By Harshmeet Singh
One can’t help but think of a possible ‘Chinese angle’ behind India’s offer of a $10 billion credit to the African nations. The reasons are plain and simple. Ever since the two Asian giants embarked on a crescendo of economic growth, the battle for monopoly over the resource-rich African continent has come out in the open. Apart from the vast proven reserves of oil and gas, the world’s second largest continent also boasts of enviable deposits of uranium, gold, silver, diamonds, copper and iron. Though China has denied any rivalry with India on the African issue, it would be naïve to believe that there isn’t more to it than what meets the eye.
With a continuously rising population and rapidly depleting natural resources, Africa’s relatively underutilized mineral wealth is a key attraction for many industrialized nations across the world. Though countries like USA and Japan have also tried to get a piece of the cake, China and India seem to be the front-runners in the race for becoming Africa’s closest partners in the coming years. In terms of numbers, China has the upper hand. With a $200 billion investment in different African nations, China has firmly placed itself as the foremost ‘well wisher’ of Africa. In comparison, according to WTO, in 2013, India’s investments in Africa touched $50 billion. Apart from the investments in infrastructure, China has also offered assistance to the African nations in the areas of education and training. The magnitude of such assistance far outnumbers India’s efforts.
The numbers in bilateral trade also highlight a similar story. The African-Chinese bilateral trade stands at $108 billion, as compared to the Indian African trade of $40 billion. But smartly enough, India isn’t trying to compete with China on the economic front. It has rather taken up the cause of capacity building and human resource development in the African nations, thereby fostering the people to people connect between India and Africa.
Over the past 5 years, more than 25,000 students from the African countries have been given higher education scholarships in India. Indian army also trains officers from many African nations, such as Lesotho. India is also offering its expertise in solar energy to countries like Mozambique, to help the country tackle its power woes. Underlining India’s strategy, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said, “The key area of interest is going to be the Indian investment in infrastructure. The government of India is giving a significant amount of resources for the development of infrastructure in the African continent. They have given us (Ethiopia) $700 million in concessional loans. India could have used this money for its own people. But this is indicative of the quality of special relations between India and Africa,” In many ways, the battle for Africa can be termed as a battle between China’s economic might and India’s soft diplomacy.
The African leaders, on their part, are basking in the new found limelight. With assistance flowing in from all sides, they are trying their best to keep both the Asian giants happy for as long as possible. This was reiterated by Katureebee Tayebwa, a member of the Ugandan High Commission in New Delhi, when he said that, “We [Africa] are happy that there is intense competition between India and China to gain African markets.”