India to fund railway project in Africa, as Indians starve



    There was a time when Indian leaders used to go out with a begging bowl to countries like US and Japan, and that time is not too long in the past. It should therefore be deeply gratifying to have people look up to us for aid, and it should be even more gratifying to be able to give.

    India has been wisely spreading some of the money that its economic growth is generating in buying friends in the neighbourhood. India has already invested in Afghanistan, and if the money that it has pledged to invest will take it to nearly $2 billion.

    India already gives aid to Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Now, an African country would like to have Indian investment. Ethiopia is asking for $300 million from India to fund a rail project to Djibouti, its neighboring state. India has been looking into ways to enter Africa – which remains one of the most resource rich continents in the world, and where there is great potential for expansion.

    India supports the linking of African states by rail and other means as part of “regional integration in Africa” approach. India has already pledged to provide the money, but it is still to make good on that promise.

    “The support to the railway is part of India’s support for regional integration in Africa. This is the first time we are doing a project which covers more than one country. That is why we are going through the procedures rather carefully,” said Gurjit Singh, additional secretary in India’s external affairs ministry.

    The problem of course is that while countries like the US and Japan, the traditional givers and donors, have very low level of poverty India is one of the poorest places in the world. Even the quality of poverty differs. While the poor in US or America may face hardships, there is relief in the form of social security and healthcare benefits. It is hard to find people dying of poverty. In India poverty is an epidemic, it kills thousands every year. Parts of the country remains poorer than sub-saharan Africa, and people have variously eaten the hard rinds of mangoes and sometimes mud cakes in the desperation to appease their hunger.

    Farmers suicide grips the nations countryside. How wise is it to put $300 million in line for a rail project in Africa?

    Singh said the $300 million disbursement will depend on how the project is implemented, which is in the hands of the Ethiopian and Djiboutian railway corporations.

    “We are just facilitating and working with them on the feasibility study, and from that we will discover how our part of the implementation will come through. Once all that is settled and the project goes on stream, we see no difficulty in periodic and timely disbursements,” Singh said.

    The Ethiopian government plans to construct a 2,395 km national railway network, out of which 1,808 km will be completed by 2015. “At the highest level, India has expressed a commitment to the project and whatever India can, we will try and do. But all these possibilities are based on technical discussions. So the political commitment is there, but we have to make sure the technical discussion goes through smoothly and they lead to practical implementation. That is what we are now focusing on,” he said.

    Ethiopia and India have seen an “exemplary” relationship in the past, according to Singh, who has also served as India’s ambassador here.

    With more than $700 million extended by New Delhi for rural electrification and sugar production projects since 2006, Ethiopia is the biggest recipient of India’s line of credit in Africa, Singh said. An Indian delegation was led by Singh and the Ethiopian team was headed by Arega Hailu, director general of the Asia and Oceania Affairs of the ministry of foreign affairs, at the second India-Ethiopia foreign office consultation.

    It followed up on the decisions taken at the India-Africa summit last year and at bilateral meetings between Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Gurjit Singh, who has served as Indian ambassador here, had earlier visited Addis Ababa in May 2011.

    The two sides discussed Jan 24 the implementation of decisions taken under the India-Africa forum Summit I & II, including the establishment of four capacity building institutions in Ethiopia. These include a vocational training centre, an IT centre, a Women’s solar engineering vocational training centre and a farm science centre.

    According to a statement by the Indian mission here, the two sides agreed that the next joint commission meeting will be held in 2013. Gurjit Singh also met Berhane Gebre-Christos, minister for foreign affairs, to discuss bilateral and other issues.