By Manish Chand, IANS,
Addis Ababa : "The Chinese will come and build roads, stadiums and infrastructure.... They will build labs, but who will run the labs?," asks Jean-Pierre Ezin, the AU's chief pointsperson for education. He pauses for a while, and then replies: "Africa needs India for developing its most precious resource: human capital."
Sitting barely a few metres away from the new Chinese-built towering building of the African Union in his office in the old building, Ezin resists being drawn into the much-touted India-China comparison, but agrees that there is a world of difference between the engagement of India and China in Africa.
"The Chinese are good at building, but we need skilled people to run these establishments. They are not really interested in what we really need - the transfer of knowledge," said Ezin, AU's Commissioner for human resource and science and technology, in an interview to IANS.
India, one the other hand, Ezin points out, is strong in training and skill-building and has some of the finest educational institutions. "We need to develop skills in Africa. India is building 10 vocational educational centres at the rate of two per region. We need an acceleration of India's efforts in this direction," he said.
India is a critical partner in developing Africa's human capital, he stressed, adding that Africa is looking to India to set up higher education institutes in the continent.
Ezin, who has a doctorate in mathematical science from a French university and has held key posts in international scientific research centers, is a firm believer that the so-called African renaissance or resurgence can only happen through transforming the continent's educational landscape.
"The authorities in the continent are not aware of the fact that the biggest need of Africa is human capital. They need infrastructure, roads and airports, but above all, without robust human capital, we can't move ahead."
It is in this sphere of education and capacity building that India can make a big difference, he said, while pointing to over 100 training institutes India has pledged to build all over the continent at the last two India-Africa Forum summits held in New Delhi and Addis Ababa.
These institutions encompass a wide array of areas ranging from agriculture, rural development and food processing to information technology, vocational training, English language centres, and entrepreneurial development institutes.
The four institutions India has offered at the Pan-African level include the Institute of Information Technology will be established in Ghana, the Institute of Foreign Trade in Uganda, India Africa Diamond Institute in Botswana and the Institute for Education Planning and Administration in Burundi.
These training institutes, India hopes, will help build the industrial and managerial base of the continent by spawning a new generation of entrepreneurs and an educated middle class that will shepherd African resurgence in the day to come.
India's trade with Africa at $50 billion is nearly one third of that of China with the continent, but New Delhi has carved a niche for itself in capacity building. The training institutes distinguish India's development-centric approach from that of China's focus on massive infrastructure projects, hydrocarbons and mineral resources.
These training institutes, together with vocational centres, Africa hopes, will help alleviate the problem of massive youth unemployment. The African youth make up 40 per cent of Africa's population, but they account for 60 per cent of the unemployed. Around 95 million young people in sub-Saharan Africa are illiterate and are either unemployed or in low-paid jobs.
Ezin is also all praise for the India-aided Pan-Africa e-network that seeks to bring tele-education and tele-medicine to African people as a sign of India's empowering engagement with the continent.
The 68-year-old mathematician is upbeat about the AU's pet dream project: the Pan-African University, which is shaping under his guidance.
Pan-African University is a network of five regional thematic institutes which will be based in five regions of Africa: 1) Institute of Water, Energy and Climate Change - Algeria (North Africa), supported by Germany II) Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences - Yaounde, Cameroon, supported by Sweden III) Institute of Life and Earth Sciences, Nigeria, supported by India IV) Institute of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation, Kenya, supported by Japan V) Institute of Space Sciences in southern Africa (location to be identified).
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)