African nations look to India for developing economies

New Delhi, October 16:

Niger is keen to import Indian rice milling machines and get advice on how to drill for oil.

South Africa welcomes Indian investment to build hotels ahead of the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. And Ethiopia wants help from India for its highway projects. African countries are increasingly looking to India, as well as China, for help developing their economies — moves that could significantly shape the future of global trade flows.

“We want to learn from India’s experience,” said Amadou Dioffo, managing director of Sonidep Petrol and Gas Company of Niger.

“Like us, India also has a colonial past. We want to know how and why it is doing so much better now.” For India, these opportunities come as its economy is booming and its companies are aggressively scouting for new markets and new resources.

Last week, some 300 business delegates from 35 African countries descended on New Delhi to explore partnerships. The three-day long conclave discussed projects worth $17 billion, from oil exploration and construction contracts to software and health care services, said the Confederation of India Industry (CII) that hosted the meetings. The first such conclave held last year discussed $5 billion in joint projects. Even if a quarter of these projects come to fruition, it would significantly boost India’s trade with Africa, which totaled $11.8 billion for the fiscal year through March, and is growing at about a 25 per cent clip annually in recent years.

“We have a new synergy between Africa and India. The process is at work and is moving steadily,” said Tarun Das, a top official at the CII, the country’s largest business grouping. But there is competition from China, which is stitching up deals with African governments at a pace that has unnerved the region’s traditional partners, its former European colonial rulers, as well as the US.

India says it is not competing with China, and that Africa offers plenty of opportunity for both countries. India’s expertise in information technology, inexpensive medicines, and low-cost manufacturing make it an attractive source of partnerships for African nations as they try to modernise their econ-omies. Officials from Niger discussed importing rice mil-ling machines. They also talked oil. Niger has oil reserves, but can’t explore them, and has to depe-nd on imports, he said. “Indian oil companies, always on a que-st for energy assets, can help.”

In neighbouring Nigeria, India’s state-run Oil & Natural Gas Corp is already investing $6 billion to build a power plant and railroads in return for stakes in oil fields. Zimbabwe’s trade and industry minister O M Mpofu said his government could even consider allowing Indian participation in mining for uranium — a much needed resource for energy-hungry India and its efforts to boost nuclear power generation. India is also developing an e-connectivity project to link Indian education and health institutes to remote learning and medical centers

in Africa.