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India planning first-ever summit with African Union

By Manish Chand


New Delhi : As China surges ahead in the race for Africa's resources and oil, India is planning a summit meeting with the 53-nation African Union later this year – the first direct dialogue that will signal a new congruence of interests between the two sides.

"We are planning a direct summit level institutional interaction with AU," highly placed sources told IANS on the occasion of Africa Day Friday.

"Working groups of both sides are holding discussions. It will be sometime this year. It could be as early as August," the sources added.

The summit will take place in the framework of an Africa-India dialogue forum, which will be launched this year in New Delhi. Several African heads of state and governments are likely to attend this proposed summit-level interaction.

India has set up a dialogue forum with regional African groupings like the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), but there is no direct dialogue at pan-African level yet.

The decision to set up a direct India-AU dialogue is also driven by a calculated assessment of the pivotal role the 53-nation contact will play in the drive to expand the UN Security Council.

The negotiations between the G4 countries comprising India, Japan, Brazil and Germany and the AU over presenting a common plan for a reformed Security Council deadlocked last year due to differences in approach among AU nations.

The direct dialogue will help in ironing out these differences and enable the two sides to come out with a common plan for UN reforms, THE sources said.

Although the foreign office will not admit in as many words, the initiative for a summit with the AU has been powered by New Delhi's anxieties at increasing Chinese economic and energy engagement with Africa.

The idea of a direct dialogue between India and AU appears to be modelled on the lines of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) set up in 2002. Chinese President Hu Jintao hosted a summit in Beijing last year that saw heads of state and governments of 48 of 53 countries of AU interacting with Chinese leadership.

At that summit, Hu pledged a partnership based on "mutual trust, friendship and a win-win economic cooperation" and set an ambitious target of doubling bilateral trade between China and Africa from $50 billion to $100 billion by 2010. In comparison, India-Africa trade is estimated to be around $10 billion.

Indian diplomats dealing with Africa, however, tend to downplay China's growing clout in the continent and point out that India has a special relationship with Africa that goes beyond profit-seeking as is the case with China and is based on empowering the continent through manpower training and technology transfers.

India's assistance in setting up the Pan-Africa e-network that will electronically connect 53 countries of Africa and bring them benefits of tele-education and tele-medicine is a striking example of the new thrust of Indian diplomacy in Africa.

Besides, India has given generous lines of credit to assist the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and has written off the debt owed by the African countries under the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Paris Initiative.

The Indian government has also allotted a $500 million line of credit for TEAM-9, a new initiative between India and a group of Francophone countries of West Africa- Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d'Ivore, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Senegal.

India has spent more than $ 1 billion on providing training to more than 1,000 officials from sub-Saharan Africa under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC).