19 Jun 2011

India gives, Mr Tharoor, but who gets?

Shashi Tharoor, former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and UN Under-Secretary General, who is one of the more articulate parliamentarians writes about India's use of what he terms as 'Soft Power' in engaging with African nations - especially during Dr Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Among the promises is $5 billion in aid to countries in Africa - besides soft loans, schools, hospitals and other civic amenities (which many places in India could do with.)

In the article titled: India Gives, Mr Tharoor contrasts the apparent benevolence in India's actions to the hard-driving methods of China and the West. "Unlike China," he says, "India does not descend on other countries with a heavy governmental footprint. India’s private sector is a far more important player, and the government often confines itself to opening doors and letting African countries work with the most efficient Indian provider that they can find."

Simply put: The government promises to give public money (aid) in return for "doors" being opened for private profiteers? How different is it from President Obama's recent visit to India with a delegation of CEOs in tow?

None. Except that Ethiopians are not Indians.

In India, landowners across several states are, literally, fighting to keep their land from being acquired for mega projects run by large private corporations. Numerous projects in Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat have been stalled. (Across the spectrum, from left to right, the political class has been conspicuous by its silent non-intervention. Perhaps, they are all confining themselves to "door opening".)

Anyway, the yokels in India may have impeded 'progress' - but not so in Ethiopia...

One of the private players to have "doors opened" for it in Addis Ababa is Karuturi Global. This Bangalore-based company has taken over one of the largest farmlands in the world in the south of Ethiopia.

At 300,000 hectares (3000 sqkm), the Karuturi 'farmistan' is nearly 1/2 the size of the Indian state of Sikkim (7,096 sqkm). And it's just one of their mega farms in the country.

The Karuturis (also the family name of the promoters) estimate they can grow about 10% of the total traded volume of rice in the world - which would be good news for impoverished Ethiopia, but for the fact that most of the food produced on 'farmistan' is earmarked for export. Karuturi Global pays the Ethiopian government approximately $250 a week for the right to farm on the land... for 50 years!

These guys may be "efficient" Mr Tharoor, but are they welcome? Please watch.

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