Creating space for Arabs at India’s Africa summit

Creating space for Arabs at India’s Africa summit

INDIA’s relations with the Arab world are growing by leaps and bounds. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a fine example of India’s rapid advancements in its Look-West policy.
UAE is one of the two countries that the Indian government has invited as special observer for its greatest diplomatic spectacle, the third India-Africa Forum Summit scheduled to be held in New Delhi from Oct. 26 to 29. Singapore is the other country to have been accorded this special privilege. But then Singapore is an old friend of India’s as compared to the UAE.
As many as 50 of the 54 African countries have confirmed participation in the upcoming event. This is a big personal diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who will be investing his lot of precious time for this major diplomatic exercise despite the fact that the crucial Bihar elections would be at their peak at the time of the India-Africa summit.
Why is it such a major achievement for the Modi government? There are only three countries apart from India that have held summits with the whole African continent: The United States, China and Japan. The US was able to ensure participation of 50 African countries in its summit, while China and Japan could manage to draw 47 and 42 African states respectively.
By inviting 50 African countries, India has equalled the US record by holding the summit that promises to surpass those of China and Japan. But if Libya too participates, and which is quite likely too, then there is a fair chance it would outclass the US too.
In 2007, only 14 leaders had participated at the first India-Africa Summit in Delhi while at the second Summit at Addis Ababa in 2011 it was 12 leaders. The gathering of leaders during the 3rd India-Africa summit will be the largest India has hosted since November 1983 when 33 of the Commonwealth leaders gathered in New Delhi in response to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s invite.
Moreover, India has never hosted such a huge international event ever before. In fact, India doesn’t even have a regular conference venue to host an international event of this size. Hence the event is being held at the Indira Gandhi indoor stadium.
It is against this backdrop that one should see the Indian move of inviting the UAE for this event. Like Singapore, the UAE is an important hub of international trade and business. India feels it can reach out to the African continent if it works in tango with the UAE.
The emergence of the Arab country in India’s scheme of things has been rather phenomenal considering the fact that the UAE came up as a unified entity only in 1971.
India-UAE trade was valued at a mere $180 million per annum in the 1970s, but today it is pegged at around $60 billion making it India’s third largest trading partner for the year 2014-15 after US and China.
Moreover, UAE is the second largest export destination of India with an amount of over $33 billion for the year 2014-15. For UAE, India is the largest trading partner for the year 2014 with an amount of over $28 billion (non-oil trade).
Thus the upcoming India-Africa summit will provide a valuable platform to the UAE and the Arab world for a better connect with the African continent.
As for India, it has not focused enough on Africa despite the warmth and fraternity that draws from the common fight against colonialism and the support India extended to African states in their struggle against apartheid.
This anomaly is borne out by some unflattering statistics. Today, India has embassies only in 29 of the 54 African states that it has diplomatic relations with. On the other hand, 42 African countries have their missions in India.
Apart from reflecting that India’s foreign policy is moving from a balancing role to a leadership role, the upcoming event would also go a long way in showing that India is coming out as a leader rather than a bit player in international relations.
Africa’s importance for India in particular and the world at large cannot be overstated.
The UN Security Council permanent membership can only materialize if Africa supports India. It is a continent which is extremely rich in minerals and natural resources and, therefore, the go-to continent in the coming years.
On the front of international terrorism, the recent rapid emergence of such terror outfits as Boko Haram, Al-Shabab or the terror groups in the Sinai, or Tunisia have brought home to several African states that terror is no longer a distant threat. India and Africa need each other more than ever before to fight this menace unitedly.
On the energy front too, Africa’s importance has enhanced phenomenally as it has emerged as a major supplier of India’s energy needs with already 20 percent of oil imports sourced from there.
PM Modi’s grand idea of forging an international solar group as a practical response to climate change concerns will get nowhere without the participation of Africa, which incidentally has the youngest population even though it is the oldest continent.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view