over the next five years. Singh also promised to work with Africans on agriculture, IT and other projects and said India would open its markets more to African cotton, garments and other exports.
With both the Indians and the Chinese courting them, though, the Africans seem to be sensing that they suddenly have a bit of leverage. For instance, consider comments from Democratic Republic of Congo president Joseph Kabila. According to AFP, he complained about “words and speeches (that have) remained mere words for decades. ‘We need immediate visible projects,’ he said.”
Meanwhile, in the Indian Express, C. Raja Mohan argues that the Indians actually have an edge over the Chinese in Africa: “India’s Africa policy is more broad-based and capable of high endurance. The Indian private sector is also more sensitive to local risks that the state-driven Chinese strategy is not always good at managing. India has no reason to benchmark itself against China in Africa. Nor should it agonise over China’s presumed “lead”. Instead, India has the opportunity to develop its own model for sustainable cooperation with Africa.”