India marks presence on world stage with Africa summit

New Delhi, Oct 29 (IANS) India on Thursday marked its strong presence on the world stage by hosting a summit with Africa that saw representation from all the 54 countries, including 41 heads of state, in the largest such gathering of African countries outside the continent, outdoing similar summits that China and the US have held with the rising continent.

As the lights grew bright in the tastefully-decorated expansive Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi posed for a photo-op with the African heads of delegations at the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, it was a moment showcasing India’s growing diplomatic clout and global expectations of it.

The massive indoor stadium venue, with a 4,500 sq m area, had all the 41 heads of state, the African Union Commission chair and Modi comfortably seated in a semi-circular formation, with ample space for the delegations of each country and other staff. But the stadium venue, carefully chosen in order to comfortably host around 1,000 people at any time, appeared to dwarf the proceedings.

The mammoth event, that has been in the planning since months, has seen over 200 Indian diplomats roped into action, summoned back from their respective postings in different countries to help out.

An example of the close coordination and the immense planning for the mega diplomatic bash was evident as soon after the photo-op officers of the MEA rushed up to the stage to escort the visiting leaders to their respective chairs. But for a slight slip, when Modi mistakenly thought the photo-op was over and decided to walk off the stage, followed by the other leaders, only to be escorted back again — with the IFS officers rushing up the stage again — the event went off smoothly.

After the photo-op, a brief cultural event followed, with dancers showcasing India’s eclectic and vibrant culture, and were joined by dancers from Africa.

In an event that saw both Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj speak in English, and not in Hindi that the BJP-led government has espoused, most of the African leaders spoke in their respective mother tongues, or French, Arabic and Portuguese, with only a few speaking in English.

For Modi, who spoke of India and Africa strongly pushing for their rightful place in the UNSC and also announced $10 billion soft loan and $600 million grant aid to Africa, the IAFS is an emphatic statement of India’s arrival on the world stage.

Consider the following:

– The US, which hosted its first summit with Africa in August 2014, saw leaders from 50 African states attend. The summit hosted by President Barack Obama was the largest such event any US president has held with African heads of state and government.

– The US’s annual trade with Africa stands at $85 billion compared to China’s $200 billion.

– China, which has rapidly expanded its footprints in Africa through major investment projects and infrastructure building, is to hold its Sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) ministerial summit in South Africa on December 4-5, 2015.

– The last FOCAC held in 2012 did not see all the 54 countries attending, partly because Beijing did not invite the countries that support Taiwan.

– China has consistently doubled its financing commitment to Africa during the past three FOCAC meetings – from $5 billion in 2006 to $10 billion in 2009, and $20 billion in 2012. Half of the $20 billion committed in 2012 had been disbursed by the end of 2013, leading China to increase the credit line by another $10 billion in 2014. But with questions being asked about China’s economic health following its recent market downslide, India’s outreach in Africa, especially through its development partnership, shows promise.

– The European Union held its Fourth Africa-EU summit in April 2014, which saw 40 heads of government and state from Africa attend.

– Japan is to host its sixth African development summit, the Tokyo International Conference on Development (TICAD), in Kenya in 2016.

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