Thursday, May 23, 2013

India plans to boost Africa ties through education, technology

In a bid to influence research methods in Africa and open new markets for technology developed in India, the department of science and technology (DST) has planned a series of road shows to several African countries over the year.

Additionally, it has sanctioned the largest number of fellowships, 135, in a single year for researchers and students from African countries to pursue their doctoral research at Indian institutions. Officials associated with the exercise said that the technology investment was part of India’s attempts to wield “soft influence” over the continent.

In 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led a delegation to the India-Africa summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa that saw 15 African nations chosen by the African Union (AU) to represent the continent. Singh pledged a $700 million contribution to education and skill development in the continent, of which $35 million would come specifically from India’s science and technology department, said Arabinda Mitra, who heads international relations at DST.

According to a research note by Standard Chartered Bank, India is Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner behind the European Union, China and the US, and a significant investor across the continent. India accounts for 5.8% of Africa’ trade. While still small compared with Africa’s traditional partners—Europe’s trade with it exceeded $300 billion in 2011—the pace of growth in Africa-India trade and investment over the past decade is rivalled only by China-Africa trade

Teams from the ministry have visited Rwanda, Senegal and another delegation is expected to visit Mozambique later this month, said Mitra, to showcase “proven and low-cost” Indian technologies. “We have a basket of technologies that span agriculture implements, agri-processes, internet and communication technologies and mobile-based health applications,” said Mitra. “Nothing high-end but well tested and scalable in India.” He added that several grassroots innovations promoted by the Ahmedabad-based National Innovation Foundation, which scours villages for indigenously developed applications, would be a key part of the repertoire showcased to Africa.

The inter-ministerial engagement led by DST will be followed by visits by Indian industries to sign technology transfer deals. “The DST is only a facilitator,” said Mitra. “Ultimately, it will be organizations such as FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), with whom we are partnering for this initiative, that will play a key role.”

DST is also working on getting more African students to come to India for research. The CV Raman International Fellowship, now in it’s fourth year, funds African students to pursue part of their doctoral research at Indian institutions. These are specific to mathematics and statistics, engineering sciences and medical sciences. “There are ongoing programmes but this one’s unique for the sciences.” said Mitra. “Through this we can expose them to our research experience in agriculture, water management, waste disposal etc.”

Key initiatives include getting African nations to engage with Indian academia, said Ravi Bangar, Joint Secretary, East and South Africa, Ministry of External Affairs. “Such engagement has been on for many years, but science and technology development are emerging as a key thrust area,” Bangar said. “It would be great if more countries like Lesotho or Seychelles availed of such scholarships.”

Separately, India’s foreign ministry on Wednesday announced that Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari will be representing India at the 50th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity which has now been renamed African Union in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on 25 May. Ansari will address the gathering along with the leaders of Brazil, China, France, European Union, Russia and the United Nations, said Bangar.

The decision to invite India has been taken by the African Union “I am sure they see some uniqueness in this (India-Africa) partnership. India’s engagement with Africa is not predicated with Africa’s relations with any other country,” Bangar said.

Starting out as a staunch supporter of the anti-colonial struggle in many African countries soon after India’s independence, India however found its influence on the continent waning in the 1990s as New Delhi turned its attention to re-scripting its ties with the US and other countries after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Of late, the Indian government has made ties with Africa, described as the world’s newest growth pole, a priority with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosting two India-Africa summits—in 2008 and 2011.

Bilateral trade between India and Africa is currently $70 billion up from less than $1 billion in 1991. India’s investments in Africa since 2005 total $50 billion and lines of credit to African countries total $8 billion.

Source: Mint, May 23, 2013

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