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Keynote Address at International Conference on Africa and Energy Security: Global Issues, Local Responses

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  • Shri Nalin Surie, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
    June 23, 2008

    Ladies & Gentlemen,

    Thank you for inviting me to address this conference on “Africa and Energy Security”. To begin with, I would like to congratulate IDSA and PRIO for taking this initiative. The issue of energy security and, of late, food security, have come to the fore of the international agenda. They have also inextricably got linked to the broader issue of climate change. It is, therefore, my hope that during your discussions you would look at this composite picture.

    The India-Africa relationship is civilizational and time tested. The most recent manifestation of that relationship was the India-Africa Forum Summit held in April this year in New Delhi. We had the privilege to have with us a very representative group of African Heads of State and Government and other leaders selected by Africa itself. On that occasion, the Prime Minister of India clearly spelt out India’s philosophy towards cooperation with Africa. He stated, and I quote, “it is our (India’s) intention to become a close partner in Africa’s resurgence.” You would all have seen the Delhi Declaration and the Framework for Cooperation that were issued at the end of the India-Africa Forum Summit.

    The Framework for Cooperation speaks specifically of cooperation in the field of exploration and exploitation of natural resources as well as value addition and creation of an enabling environment for investment and development of renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

    The African continent is nearly ten times the size of India. Its countries range from the very large such as Sudan to tiny island states such as Seychelles. It encompasses the entire geographical spectrum ranging from deserts to tropical forests and mountains. It is in effect a huge island and a continent that is rich in natural resources, bio-diversity, water resources and has the advantage of a relatively small population but very large areas of land which are cultivatable. Indeed, if experts are to be believed, Africa on its own, can potentially feed the world’s population. The continent already meets a very important and growing proportion of the international community’s requirements of natural resources, including hydro-carbons.

    ‘Energy Security’ has correctly been titled by this conference as a global issue. It is pertinent, however, to recall that this has been a topical issue for the international community for many decades. Some would argue that that has been the case also for many centuries now. The difference now is that the price of crude oil has gone up so sharply and shows little sign of reversal, that the issue has assumed overriding importance in today’s increasingly globalized world. The importance of hydrocarbons has become greater in some respect because of climate change considerations and the inability of the world community to develop technologies that can effectively and economically exploit new and renewable forms of energy. This state of affairs has also given a new lease of life to the development of nuclear power which had become less popular in recent decades following, in particular, the unfortunate accident at Chernobyl. Thermal power, the other mainstay of the world economy, has its own limitations because of the associated pollution and the as yet inadequate development of cost efficient clean coal technologies.

    In addressing the issue of energy security in today’s context, it is particularly important that we focus on the extremely negative impact that high energy prices are having on developing countries. Large and rapidly developing countries like India are beginning to feel the huge burden of this price rise. It is never easy to transfer high prices to consumers in democratic countries but this has now become inescapable. The impact on the smaller and more vulnerable developing countries, including those in Africa that do not have the benefit of hydrocarbon resources, is even more dramatic and could perhaps be devastating unless corrective action is taken in the near future. Unfortunately, the energy crisis has been compounded by the current food crises and this has made small and vulnerable economies all over the world and, in Africa in particular, face a huge double disability.

    It is important also to bear in mind that not all of Africa is hydrocarbon rich. You cannot paint Africa with one colour. It is a huge continent. Its countries are diverse and have varying strengths and abilities to meet the current disabilities which they have to cope with. It is imperative, therefore, that the positive effects of globalization are brought to bear on these countries and the negative effects mitigated to the maximum extent feasible.

    It is from the above perspective that we would view your discussions and it is in that context that local responses become that much more important. The international community must assist and cooperate with the individual countries of Africa to meet the requirements that pertain to their particular situation.

    I referred earlier to the need for greater cooperation with Africa in the development of new and renewable forms of energy. Like in other parts of the world, the most promising areas appear to be wind and solar energy, although technological developments in the latter sector still do not permit extensive use of solar energy at an affordable price.

    The other areas of promise are in respect of bio-fuel and bio-diesel. There are major opportunities to collaborate with Africa in the production of bio-fuel and bio-diesel. Like elsewhere in the world, however, all such efforts will have to ensure that the land used for bio-fuel and bio-diesel production is not at the cost of enhanced production of food and other non-food crops and does not lead to the diversion of fertile and potentially fertile land. It is also essential to ensure that the bio-diversity in Africa is not adversely affected.

    In addition to hydrocarbons and bio-fuels, some countries of Africa are also home to large deposits of coal. Opportunities for exploitation of these resources are being discussed by different countries and multinational corporations with the concerned governments of Africa. This is a promising area of cooperation where again it is essential to ensure that collaborative arrangements drawn up are not exploitative, bring about transfer of clean technologies and generate local employment. In short, Africa’s contribution to the energy security of other countries must lead to sustainable development in Africa.

    Ladies & Gentlemen,

    Africa is rich in energy potential yet, the continent is currently deficient in energy use. This factor will also need to be borne in mind in your deliberations.

    You would have noted that in my remarks I have spoken of energy in terms broader than simply referring to hydrocarbons. I believe it is necessary to do so for too narrow a focus would not be appropriate, especially if you look at the diversity of Africa and its own rapidly growing energy needs. It is necessary to look at the issue from the perspective of African countries. Earnings from the sale of energy resources are undoubtedly important to help finance the socio-economic development plans of countries that have such resources. At the same time, the domestic developmental requirements of these countries, including for energy, are growing. They will, therefore, have to find an appropriate balance between what quantities of energy they need to retain and what is exportable. There are already signals from some hydrocarbon producers in Africa that their supplies are committed to export abroad and as a result they have inadequate supplies for their own developmental and value addition requirements.

    Further, Africa’s own domestic requirements will grow both nationally and within the continent. As Africa integrates further, there will no doubt be pressure on the major producers to give priority to share their energy resources with the other countries of Africa. In any forward planning such considerations would have to be factored in.

    Ladies & Gentlemen,

    India’s approach to Africa has long been crafted on the above premise. Our approach to the partnership with Africa has, from its inception, been based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit. Our effort has always been to cooperate with the countries of Africa, within the framework of our capabilities and experiences and to help meet the requirements of Africa’s socio-economic development. We have, without any self interest, participated in major UN peacekeeping efforts in Africa to ensure that peace and stability is restored in areas where there has been conflict. Without peace and stability there can be no development.

    As our capabilities and resource base has grown, we have broadened the scope of our cooperative activities with the continent. More importantly, as India’s private sector has grown and begun to operate outside India, they have found useful opportunities in many countries on the continent. So too the Indian public sector which, in fact, in many respects pioneered India’s industrial and infrastructural outreach in many countries of Africa, including in the development of small and medium enterprises.

    Similarly, India’s engagement with Africa in the energy sector is not one sided and our approach has always been to attempt to involve ourselves in a holistic fashion so that while our needs are met, equally, the developmental needs of our partners are also fully met. It is with this objective in mind that we have consistently impressed upon Indian companies both in the private and public sectors to participate not simply in the production of oil and natural gas but to invest in the development of infrastructure and downstream industries as also related industries such as fertilizers, generation of power etc.

    Our growing partnership with the countries of Africa in the hydrocarbon sector is part of our conscious policy to develop South-South cooperation. As we strengthen our cooperation in a more broad based fashion, we will find that our synergies will increase and our ability to chart our own destinies more effectively will also be enhanced.

    I have spoken longer than I had intended and have taken the liberty of raising several issues for your consideration. I trust you would find these pertinent to your discussions.

    Thank you for your patience and attention.