Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – May 22 (IANS) In a subtle allusion to China’s much talked about thrust into Africa, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has vigorously endorsed India’s development model ahead of the second India-Africa Forum summit and called for scaling bilateral ties with New Delhi to new heights.
‘Africa is paying special attention to India because India has deep-rooted experience which can be transferred to Africa,’ Desalegn, who is also Ethiopia’s foreign minister, told IANS in the Ethiopian capital.
‘Usually people believe that development comes from developed nations, but Africans are keen to focus on India’s development, a developing country, and are keen to follow in its footsteps for rapid growth,’ he said.
‘It is a mutual development agenda. We respect each other. India has no conditionality. India respects the African way of development and Africans respect the Indian way of development,’ said Desalegn, who is also Ethiopia’s pointsperson for the second India-Africa Forum summit that will be held in Addis Ababa May 24-25.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is attending the summit.
‘Therefore, the relationship between the two is very important and it is high time that we should deepen the relationship with India,’ he stressed.
Desalegn’s remarks underlining the special relationship between India and Africa have set the tone for the summit that is being held against the backdrop of Beijing’s perceived surge in Africa, a cause of anxiety among some sections in India and among Western powers.
At the summit, Manmohan Singh is expected to announce fresh pledges of development assistance, lines of credit and a raft of initiatives in the field of capacity building and human resource development.
Manmohan Singh leaves May 23 on a six-day tour to Ethiopia and Tanzania. He will co-chair the Summit with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, president of Equatorial Guinea and chairman of the African Union. Leaders of 15 African countries, which are decided by the African Union (AU), will participate in the summit.
India has made a rapid economic foray into Africa in recent years, but it still lags far behind with its bilateral trade of around $45 billion, less than half of that of China’s trade with Africa, which is estimated to be close to $108 billion.
Desalegn, however, avoided any overt comparison between Africa’s relations with India and China and speculation about competition and rivalry between the Asian powers in the African continent.
‘Competition is beneficial for Africa,’ is all he would say.
Desalegn, however, was unabashed in his admiration for India’s democratic development model.
‘Africa as a whole has grown by six percent in the last five-six years. Both India and Africa are emerging and have their own advantages. Africa can get technologies suited to its conditions and needs from India,’ he said.
‘India’s development trajectory is very interesting from Africa as it is based on the participation of the people and the community. It is very important for Africa to learn from India,’ said Desalegn.
Another area where India’s experience can be useful to Africa is in the area of managing cultural and ethnic diversity. ‘Africa also has many co-existent ethnic groups, but there are sometimes clashes amongst them. Africa can learn from India as to how to accommodate ethnic groups so that peace and order can be maintained.’
Offering land to Indian investors, a contentious issue in some circles in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian deputy prime minister outlined a vibrant partnership between India and Africa in the field of agriculture and food security.
‘Land can be developed by Indian investors where both India and Africa can benefit. Africa can learn from India the best result of new agriculture technologies like floriculture and horticulture. Africa has ample land that can be utilised to grow pulses.’
Desalegn has an emotive connection with India as well and recalls fondly Indian teachers who taught him in school in Ethiopia. He is married to an Ethiopian woman who has been educated in India’s Aligarh Muslim University.
‘Go to any home in Ethiopia and you will find someone who is educated in India. That’s why when Indians and Ethiopians visit each other’s country or homes, there is no cultural shock.’
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)