India will seek to give a major fillip to its growing partnership with Africa at the Third India-Africa Forum Summit from October 26-30 that is set to see all the 54 countries represented – in the biggest such diplomatic extravaganza held in India.

 India has for the first time invited all the countries of Africa for the summit. The summit venue, the expansive Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, would see all the 54 countries, plus the African Union head participating.

 Briefing the media ahead of the summit, which marks India&’s increasing engagement with Africa, Navtej Sarna, secretary (West) in the ministry of external affairs, said that while India&’s engagement has stressed on capacity building, trade facilitation and in peacekeeping operations, the newer areas of focus would be maritime security, hydrography, blue economy, agriculture, healthcare, education and skill development and counter-terrorism.

 Sarna emphasized that “India&’s basic approach to engagement with Africa remains one of partnership, of maximizing mutual benefit, which is based on mutual needs and mutual strengths” – in the backdrop of the “brotherly relations” that India has had with Africa since decades.

 He said that together Africa and India comprise one third of the global population, or 2.3 billion people. He said Africa, which is 10 times the size India, has a lot of diversity, and there is “no one size fits all when it comes to engaging with the different countries of Africa”.

 India plays an important role in UN peacekeeping operations in Africa. India has been part of 11 peacekeeping operations, and currently it is part of four operations in the continent with 4,500 soldiers on the ground, including a all-women unit in Liberia.

 India started its structured engagement of the summit format with Africa since 2008, with focus on bilateral engagement,  trade and capacity  building. 

Sarna said India&’s trade with Africa has gone up 20 times in the past 15 years, touching $70 billion, with Indian investment at $30-35 billion. 

India has extended concessional credit to the tune of $7.4 billion over  the last two summits, of which more than half has been disbursed, leading to creation of 137 projects across 41 countries, the top official said.

 Touching on capacity building, Sarna termed it “the strongest plank of cooperation” with Africa. He said the Pan-Africa e-network that links up more than 40 countries of Africa was “very successful”. He said between the first summit in 2008 and the second one in 2011, India disbursed 15,000 scholarships to African countries for capacity building, and from 2011 to the current year the number stood at 25,000 scholarships, based on the needs of African countries. “This is the strength of India, and points to the perfect complementarity between the two sides,”  he said. 

He said the Third IAFS would seek to develop on the Africa Agenda 2063, adopted earlier this year, and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Sarna said India has made special efforts to "align as much" with Agenda 2063, which outlines the vision for Africa in the field of sustainable development, rule of law, renewable energy, gender among other things. 

To a question on how many African heads of state and government would be attending, he said that Prime Minister Modi has invited all of Africa and “we’re expecting representation from all countries that we have invited. We’ve gone out of our way in the inclusive manner we have invited”. He declined to reveal the dignitaries expected, citing protocol and security issues. 

Trade would be a major focus area of the summit, with the Indian trading bodies of CII, Assocham, Ficci, and PHD Chambers of Commerce and Industry set to engage with the African countries. 

A trade exhibition will be held at the Indira Gandhi Stadium venue.

The business engagement will be on five themes – energy, health, infrastructure, technology and innovation, said Syed Akbaruddin, who is special coordinator for the summit. 

He said that around 400 businesspersons had registered for the summit from Africa and all the major Indian companies are also expected to register to participate.

 A business forum would also be held on October 28.

 Sarna brushed away comparisons between India&’s engagement with Africa with the other major players like China, Japan, the US, EU and Turkey, saying “India by its very philosophy takes it on its own. India has been partners in capacity building with Africa since the early days… Our approach is neither exploitative nor prescriptive, our engagement with Africa stands on its own”.

 India has invited a group of special invitees to the summit, including the UAE, Singapore, the UN coordinator on Africa, the UN global head for HIV/AIDS and the president of the Africa Development Bank.