India can help transform Africa through education: AU official

By Manish Chand, IANS
Monday, November 22, 2010

NEW DELHI - India is poised to set up a string of higher education and training institutions in Africa - in areas ranging from diamond polishing to foreign trade - that differentiate its development-centric approach from that of China, says Jean-Pierre Ezin, a top African Union (AU) official.

“The AU looks to India to set up higher education institutions in Africa. India is doing a lot for the future of the continent and can transform the continent through education,” Ezin, commissioner of the African Union Commission for Human Resource and Science and Technology, told IANS in an interview.

“What we need in Africa is higher education to face global challenges. Per capita investment on education has to increase,” said Ezin, who visited India recently to discuss a host of training institutes that India plans to set up in the continent.

“If we can put education and research at the heart of the India-Africa partnership, it will be hugely beneficial for the African continent,” he said, adding: “India can play a key role in this transformational process.”

“At the next India-Africa Forum summit, we would like to focus on capacity building,” he said while alluding to the second India-Africa Forum Summit next year.

India will also be assisting in setting up a pan-African university, a network of five proposed regional institutions devoted to specific disciplines.

Disclosing the contours of the proposed pan-African university, Ezin said the AU is looking to partner India in setting up a regional institute on Life and Earth Sciences. “This is an area where we plan to develop traditional knowledge medicines. India is very strong in the traditional knowledge industry,” he said.

In March this year, India and the 53-nation AU, the pan-African body headquartered in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, launched an action plan that outlined a detailed strategy for accelerating bilateral engagement for the next four years.

The plan focuses on the development-centric partnership between India and Africa and includes the setting up of a slew of training institutes by India.

These include a diamond training institute (in southern Africa); an institute of administration, planning and education (in Burundi in central Africa); Institute for Foreign Trade (in east Africa); Institute for Information Technology (Ghana); Pan-African Stock Exchange in (Egypt).

India will also establish 10 vocational training centres in Africa and will offer generous lines of credit to African countries for developing business-related infrastructure.

When asked to compare India’s engagement with Africa to that of China, a subject of intense academic and media interest that posits a rivalry between the two rising Asian powers in the continent, the AU official said Africa viewed India differently.

“China is involved in infrastructure building. India is involved in capacity building,” he said, while alluding to India’s extensive involvement in a range of activities associated with human resource development.

“The big difference is symbolized by what China is doing in the headquarters of the African Union. They are building the new 20-floor conference centre. They are trying to be visible in the development of the continent,” he said, alluding to the popular image of China in Africa.

“On the other hand, India is focused on long-term, low visibility projects which are more focused on the future of the continent. India could be key to the future of the continent,” he said.

Ezin cites the India-aided Pan-Africa e-network that seeks to bring tele-education and tele-medicine to African people as a sign of India’s empowering engagement with the continent.

“It’s a huge success. It will help in bridging the digital divide and in improving intra-African connectivity. It’s a symbol of new Africa, a symbol of India-Africa partnership,” said Ezin, AU’s pointsperson for the Pan African e-network project and various bilateral projects that flowed from the maiden India-Africa Forum Summit New Delhi hosted in April 2008.

(Manish Chand can be contacted

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