Africa: my first impressions

“I am a black guy from………” was one introduction during the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) held in Kigali last year, and which I attended.

Indrayani Mulay

“I am a black guy from………” was one introduction during the World Export Development Forum (WEDF) held in Kigali last year, and which I attended.

This statement really kept pricking my thoughts. After the meetings concluded, I could not resist the temptation to ask the gentleman the reason for his choice of words in his introduction.

He told me that he grew up in an ultra-racist society which stuck, and became a habit to him after some time; I managed to secure a promise that his introduction next time would be different.

Be careful…don’t venture out alone…avoid travelling at night.…Ebola…. and so on were comments from friends in Delhi when I told them that I was very excited about my first trip to Africa, to Uganda and Rwanda . This somehow did not bother me given my determination.

Since I started working with the Africa desk at the CII three years ago, I have had the unique opportunity to work with, and build networks comprising representatives from government agencies, chambers of commerce, business and trade associations.

As I landed in a transit halt in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, beautiful weather and fresh air welcomed me – a huge respite from Delhi weather. I saw a sea of travellers criss-crossing the terminal. It felt like any other busy airport in India.

My onward journey to Kigali continued, and what I saw from the air was a vast span of luxurious green belt, with clear blue skies atop.

Despite its small size, Rwanda is a happening country, and apparently the safest country to live in Africa, the second safest city in the world for women to walk alone after the sunset.

I found Kigali both clean and green, with the lowest levels of crime in the eastern and southern African region and Rwanda among easiest places in the world to start a business. Extremely impressive!

Fast forward, on to Uganda. Journeys in the countryside were breathtakingly beautiful. Living in Kampala is akin to living in a hill resort all through the year. The Equatorial climate permits Uganda to grow bananas, jackfruit, papayas, and other organically produced fruits and vegetables.

I found them refreshing and delicious. No wonder then, that Uganda is the vegetable and fruit basket of Africa. Indian investments in Ugandan agricultural sector are bound to yield rich dividends. East African countries are looking towards India in particular for affordable technologies.

Growing Africa-India partnership needs to be further nurtured with a greater understanding from our side of Africa’s needs. Many Indian companies have established themselves in African markets, especially in the east and southern African region.

English language is spoken in both countries. Single visa entry for travel between the East African countries (Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya) was launched last year for the convenience of travellers.

India, in its own interests, must look at its continued development assistance to African nations. India may be best-placed to advise Uganda and Rwanda, to start with, on measures that will ensure long-term sustainable economic and land-use planning. India can play a useful role in mapping resources in East Africa, which has not been done fully or transparently.

It also has the ability to help specially in IT sector, education, science and technology, and innovation – something that’s our forte. Strengthening local capacities which are in abundance help develop relevant laws and regulatory frameworks.

India has developed affordable technologies over a period of time which Africa is looking for. Interested businesses should be looking at a long term relationship of trust, accountability and social involvement with Africa.

There will be initial hiccups, challenges and, like any other relationship, it will take some time to build mutual understanding. It is time to explore the potential and work towards a sustainable future.

To understand the pros and cons, businesses need to undertake a feasibility study before investing. So if you are ready to think out of the box and take up the challenge, what are you waiting for!

The writer is the Deputy Director, International Division, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the article has inputs from Dr. A.V.S Ramesh Chandra, High Commissioner of India to Uganda, who is concurrently accredited as High Commissioner to Rwanda and Burundi.