Speculations and comparisons have been rife following Prime Minister Narendra Modis three-nation tour of Africa July 23-27 since it overlapped with Chinese President Xi Jinpings visit to a continent on the rise, but experts here say that Indias engagement with the 54-nation continent simply cannot be compared to that of China given Beijings deep pockets.
While China roped in Senegal and Rwanda for Xi's pet Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), gifted a stadium to Senegal, signed 15 mega-deals with Rwanda the value of which is not known, and committed $14.7 billion in investments in South Africa, India gifted 200 cows to Rwanda under a national economic development scheme, extended $200 million worth of credit lines each to Rwanda and Uganda and signed four deals each with Rwanda and Uganda, including in the area of defence cooperation, and three with South Africa.
"Regardless of what China is doing in Africa, India will continue to pursue its interests there within the framework of its capabilities," former Indian Ambassador to South Africa and Kenya Rajiv Bhatia told IANS.
"It is wrong to judge India's actions in Africa from the Chinese prism," Bhatia said.
According to an article in the China Daily, Beijing has helped Africa build more than 6,500 km of railways, over 6,000 km of highways, more than 200 schools, 80 stadiums, dozens of government office building and a large number of airports and ports.
In his address to the Ugandan Parliament on July 25, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, Modi said: "Our development partnership currently includes implementation of 180 lines of credit worth about $11 billion in over 40 African countries. At the last India Africa Forum Summit (in New Delhi in 2015), we had committed a concessional line of credit of $10 billion and $600 million in grant assistance."
According to C. Uday Bhaskar, strategic analyst and Director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS) think tank, "compete" is not the appropriate word when one looks at the engagements of India and China with Africa.
"India can and should engage with Africa notwithstanding what China is doing," Bhaskar said.
"New Delhi may not be able to compete or match the kind of financial support or gifts that Beijing offers since China has much deeper pockets but most nations are aware that more often than not, there are strings, conditional clauses, expectations with Chinese gifts."
Stating that India is still evolving its Africa strategy, Bhaskar said: "My sense is that most of Africa ‘trusts' India more than they do China though the deeply entrenched Indian racist trait is shameful."
He was alluding to a series of attacks on Africans in India in recent years which African diplomats here have seriously taken note of.
According to Malancha Chakraborty, Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think tank and an expert on India-Africa relations, India just cannot compete in terms of trade and investment in Africa with China at all.
"The scale of China's engagement with Africa is many times more than India," Chakraborty said.
She also pointed out that India's trade with Africa has also been going down since 2015 despite a dramatic upsurge from 2005. While India's trade with Africa is over $62 billion, the continent's trade with China, its largest trading partner, is around $170 billion.
According to Bhatia, however, there is no doubt about India's commitment o developmental support to Africa.
"Now we have to focus on implementation of projects and then only the impact will be felt," he said.
But Chakraborty is of the opinion that though India's extension of credit lines to African nations sounds good, the implementation of projects has a poor record.
"From identification of projects to approval to disbursal of funds and actual implementation of projects, the story is very poor," she said.
To a question about Modi's statement at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit in Johannesburg that India has been extending financial aid to African nations despite being a developing country itself, Bhaskar said that it is "factually correct.
"India, despite its domestic challenges and large-scale poverty, does provide reasonably substantive aid to some nations, for example, Afghanistan," he said.
"India needs to increase its funding to Africa in a calibrated manner but the allocation of fiscal resources by New Delhi for non-vote bank purposes is an uphill task."
Modi reached Rwanda on July 23 just after Xi left that East African country and Beijing said that India and China can work together in Africa.
"As the two largest developing countries and emerging markets in the world, both China and India are willing to help Africa within the South-South cooperation framework to accelerate its industrialization and achieve self-driven development," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a media briefing in Beijing.
The comments came after India and China agreed to work jointly on projects in Afghanistan following the informal meeting between Modi and Xi in Wuhan in April at the latter's initiative.
According to Bhatia, this has been China's view for quite sometime and now moreso given the improving ties between the two Asian giants.
"The Indian government will now have to reflect on this and develop a response," he said.
(Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)