India renews ties with African nations

Tuesday, 20 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: Oil is the name of the new game in Africa and India has joined the international race for a share of its newfound wealth, riding the strong, historic ties it has enjoyed with the countries of the continent.

The discovery of vast reserves of oil have catapulted into international focus the continent that had till recently been more known for endemic conflicts and poverty.

India has already made its presence felt by securing 25 per cent of the international consortium, Canadian Talisman Energy's, stake in the Greater Nile Oil project in Sudan for $670 million, its largest single investment abroad.

The first shipment of 80,000 tonnes of crude, out of an assured supply of 3 million tonnes annually, arrived in Mangalore port in southern India last week.

Sudan may be only the beginning of the India's new tryst with the countries of the African continent.

A delegation of senior officials of the external affairs ministry headed by Secretary Shashank (one name) visited Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Senegal. The team will also visit other west coast nations like Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

The visit by the team was no coincidence. The Gulf of Guinea is said to hold oil reserves of 24 billion barrels. Of the 8 billion barrels of new oil reserves discovered last year, 7 billion were in the Gulf of Guinea.

No wonder External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said: "Africa is the continent of the 21st century."

Sinha had visited Tanzania, Botswana and Zanzibar in late April, while there has been a flurry of visits by African leaders to India.

The latest is by Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh (May 18-23), who held talks with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee Monday.

His visit followed that of Mozambique President Joaquim Alberto Chissana (May 10-15) and the first-ever high-level visit from Eritrea headed by Foreign Minister Ali Said Abdella (May 7-12). Namibian President Sam Nujoma and Tanzanian President Benjamin Willam Mkapa were also here late last year.

President Kalam is scheduled to visit Sudan and Morocco, besides the United Arab Emirates, in July in his first trip abroad after taking office last year.

"Africa continues to occupy a special place in our diplomatic relations. Our relationship with this important continent, which constitutes the largest block of countries in the United Nations, has been built on the strong political foundations of the past," says the external affairs ministry.

"It is with this perspective India has launched its 'Focus Africa' programme," the ministry's annual report for last year says.

The series of visits underscores the importance both sides attach to giving more economic substance to their strong, historic political ties.

The African countries are impressed by India's development in various fields, particularly in agriculture and small industries, and feel they can greatly benefit from its model.

India, on its part, has extended generous credit lines to these countries and has been providing training for their personnel in various fields, including defence.

Many of these countries, including Djibouti, have already extended their unqualified support for India's claim to a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.

During the visit of the Djibouti president so far, India and the East African nation signed three agreements, covering civil aviation, bilateral investment promotion and protection and a cultural exchange programme.

India extended a credit line of $10 million to Djibouti to help in the economic development of that country. It also agreed to provide assistance in kind worth $1 million to meet humanitarian requirements arising from drought.

New Delhi had earlier extended credit lines worth $20 million each to Mozambique and Zambia.

Like Eritrea, Djibouti has also decided to open a diplomatic mission in the Indian capital soon. Mozambique opened its mission in New Delhi in 2001.

Source: IANS
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