04/08/2008, 00.00
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The first India-Africa summit has opened

New Delhi wants to increase trade and diplomatic relations with the African continent. It is seeking energy and raw materials in exchange for loans and projects. Experts: to counter the strong Chinese presence, India must propose a different form of collaboration, more respectful of local needs and the rights of the people.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The first summit between India and African countries opened today in New Delhi, with the intention of increasing trade and diplomatic relations.  India wants to follow the Chinese route of offering convenient loans and low-cost projects in exchange for raw materials, but also to develop a model of collaboration different from the increasingly criticised model of Beijing.

14 African leaders are participating in the two-day summit, including those of South Africa, Uganda, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Algeria, and Ethiopia.  Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has announced the commitment of the least 500 million dollars over the next five years, to be used for projects and services in Africa, and has also pledged to bring financing from the 2.15 billion dollars of the past five years (electrical grids in Mozambique and Ethiopia, railways in Senegal and Mali, cement factories in Congo, construction projects in Ghana, military structures in Sierra Leone, technology training centres in Lesotho) to more than 5.4 billion.  Numerous agreements on trade and collaboration are expected.

Alpha Oumar Konare, the former president of the African Union, said today that it is important "for Africa to move away from the colonial system of trade that has turned us into a mere market". The rise in food and oil prices is a serious problem for many African countries, and India could "support our initiatives to fight the hunger that threatens many of our countries".

India has an increasing need for energy and raw materials: often beaten by Beijing in nearby markets, like Kazakhstan and Myanmar, it is now looking to Africa, where China has already been active for many years.  New Delhi has always had primarily political relations with Africa, supporting various independence movements.  But its trade relations amount to "only" 30 billion dollars a year, although this represents a sixfold increase in five years.  China conducted 73.3 billion dollars worth of trade in Africa in 2007, and in 2006 hosted a summit with 50 African countries.  At least 15,000 African students are studying in India.  India is a leader in sectors that are very useful for Africa, like the use of low-cost technology and the production of affordable generic pharmaceuticals.

The support of African countries is also important in the international arena, with India trying to obtain a permanent seat at the United Nations security council.

New Delhi also wants to contrast the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean, through trade with Africa.  It could offer a collaboration more respectful of the rights and interests of African countries, in order not to repeat the errors of Beijing.  China has obtained extensive contracts for oil and raw materials, by granting loans to governments without caring how they are used.  But its actions are meeting with opposition in some countries, as shown by the recent anti-Chinese protest by miners in Zambia. (PB)

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