Paternalist Colonialism in Ethiopia?
— Nita Chicooree
Indian firms are granted millions of acres of land leased out for a period of 50 years in Ethiopia in the wake of Indian PM’s visit to the country a few months ago. Though it seemed that India is poised not to repeat the Ugandan experience and make its presence more acceptable by committing itself to improvement in education, there are growing concerns over the extent of agricultural projects which displace villagers, grab lands from local people and deprive them of traditional means of livelihood.
Ethiopian authorities are being blamed for protecting corporate demands to the detriment of public interest, workers’ unions are forbidden, rules regarding sick leave and working hours are not implemented, and the list of grievances goes on. Job creation, protesters say, brings short-term benefits while intensive agriculture causes long-term environmental damages.
Conversely, the Ethiopian government underscores the transfer of technology in the agricultural development of the country, rising general social welfare and its belief in the trickle-down beneficial effects of capitalism. Indian organizations denounce the corporate greed that laid waste vast stretches of lands by extensive farming in rural regions of India, and warn Indian companies about acting as colonizer in Africa.
Indian corporate companies dismiss the environmental issues, pointing out that companies have also undertaken the re-planting of trees to avoid long-term damages, and argue that the criticism levelled against their activities is mainly influenced by reports issued by the West, specially the UK and the US, which did not complain as long as Indian companies exported vegetables and fruits from Africa to the West but today, they resent increasing Indian presence in the production of rice, tea, soya beans, cotton, maize, etc., as these are going to be exported to a bigger number of countries in the world and not exclusively to the West.
It stands to reason nevertheless that Indian companies would win the support of all and open up new opportunities for themselves if they maintained fair practices and dealt with tact and caution in their new environment.
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South East Power Struggle
The recent Indo-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) covering non-military as well as military aspects is rattling the nerves of Pakistan and China. India is slowly, but steadily and relentlessly increasing its strategic influence in the region. No longer inhibited and over careful not to offend its northern and north-western neighbours and shying away from asserting itself. It is set to pursue its goals to safeguard its interests while promoting a democratic and non-radical Afghanistan, which would bear positive results for other partners in the region.
Pakistan does not view this manner building ties between India and Afghanistan as conducive to its own interests and pursuits in Afghanistan, hence its aggressive hostility to the SPA, which it made out as designed to trap Pakistan in an Indo-Afghan nutcracker. Today, the West is less responsive to Pakistani hyper-sensitivity to Indian presence in the region. AB Raman, Indian observer, points out the growing US wariness of Pakistani ambivalence and unsavoury characters in the ISI and the government. A robust Indian presence in the region is perceived as being necessary for Western interests, too.
Sporadically, Chinese soldiers came and pitched the red flag in parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, leaving the inhabitants stunned by the provocative act. Currently, the Indian government has expressed concerns over the presence of Chinese military in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Similarly, the Chinese authorities are getting jittery over Indian presence in Vietnam, reports say. India has had trade links with Vietnam for decades, as well as political and military ties on land but recently, a government-connected company has accepted contracts from Vietnam to explore oil and gas in two blocks, island territories belonging to Vietnam but claimed by China as its territory.
The open signs of Indian activism are said to be welcome to Asean countries, Japan and South Korea.
India has subtly but firmly made it known that its desire to promote friendly relations with Pakistan and China will not come in the way of promoting its legitimate strategic role and interests in the Afghan-Pak and Sino-Vietnamese regions.