Private sector to lead Indian investment in Africa, says vice president

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS,

On Board Special Aircraft : Faced with a widening Chinese footprint in Africa, the Indian private sector will be at the forefront of India’s foray into that continent and generate local employment rather than import workforce, Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari said.

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“The direction in which the Indian economy is going, the major role will be played by the private sector especially in industrial development,” Ansari told reporters Monday night on board the aircraft at the end of his seven-day-long official visit to southern African countries of Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.

“Local employment will be generated… It doesn’t make economic sense to take work force from India because it comes with liabilities,” he said in answer to a query on whether Indian investment will be a precursor to a larger Indian workforce.

It was a pioneering trip as two out of the three countries, Malawi and Botswana, had never received an Indian leader on their soil before. In Zambia, it was a high-level political visit in 20 years, since former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s trip in 1986.

In Lusaka, the vice president and his large entourage stayed at Taj Pamodzi, the first investment by Tata Group in Africa’s burgeoning hospitality sector.

“How many Indian workers were there? When we go for large investments like this, we don’t take workers,” he said, referring to the Tata project.

Similarly, he pointed out that single largest investment by a foreign company in Zambia, by Vedanta group in copper mines, had only 111 Indians in a total work force of 21,000.

China has become the largest investor in Africa, building major infrastructure projects in return for access to rich resources. But, it has also imported a large number of Chinese workers to execute the infrastructure. India’s annual trade with Africa is $39 billion – while China has three times bigger trade at $116 billion.

In Zambia, India had signed a deal for extending a $50 million line of credit to Zambia, with a proposal to extend another soft loan of $75 million – even as Ansari and his Zambian counterpart George Kunda decided to “reinvigorate” relations to reflect “changed times”.

The next stop in Malawi, a small narrow country sandwiched between Zambia and Mozambique, saw a very warm welcome and the signing of three agreements for foreign office consultations, cooperation in agriculture and small enterprises.

India has also extended a line of credit of $50 million to Malawi, as well as $5 million in grants for earthquake relief and projects in the social sector.

Finally in Botswana, two deals were signed in agriculture and education, with the African country especially interested in more help in capacity building from India.

“Substance of the matter is that Botswana – despite a certain kind of wealth – has severe problems of unemployment, poverty and development. That is where their whole national planning is focused and this is where we can give them assistance.”

“All-in-all, the impression that I take back from the visit to the three countries is that there is goodwill and a keenness to enhance level of relations with us. And get more involved with us in the development of business and industry,” said Ansari.

He noted that India’s investment in Africa was a way to access the continent’s resources. “A developing country like ours wants access to resources be it oil, gas or minerals. Not every mineral but those that are in short supply… In Malawi, we looked at coal and uranium,” he said.

Similarly, he said: “In Botswana, we have initiated discussions and will continue with them”. India has shown interest in getting access to Botswana’s supply of rough diamonds, but has officially denied that there were any substantial discussions on this specific issue.

There are a slew of ministerial visits to Africa this month. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Petroleum Minister Murli Deora will both be travelling to Nigeria.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor will be travelling to Mozambique for the inauguration of the new president of African Union in January-end.

The vice president had left Delhi Jan 5 and arrived first in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. He then left for the smallest country on his itinerary, Malawi on Jan 7, before the last leg to Botswana on Jan 9. Ansari was accompaned by his wife, Salma Ansari, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Harish Rawat, Communisty Party of India’s D. Raja, Congress member of parliament from Delhi, J.P. Aggarwal and Rajya Sabha member from Bharatiya Janata Party, Anusuya Uikey.