Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola fear?: "Economist" qualifies Modi's decision to set aside biggest-ever India-Africa summit "clumsy"

By Our Representative
Well-known British weekly “The Economist” has qualified India’s decision to cancel the biggest-ever India-Africa summit, which was to take place in December in Delhi, as “clumsy”. It said, this will now be a “thorny task” for India’s foreign policymakers to recoup the lost ground. While the cancellation of the summit was because of the fears of the deadly disease, Ebola, prevalent in three small West African countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the weekly insisted, “Trying to isolate Africa will not help prevent a pandemic.”
Suggesting that this is nothing but a reversal of the “renewed diplomatic efforts” made by ex-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited the African continent for six days in May 2011 and even announced a $5 billion loan on easy terms, the Economist (October 13) indicated, Singh's effort was in recognition of the fact that “Indian investors, like their counterparts from China, have a strong interest in winning access to immense natural resources in Africa, including oil, gas, coal and diamonds.”
In fact, the influential weekly, in its column Banyan, insisted, “Africa, potentially, offers a decent market for Indian firms, which have grown adept at "frugal innovation", that is making products that are both cheap and attractive, which might suit an emerging middle-class consumer in Africa as easily as the one at home. Indian telecom firms, for example, have expanded in Africa—while in turn India might learn from Africa about mobile-banking.”
Calling the decision to scrap the summit on fears of Ebola a “blow, whatever officials might claim”, the Economist said, the biggest-ever India-Africa summit, unlike earlier ones when India would engage only with selected African leaders (typically 16 or so), was to involve “leaders of all the 54 countries in the African Union. In addition, the summit would have involved parallel business and media events, and involved some 1,000 people.”
Pointing out that it is “more troubling that Indian officials said they were scrapping the December summit because of the risk of Ebola being brought from Africa to India”, the Economist said, such an assessment “depends on how seriously you take the chance that it could happen.” In fact, “the people least likely to carry Ebola are presidents, prime ministers and isolated members of Africa's elite, who would have made up the delegations.”
It commented, “No one in New York told Africans to stay away from the UN General Assembly. And, Africa is not a country but a big continent. Three small West African countries are suffering from Ebola: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Pretoria (South Africa's capital) and Nairobi (Kenya's) are each more than 5,300km from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, and seem hardly more at risk of infection than anywhere else on the planet.”
The Economist said, “Since India does not have many aid workers in West Africa, nor large numbers of people travelling back and forth to the region, its risk appears low. A widely quoted figure, that there are 45,000 Indians in West Africa, is potentially misleading. The vast majority of these are in Nigeria which has successfully contained Ebola, so far, leaving only some 5,000 Indians in the rest of West Africa… Unless Ebola took hold in Nigeria, in other words, India does not look notably at risk of importing it.”

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