PM Narendra Modi recounts his Africa links, seeks new ways to fund projects

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday recounted his connection with African nations as well as linkages of Gujarat, his home state with that continent, on the eve of the third India-Africa summit, scheduled here next week.


PM Narendra Modi meets the delegates of African countries before a dinner at the India-Africa Trade Ministers’ Meeting 2015 in New Delhi on Friday PTI

Interacting with a group of journalists from African nations, he said that out of 2.70 lakh Indians living in Africa, most belonged to his home state Gujarat. “I hail from the west coast of India from the state of Gujarat. It was in fact the Gujaratis who started trade and commerce with Africa and maritime relations earlier on. I have always had very good relations with various personalities of Africa. So, from a personal point of view I have always had very close links with this region,” he said.

For the first time, in any Africa summit all its 54 countries are participating, making it the historic event of sorts. Till now as per the information available with the Ministry of External Affairs, 40 countries will be represented at the Head of State, head of government level, the rest are being represented by senior ministers.

Following the two previous India-Africa Forum Summits, India had committed to the tune of $7.5 billion in concessional credit in the fields of infrastructure, agriculture, industry, energy and water. As per government information, in more than 40 countries today there are over 100 projects that are under implementation. In the same vein, India has invested $1.2 billion in more than 100 institutes. India had committed $2.5 billion worth lines of credit to African nations at its first summit in 2008 in Delhi that was attended by 14 African governments and $5 billion at the second edition in Addis Ababa in 2011.

But the worry for Modi, is that out of $7.5-billion credit promised across the two summits, only $3.5 billion has been disbursed, and the entire promised amount hasn’t been approved by the finance ministry, even after lapse of four years since the last summit. The PM is expected to announce a fresh package of $10 billion at next week’s summit. He has now advised officials to find a new mechanism preferably a bilateral arrangement with individual countries, rather than flowing the aid through the Africa Union (AU), where it gets lost in bureaucratic machinations.

The External Affairs Ministry sources justify this new policy of dealing directly with the countries, explaining that working on major projects through the AU has held up initiatives, because of the grouping’s internal dynamics. Key projects that need land and other infrastructure, like the India-Africa Institute of Information Technology, committed by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh eight years ago, remain non-starters. Ghana, which was to host the institute, has procured the required land — but even the blueprint for the university awaits a final approval from the AU.

Japan was the first country to hold regular summits with African nations, starting in 1993. But the once-every-five-years meets, always held in Japan till now, will now be held every three years, and in Africa next year for the first time, Tokyo announced last year. The European Union has held these summits every three years since 2004 and China every three years since 2000. And China has made clear it plans to top whatever India promises, with its next summit with Africa, in Johannesburg in December. The US, worried about China’s growing clout in that continent, shed its traditional ambivalence towards leaders with dodgy human rights records, hosting over 35 African leaders in Washington last year.