A Footnote to the launch of the AfCFTA was the behind the scenes role played by India towards the hosting of the extraordinary summit in the unlikely location of Niger, a poor country increasingly beset jihadist incursions.
Apart from India giving Niger $50 million to facilitate the hosting of the summit, it also built the Mahatma Gandhi Convention Centre in Niamey where more than 4,500 delegates gathered.
The Centre is one of 20 India plans to put up on the continent, taking the cue from China whose infrastructure development has split opinion across the world.
The grant to Niger was the first by India, which has in the past focused on the Indian Ocean rim countries in East Africa with whom it has historical trade relations.
“China and Russia are making big connectivity-enabled infrastructure investment in several African countries. India should join them in developing regulatory infrastructure and capacity so as to help African countries take the benefits of AfCFTA to the people at large," Bipul Chatterjee, executive director of CUTS International, an Indian think-tank, told The Economic Times of India.
India President Ram Nath Kovind is scheduled to visit Guinea, Gambia and Benin later in July.
Apart from Niger, India is also funding the construction of convention centres in Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Liberia, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Gabon at a cost of $291 million. The other centres will be built upon request by African countries.
India is counting on recent cancellation of Chinese projects such as the $10 billion Bagamoyo Port in Tanzania and the $400 million Mamamah Airport outside the Sierra Leone capital Freetown to position itself as a more reliable partner.
“India’s partnership with Africa is demand-driven and free of conditionalities,” TS Tirumurti, an official in charge of economic relations at India’s External Affairs Ministry said at an Africa Day event in May.