Thursday, 16 May 2013


India’s elephantine economy is getting to be noticed across the Monsoon waters of the Indian Ocean in mineral rich-Africa, with investments touching $50 billion and two-way trade some $70 billion.

India Inc.'s very best is in a race with Chinese companies to be part of a growing market and resource supplier. Tatas, Mahindra, Bharti, Essar, Godrej, ONGC and Kirloskar are among the big names flocking to the continent. And Africa seems to want more of it. At a India-Africa Conclave in Delhi this week, the venue was thick with Prime Ministers, Vice Presidents and Economy Ministers from African nations. "Arguably, Cameroon is one of Africa's best destinations for investments from India", said Philemon Yang, prime minister of gas-rich Cameroon to a gathering of Indian business leaders.

The three-day Conclave saw some 30 African countries coming up with 475 project proposals worth $65 billion, for Indian companies to invest in, ranging from farming to consumer durables to infrastructure to energy, transport, mining, finance and telecom.

Tatas have already invested some $1.7 billion, in chemical and automobile plants, hotels, infotech centres among others. “The way Africa is growing … there can be no caps on potential future investments,” said Raman Dhawan, managing director of Tata Africa Holdings. Tatas will continue to set up new automobile plants and bid for projects to set up telecom networks but its future investment focus will be on resources – coal and iron ore to start with – which its plants world-wide require.

If China is workshop for the world and India its services centre, Africa is emerging as the miner for the global economy. Much of India’s investment into Africa is in oil acreages, coal and gold.

Oil accounts for roughly 60 percent of the trade between the two. Surat gobbles up South Africa’s diamonds while jewellery parks in Calcutta and South India’ tonnes of gold from the continent, accounting for another 10 per cent of the trade. South Africa and Mozambique's coal fuels power stations. India has tied up for uranium from Malawi and Niger to run new nuclear power plants.

But where India differs from China is in the way it’s been doing business. “China’s investment is mostly locked onto resources and state driven … ours is enterpreneur-driven and diversified. Look at Tatas, we have invested in telecom and software … set up chemicals plants,” pointed out Dhawan. India’s biggest investment into Africa is Bharti Airtel’s buy-out of Zain at an estimated $ 9 billion not a gold mine or oil acreage purchase. Airtel’s African operations now cover some 19 countries.

Indians also differ by investing in the host society. “We have invested heavily in training African colleagues,” adds P.K Ghosh, Chief Financial Officer of Tata Chemicals. Indians tend to hire a mix of African and Indians, with more Africans than Indians. The Chinese tend to do the opposite.

“What one can readily say is that India’s public relations with Africa is far better,” said veteran Ghanian journalist Francis Kokutse. “Both India and China need resources, we know that but there is a difference in the way the two have gone about.”

Chinese firms in Africa have been known to be less than sensitive about local culture and sensitivities. Sinopec, has explored for oil in a Gabonese national park, causing an uproar.

India also tends to add value rather than just ship away minerals. Essar took a 80 percent stake in a mineral venture in Zimbabwe and along with it took controlling stake in a steel plant in the Southern African nation for $750 million where it will process iron ore into steel, some two years back. It then followed it up earlier this month with announcement of a $275 million investment in a port to handle exports.

However, China still pygmies Indian business effort. Its trade with Africa is three times India’s. China’s diplomatic presence in Africa is far larger. Its staff better trained in the languages that Africa speaks, despite India’s centuries old links with the continent.

It throws largesse by underwriting large railway, roadways and civil construction projects in African nations. No wonder bids by Chinese state-run firms knock out Indian competition when bidding for oil, coal or other mineral resources concessions.

However, Indian business practices may still win more friends and in the process more business in the long run. Said Guy Scott, Zambia’s vice president “African countries can learn from India’s promotion of family business, long term investments and innovation which have proved to be sustainable … and we believe that partnership with Indian investors is a prime means to get there.”


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