‘Yeh hai meri India’ – in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa: “Yeh hai meri India!” the coffee shop steward greets Indian visitors cheerily at the Hilton Addis Ababa as he pours a cuppa. Asked if he has been to India, the Ethiopian says no, but quotes the line from a Bollywood hit whose name he does not remember.

“India is growing fast, helping Ethiopia,” he tells his guests appreciatively. Outside the hotel, a giant billboard announces: India and Africa/Ancient Civilisations; Young Nations/Building the Future Together.

A day before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives here for the 2nd Africa-India Forum Summit – the first on African soil as the inaugural summit was held in New Delhi in 2008 – the ancient Ethiopian capital is primed to give what India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma called “more depth and width” to India’s growing partnership with a resurgent Africa, whose economy is expected to grow at more than five percent annually in the coming years.

At the Millennium Hall – Addis Ababa’s fairground similar to the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi – a colourful multimedia exhibition and fair portrays some of the historic links between India and Africa through textiles, jewellery and basket-weaving, practices that travelled back and forth over the centuries.

With gender empowerment a major area of bilateral focus, the exhibition has provided a unique platform for 20 Indian craftswomen with various traditional skills to meet and interact with 30 of their counterparts from different African countries, including 10 from hosts Ethiopia.

Also being held on the sidelines is an India Show to augment bilteral trade and investment and promote Indian technology and services in the 53 countries of Africa. More than 80 Indian companies, from the Tatas to the Kirloskars to Bharti Enterprises, are displaying their products and services to showcase the proficiencies of Indian industry in Africa – the resource-rich continent that is being wooed by such powers as the US and China.

Presently about 250 Indian firms are active in the continent with estimated investments worth $5 billion.

“The Indian investment model in Africa is unlike that of other countries as it is based on long-term sustainable partnerships as well as investments in local human talent and community outreach,” says Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

CII has put together the India Show and come with 15 Indian industry captains to this pleasant capital situated in the foothills of the Entoto Mountains.

Based at a height of 2,300 metres, it is the third highest capital in the world. It has a population of about two million from different regions of Ethiopia – the country has as many as 80 nationalities speaking 80 languages and belonging to a wide variety of religions – and has the status of both a city and a state. It is where the African Union is based. Addis Ababa is, therefore, often referred to as “the political capital of Africa”, due to its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent.

Ethiopia has often been called the original home of mankind due to various humanoid fossil discoveries. Its capital is a modernising city, with new glass and chrome buildings that exist cheek by jowl with slums, just like in India.

This city too has an interesting history. The site was chosen by Empress Taytu Betul and was founded in 1886 by her husband, Emperor Menelik II. Before moving to the present site of Addis Ababa, Menelik had established temporary capitals at six different locations caused by exhausting the fuel wood at each of these sites. Addis Ababa itself was in danger of being abandoned until the introduction of fast-growing eucalyptus trees from Australia provided the city with a regular source of fuel and a rich environmental legacy.

Emperor Haile Selassie helped form the Organization of African Unity in 1963, and invited the new organization to keep its headquarters in the city. The OAU was dissolved in 2002 and replaced by the African Union. By Tarun Basu