India-Africa Summit: Special envoys to invite heads of government

New Delhi, June 25 (IANS) With just four months left, preparations are in top gear for one of India’s most ambitious diplomatic engagement to date – the Third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) here in October that is likely to see the heads of all the 54 countries of the African Union attending with their entourages.

In early July, a dozen “special envoys” will take off for Africa to extend an invite to each of the 54 African heads of state or government for the October 26-30 event, with the actual summit being held on October 29.

Each of the special envoys, who will not be bureaucrats, would be charged with inviting a few countries. While 42 of the African countries have their missions in Delhi, India has missions in 28 countries with many of the Indian ambassadors also appointed concurrent envoy of a neighbouring country as well.

The Third IAFS is set to be the largest gathering of foreign leaders in India since the Non Aligned Summit in New Delhi in 1983 and the Commonwealth Summit the same year.

The logo for the event, as shown to African diplomats during a briefing earlier this month, would be the face of a lion, with one half an Indian lion and the other half an African lion. The lion face is an attempt to focus on the commonalities of India and the African countries.

With 54 African Union leaders, plus the AU commissioner Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and their entourages, as well as the Indian side, and business delegations and media – all together would see more than 1,000 people at one spot for the event.

The Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, located close to the Delhi Secretariat, will be the venue for the summit. The centrally air-conditioned stadium, built in 1982 to host indoor sports events of the 1982 Asian Games, has a central floor area of 4,500 sq m which would be able to host around 1,000 people comfortably at any time.

Vigyan Bhavan, the convention centre, was shot down as it has a stage that can hold only around 20 delegates at one time The two major hotels of Taj Palace and Ashoka, which have capacious halls, were also rejected as the floor area of around 1,500 sq m would be insufficient, an African diplomat who attended the briefing told IANS.

A large stage would be erected inside the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, on which all the African leaders plus Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the host, would be able to comfortably stand together in semi circle formation for the photo op.

Below the stage, separate desks for each African head would be set up in a semi circle formation. Behind each dignitary would be an additional desk to seat two senior officials, including ministers, of each country. Behind that another desk would be set up to seat three more officials. The ministry of external affairs is making arrangements at the stadium to accommodate around five to seven delegates from each country.

Besides the seating, which would be in semi-circle formation with all dignitaries in a single row, the stadium area has enough space for setting up lounges, in the form of prefabricated tents, for the leaders to relax and chat, separate desks for each country, cubicles for their staff, lounges for business meets and bilateral leaders’ meetings, and also a large media lounge.

The stadium complex with an area of around 100 acres, has enough space for car parking too. The complex, which hosts table tennis, badminton and wrestling events, has several entry and exit points, which would be utilised to keep the entry gates of dignitaries separate from that of the other delegates.

The stadium is being given an urgent facelift and renovmation, including doing up the toilets, to cater to the diplomatic extravaganza.

Suites and rooms in 10 top hotels in Delhi have been booked and the routes from each hotel to the stadium venue have been chalked out. The movement of cars of so many dignitaries along the streets would see Delhi Police blocking the roads for some hours during the summit.

Colourful panels with information about each country, plus large lion logos of the event would be strung up around the hall to block the view to the fixtures of the indoor stadium.

On October 26, senior officials of the 54 African nations would meet, followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers the next day. On October 28, the heads of the African states would arrive and meet with President Pranab Mukherjee, who will also host them for an official banquet on the final day. The summit would be held on October 29 and the following day would be reserved for bilateral interactions.

The summit, earlier scheduled to be held in December last year, had to be postponed in view of the Ebola epidemic in western Africa.

The first India-Africa Forum Summit was held in April 2008 in New Delhi, with 14 countries attending it. The second summit was held at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with 15 African countries and India participating. But the Modi government decided to invite all 54 African heads of government, instead of a representative number of countries chosen by the African Union as was the norm, to give the message that Africa matters.

India-Africa bilateral trade is $70 billion, while India has extended soft loans of about $7 billion to the African countries where incomes are rising and the continent is increasingly been seen as stable and prosperous. India has investments worth over $32 billion in Foreign Direct Investment in Africa. There are more than three million people of Indian origin in Africa today, with South Africa being home to the largest population of people of Indian descent in the continent, at 1.3 million.

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