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■ From the Editor’s Desk

India and Africa: Planting a New Future


ndia and Africa are in the throes of redefining an old relationship moored in the common historical experience of fighting against colonialism and injustice as they wake up to the full potential of their economies and the role they can play in shaping an evolving post-cold war world order. High principles and idealism that imbued them in the shared anti-colonial struggle have now transmuted into new synergies and shared interests in areas as diverse as information technology, peace-keeping and the creation of a more equitable and harmonious world that reflects contemporary realities and not outdated power equations. The new strategic equation finds expression in a common pursuit of the expansion of the U.N. Security Council, although their approach has so far tended to diverge in terms of specifics. Yeshi Choedon analyses initiatives by both sides to democratise the Security Council and finds that for all their enthusiasm for a more accountable and representative U.N., the two can’t agree on a common plan. The lack of unity among African nations has proved to be a crippling factor that has frozen chances of a restructured and rejuvenated council, at least for now. But all is not lost. Both sides have redoubled their efforts to find a common ground and achieve a two-third majority in the General Assembly, required as a first step towards reforming the council. Whatever may be the final outcome of these endeavours, the multi-faceted ties between India and Africa in other areas, be it business, technology, energy or culture, have acquired new strength and character in recent years. IndiaEthiopia ties spanning centuries, in many ways, form a microcosm not only of the larger India-Africa relationship, but could also be a model of South-South cooperation. Prof. K. Mathews, who has taught in Ethiopia for more than a decade, is in a unique position to give a privileged insight into what makes this special relationship tick. As he delves into the past, he comes upon rare discoveries that give a special emotional resonance to relations between two of the world’s oldest civilisations. Mathews goes back to a time when “Ethiopia in the Middle Ages as well as in ancient times was frequently called India and its inhabitants were often designated as the Indi or the Indians of Africa”, in the words of Afro-American historian William Leo Hansbury. Small wonder, when Ethiopia was colonised by Italy for a brief while nearly seven decades ago, it elicited outrage from Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and S. Radhakrishnan and the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Mathews weaves these little-known nuggets about India-Ethiopia ties in a larger narrative about what the two countries can achieve in the economic sphere. Peace-keeping is another crucial area that illuminates India’s enduring commitment to stability and development of

the continent that has proved to be fertile ground for a hundred mutinies. Ranjit Kumar writes about the contribution of Indian troops in U.N. peacekeeping operations in various conflict zones in Africa like Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone, and evokes emotive connections Indian troops inspire among ordinary Africans. The popularity of Hindi films in Africa makes a difficult job slightly easier for Indian troops in dangerous conflict-like situations, says the author who had a chance to see the magic of Bollywood up close in Sierra Leone. “Africa has a special emotive resonance for Indian forces, who have won accolades from the local communities for promoting cooperative living among various tribal communities,” he writes. India’s growing energy needs sparked by its booming economy have also added another vital dimension to its ties with Africa. Ruchita Beri argues for a more proactive Indian diplomacy to revitalise its ties with the oil-rich sub-Saharan Africa with the entry of other players like China targeting the region for hydrocarbons. In her article ‘India’s Energy Safari in Africa’, Beri captures the ongoing battle for the control of equity oil in Africa that is bound to get fiercer in days to come. Besides the many hues of India-Africa relations, this issue of Africa Quarterly turns the spotlight on the state of democracy and governance in this continent that has seen many a corrupt and authoritarian regime come and go. In his article ‘Globalisation and Crisis of Democracy in Africa’, Jamal M. Moosa traces forms of democratic governance in pre-colonial Africa which were sadly replaced during the colonial period with authoritarian states. Moosa analyses the impact of globalisation on various experiments with democratic processes in the continent and points to a “long and difficult road” towards ending violence and achieving durable democratic systems in Africa. It’s easy to become pessimistic about Africa. But there is hope aplenty. And nobody epitomises this can-do spirit and mood of infectious optimism as Wangari Muta Maathai, the iconic Kenyan environmentalist who became the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004. In an interview with Africa Quarterly, Maathai speaks about a host of issues like her undying passion for the environment, her belief in a more equitable, clean and harmonious world and the emerging breed of new leaders in the continent who promise a break from the past. Today there is a new effort by the new African leadership to bring in more democratic and responsible governance in Africa and to protect the African people from the kind of tragedies that stalked her in the past, says the 67-year-old Maathai, her eyes radiating a serene hope in the future of Africa and of this planet called earth. Let a million seedlings sprout into lush trees and let as many green thoughts germinate while you read what she has to say. –– Manish Chand

February-April 2007



February 2007-April 2007