The African Decade

Ratan Tata
Chairman,Tata Sons

The Indian growth story that has caught the world’s imagination is increasingly being complemented by the new dynamism emanating from Africa. It is particularly heart-warming for those of us who harbour a special fondness for Africa that it is now being seen as the next continent of opportunity.

India has long played a key role in Africa’s development and it is only befitting that a renewed effort is being directed by the Indian government and by Indian industry towards strengthening the many bilateral and multilateral partnerships that exist between India and African states. The Second India-Africa Forum Summit, being held in Addis Ababa in May this year, is expected to serve as a point of convergence for the myriad cooperation endeavours that underpin the India-Africa relationship.

The momentum of growth in Africa has picked up with the adoption of reformist economic policies in many countries, aided by more stable political regimes and an increasing stress on good governance. It is instructive that five African economies — Ghana, Liberia, Angola, Ethiopia and Mozambique — are expected to be among the fastest- growing in the world in the ongoing year.

Traditionally, Indian corporate presence in Africa has largely been seen in the extractive industries and in the physical infrastructure sectors. While these areas continue to retain their importance, Indian companies have lately forayed into a whole gamut of new and emerging business sectors in Africa, like telecom. The $10.7 billion Bharti Airtel acquisition of Zain Africa is a case in point. Indian companies are also investing heavily in Africa’s key sectors like oil and gas, automobile, engineering, chemicals, banking, IT and ITES, drugs and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro-processing, healthcare, education and services.

Importantly, Indian corporate activity also has a strong developmental footprint in the realms of capacity building, skills development, technology and knowledge transfer, local employment generation and environment protection. The best example of this kind of collaboration is the Pan-Africa e-Network Project (PAN) which is revolutionising Africa’s tele-medicine and tele-education services and is equipped to support e-governance, e-commerce, infotainment, resource mapping and meteorological and other services in African countries. Such contributions by Indian industry have been widely acknowledged by Africa’s host governments, business leaders and civic bodies.

At the same time, the Indian Government’s concessional lines of credit (LOC) and developmental assistance have contributed in a major way toward asset creation in several African states.

The challenge ahead is to realise the full potential of the extant business opportunities so as to maximise trade and investment flows between India and Africa. I am confident that the immense goodwill that exists between our populations will take our economic relations to a new and higher plane, to the mutual benefit of the over 2 billion people of Africa and India.

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