Two news articles have touched upon the Africa story recently; one by Princeton N. Lyman and Patricia Dorff in The Washington Post reasons out the basis of a new US policy in Africa while the other in Taipei Times by Alex Vines and Gareth Price harps on India’s growing economic links with Africa.
Lyman and Dorff argue that notwithstanding traditional humanitarian concerns for Africa, there are more pressing reasons for US to take greater interest in Africa and implement a concerted policy for the impecunious continent. These include
- Fierce competition for resources in Africa led aggressively by China, along with India, Korea, Brazil, Malaysia and the ilk.
- Importance of African energy to US, in light of the problems with existing sources in the Middle East and Latin America.
- The strength of African numbers in trade negotiations at WTO, and their collective bargaining power in concert with India and Brazil at the Doha Round.
- Africa’s importance in the global ‘War on terror’, to counter the influence of Al Qaeda in the region.
- Concerns over current state of health in Africa – HIV, AIDS, Avian flu, malaria etc.
Lyman and Dorff have rightly identified that
At the center of all Africa’s issues and challenges lies the persistence of poverty. Africa is by far the poorest continent and marginal in the global trading system. Poverty adds to the potential for conflict, the vulnerability to terrorist influence, the pressures of illegal migration and the spread of disease; it constitutes a drain on worldwide aid resources. Thus, the humanitarian problems return to center stage…
But they also conclude that
Only when Africa is recognized for the growing importance it has for America will these shortcomings be overcome.
Many interpret the above hypothesis as nothing but a grim reminder that the US is losing out to other contenders in the race for resources in Africa. The purpose of providing humanitarian aid is not altruistic philanthropy but a brazen attempt to stay ahead and satiate the growing US need for mineral resources, raw materials, natural gas and crude oil from Africa. The Chinese are at the forefront of this race for resources with no concern for any despotic or tyrannical regime, humanitarian disasters or international opinions. China being a P-5 member of the UN Security Council has a huge advantage over India, Brazil, Korea etc. in its dealings with the region.
In turn, Alex and Gareth believe that the Indian approach to Africa is more nuanced and fundamentally better suited for Africa. [See my earlier post on India and West Africa.] They believe that
Many Indian goods have much greater suitability for African than Western markets. Sales of Tata cars, for instance, are booming in many African countries.
India’s democracy in a postcolonial setting has relevant lessons for Africa. India also offers important experience in agricultural expansion, clean water management, and confronting the growing threat of climate change.
But the Indian approach is also similar, in many ways, to the Chinese and the US pattern. Indian firms like IOC-OIL and ONGC-Mittal in Nigeria and Mittal Steel in Liberia have been equally controversial and impenitent in their methods and dealings. India’s hope for success vis-a-vis China in the dark continent is queerly buoyed by statements like this attributed to Zambian opposition MP Guy Scott
People are saying, `The Whites were bad, the Indians were worse, but the Chinese are worst of all.’
Interestingly, Gandhi had predicted that
“commerce between India and Africa will be of ideas and services, not of manufactured goods against raw materials after the fashion of western exploiters.”
How far has India moved since?