ADDIS ABABA (HAN) November 8, 2015. Public Diplomacy & regional Security. Africa has been thrust into yet another episode of global geopolitical competition as world powers stake out their positions on the continent in a new scramble for Africa. The only thing that has changed since the Berlin Conference in 1884, which shared out the continent among European powers, is that African leaders now have a seat at the table.
China, the European Union, the United States and Japan are the leading global powers that have set up international initiatives to cultivate stronger ties with Africa aimed at expanding their markets, securing supply of raw materials and seeking political support.
Two weeks ago, India hosted the largest gathering of African leaders in New Delhi since the seventh summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983.
The summit, described by Indian officials as a reconnection of “old friends and family,” is New Delhi’s biggest push to reset its political and economic ties with an emerging Africa. More than 40 African leaders attended the summit, which was big on trade, terrorism and international politics.
Previous India-Africa Forum Summits have been smaller events, attended by only 15 African leaders on average in 2008 in New Delhi and in 2011 in Addis Ababa.
African leaders present included South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The impressive attendance by African leaders is a major statement by India on its ambitions of cementing its footprint on a continent projected to have a $29 trillion GDP by 2050 — which is in the same range as India’s projected $35 trillion economy in 35 years.
India’s Prime Minister Nerandra Modi, who called Africa and India “two bright spots of hope,” announced a $10 billion credit facility to African nations in addition to the $7.4 billion that his country has already pledged since 2008.
The India-Africa summit is however only one of four other similar international initiatives to cultivate stronger ties with African states.
The European Union-Africa Summit was held in Brussels in April 2014, while in the same year, the United States inaugurated the US-Africa Leaders Summit in August, which was attended by all African leaders in Washington DC.
Japan’s Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) is scheduled to take place in early 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya, while China, will hold its Forum on China Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) this December in South Africa.
Each summit has previously tried to distinguish itself from China’s political and economic interests in Africa, painting theirs as more altruistic, while taking swipes at Beijing as only being after the continent’s resources.
Speaking to The EastAfrican in a telephone briefing, Peter Barlerin, the director of Africa economic and regional affairs at the US State Department, said that the US is more interested in a “peaceful and prosperous Africa.”
“President Obama has repeatedly said having investments in Africa is a good thing because Africa desperately needs these investments,” said Mr Barlerin, adding, “However, what we essentially work for is ensuring that it is a win-win situation for both sides… what that means is adhering to basic international guidelines on environmental protection, human rights and governance.”
Indian officials were no different. A spokesperson from the country’s Foreign Ministry, Vikas Swarup, said his country’s partnership is not focused on “an exploitative or extraction point of view, but… on Africa’s needs and India’s strengths.”
India’s trade with Africa has grown tremendously over the past few years. India mainly exports electronics, telecoms, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods to Africa and it mainly imports cotton, crude oil, raw materials and precious metals.
India’s forays into Africa come at a time when other emerging powers, such as Turkey, Brazil and Russia, are also seeking to expand their influence on the continent.
The Africa-South America Summit (ASA), a brainchild of Brazil’s former president Lula Da Silva, remains a low key event only held three times since its formation in 2006 but has potential to transform commercial ties between the two regions.
Trade between Africa and South America has increased over the past decade from $7.2 billion in 2002 to $39.5 in 2011 consisting mostly of petroleum, grain, iron ore, coal, and sugar.