It did not matter that not everyone gathered at the exquisite Main Convention Hall of the Mahatma Mandir Centre could speak Hindi or unscramble the catchy phrase that more or less introduced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the podium.
The very essence of the line – PM Modi’s popular development philosophy – soon became evident when India’s revered leader and Chief Host of AfDB’s 52nd Annual Meetings got into his elements and gave an impassioned speech worthy of a veteran political celebrity on India-Africa relations before throwing the whole event open.
The theme of the meetings revolves around agriculture, but India’s love affair with Africa runs deeper and wider, dating back centuries ago, such that Swahili, one of the continent’s most widely spoken languages, incorporates many Hindi words and expressions. This much Mr Modi acknowledged, evoking the immortal words of Mahatma Gandhi, who, incidentally, started his life’s most important principle of non-violent struggle in South Africa where he resisted the odious policy of Apartheid peacefully. Said he, of the symbiotic relations between the two peoples: “The ‘commerce’ between India and Africa will be of ideas and services.”
These words have become a prophecy fulfilled with India’s gracious hosting of this year’s meetings where ideas are being shared in the scores of seminars and exhibitions scheduled for the five-day event.
India is the fifth largest donor to Africa, having channeled over $54 billion into the continent in the past 20 years. The country has been a member-country of the AfDB since 1982 and has been contributing its quota to the Bank’s capital as well as various African countries’ economies “free of conditions”, in the Prime Minister’s words. There have been 144 credit extensions to 44 African countries worth $8 billion with $10 billion more to go into the pipeline over the next 10 years.
Perhaps, the most interesting point of this relationship, according to Mr Modi, is that “many of the challenges we face are the same”, referring of course, to Africa’s well-documented, chronic development challenges of inadequate infrastructure, development finance, women’s empowerment, governance etc.
India, fortunately, is successfully dealing with these issues. The country is indisputably one of the best performing emerging economies today. Just as it has learnt to deliver financial services to its teeming population from Kenya’s winning mobile banking platform, MPESA, India is willing to share some of its strategies with Africa.
A sampler of the strategies: giving subsidies directly to the poor rather than through middlemen, the elite or agencies that end up cornering them as repeatedly happens in many African countries. This measure helped the poor in India get access to affordable cooking gas while saving government $4 billion in three years which would have been diverted to private pockets. Today, over 50 million homes are connected to gas supplies, promoting environmental concerns in the country.
And for agriculture, India subsidizes inputs such as fertilizers, which are delivered directly to genuine, verifiable farmers rather than profit-seeking middlemen and fake farmers looking to game the system. The government has pioneered the Soil Health Card initiative which helps improve yield by availing the farmer useful soil analysis needed for selecting viable seeds and crops. What is more, the Indian government is prioritizing rural infrastructure such as roads, rails and power, which Prime Minister Modi hopes will be available in every village by next year.
How will the so-called South–South Cooperation proceed? Again, PM Modi, a born orator, had a most disarming answer. “India,” he says, “cannot compete with Africa in long-distance running”. In a final flourish worthy of a top Thespian, he declaimed: “But I assure you, India will stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in the difficult race towards development.”
Incidentally, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic and Cote d’Ivoire’s Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan were on hand to take the message back to their fellow heads-of-state in the African Union.
The ball, as the saying goes, is now in Africa’s court.
By Joni Akpederi, with reports from Olisemeka Obeche, Osaze Omoragbon and Pita Ochai