Thursday, 5 November 2015

India steps up

Just in time to offer some respite from the China slowdown blues, enter India, hosting an Africa summit on 26-29 October. With 41 African heads of state in attendance, it seems Prime Minister Narendra Modi got the timing right, with promises to deepen trade and diplomatic ties.

Nobody expects India to repeat the dizzying rise of China's trade with Africa – from under US$10 billion in 1995 to over $220 bn. in 2015 – but India's attention is useful tactically for African leaders. They can play off India against China, just as they have played off Beijing against Washington, Paris and London, and even Moscow. There is also strategic substance in the India-Africa relationship. Like India, most African countries run multiparty political systems and Premier Modi has put some useful money on the table: $10 bn. in soft loans over the next five years and $600 million in grants. Much of China's aid disproportionately benefits local leaders' interests.

Most Indian trade with Africa is private sector-led, so the hope is that it will be more resistant to government budget cuts and slowdowns. Indian businesses have been implanted in Eastern and Southern Africa for the last century. As the two regions look across the Indian Ocean at each other, they are building closer security and diplomatic links. One predictable agreement from the summit was on reform of the United Nations Security Council: African leaders joined with Modi to press for new seats on the council to represent their regions. Cue deafening silence from Beijing.

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