03/23/2011, 00.00
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India penetrating Africa via technology and education exports

New Delhi cannot compete with Chinese and US investments, but can provide technology and education. University level courses are offered via Internet in dozens of African nations.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – India cannot match China’s massive investments in Africa, but it is using its information technology capabilities to establish relations that are not based on buying raw material.

African states have hitherto sold off their natural resources for foreign cash or infrastructural development (roads, bridges, buildings, telecommunications and refineries). However, increasingly, many are asking for technology transfers rather than money.

Mwesiga Baregu, professor at St Augustine University in Tanzania, said that technology transfers mean jobs and better development opportunities. Some 2,000 Chinese companies are present in the continent to extract raw materials and flood local markets, stifling local nascent local industries. These enterprises bring their own technicians, managers and workers to do the job in exchange of raw materials.

“India cannot obviously compete with either China or the United States," said Kumar Dubey of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Department for Africa Studies. However, it can develop a form of cooperation based on technology sharing.

Dubey points to the Pan-African e-Network project, which allows for affordable university courses offered over the Internet to students in Africa.

The Network was set up in February 2009 in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Seychelles. In a second phase, Botswana, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, Uganda and Zambia will join. It will be funded to the tune of US$ 125 million and run by state-owned Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd (TCIL).

Professors will come from prestigious institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, the University of Madras, Delhi University, the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Amity University, and the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur.

Video-conferencing will be conducted across 33 university nodes. African partner tele-education centres have been set up at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, Makerere University in Uganda, and Cameroon’s Yaounde University.

More than 2,000 African students are already registered, but experts say that the number of “participants” is higher.

Davies Rwabu, a second year Master of International Business student at Makerere University, told the InterPress Service that the programme goes beyond courses. "You have online video conferencing once a week for about three hours, and then you can still catch up with the notes online because we have a portal from which we can pick up the notes," Rwabu explained.

Students pay a subsidised fee of 200 dollars per semester at Makerere, which compares well with the regular 1,240 dollars for comparable courses.

Earnings from running the courses are not sent back to India, they are used to pay local technicians running the learning centres as well as the project’s coordinator.

Amity University courses available through the Makerere centre lead to a diploma in information technology, and master’s degrees in financial management and control and international business.

The project’s current objective is to assist Africa in building capacity by imparting quality education to 10,000 students across the continent over a five-year period.

In addition to the Pan-African e-Network, India has extended assistance to several African nations by way of training of experts and implementation of projects.

About 15,000 African students are currently enrolled in different academic programmes in India, many of them self-financed.

There are also plans in the works to establish a series of India-Africa institutes each specialising in specific areas—foreign trade, education, administration, diamonds, and human settlements—as part of future capacity building.

India announced a second summit with African states in Ethiopia later this year. The first one was held in New Delhi in 2008 (pictured).

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