By Devika Jyothi
Trade and investment ties between India and East Africa have evolved over centuries. Early accounts date Indian presence on Africa’s eastern coast to 1st century AD. In July 2018, working in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), SITA took its own steps to further this vibrant relationship by organising investment promotion visits across South India for high-level delegates from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.
For SITA, this was a mission of firsts. This was the first ever investment promotion mission led by three high-level government representatives, H.E. Bogale Feleke, Ethiopia’s State Minister of Industry, Hon. Michael Werikhe, Uganda’s Minister of State for Trade, and H.E. Betty Chemutai Maina, Kenya’s Principal Secretary of Industrialisation. The high-level delegation was able to present a picture of a united East Africa, ripe with opportunities for collaboration with Indian investors. The presence of high-level delegates paved the way for stronger institutional linkages between India and East Africa.
Also for the first time, SITA targeted two sectors on the same investment promotion mission, namely the textile and apparel and leather industries, regarded as priority sectors by the participating East African countries. In view of this, the delegation toured the South Indian cities of Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Ambur and Chennai, which each represent major clusters in the Indian textile, garment, or leather industries. They were specifically chosen to emphasise the diversity of investment linkages that could be built between India and East Africa.
In each city, the delegation attended investment promotion seminars where they had the opportunity to promote their countries as attractive investment destinations as well as to interact with Indian companies including captains of industry, some of whom have already or are in the process of setting up their business in East Africa.
At the first seminar in Tiruppur on 9 July 2018, SITA Coordinator Mr. Govind Venuprasad highlighted the significance of the three East African countries coming together to form one high-level delegation as a demonstration of the potential opportunities present in the region, “While there is a little bit of competition, there is a lot of complementarity.” he said.
The delegation then visited Coimbatore, known as the textile hub of India. SITA had previously arranged a successful visit of a high-level Ethiopian delegation to Coimbatore in July 2017, which had resulted in two Indian textile investments in Ethiopia’s Mekelle industrial park. The visit to Bangalore was another highlight of the mission as it was the first time SITA organised an investment promotion seminar in the city. Bangalore, considered to be India’s foremost apparel cluster, houses over 1,200 garment factories, which employ over 600,000 workers.
The investment promotion seminars evoked the special and historical relationship between India and East Africa. In his speech at the seminar in Coimbatore, Uganda’s Minister of State for Trade Hon. Michael Werikhe said “If you remove the Indian Ocean, we are actually neighbours. The business has always been there between East Africa and India and 65 per cent of businessmen in Uganda are of Indian origin.” Similarly in Bangalore, H.E. Betty Chemutai Maina pointed to the historical basis of the India- East Africa relationship, “We are connected by history. The first railway in Kenya was built by Indian labour who then stayed in Kenya and became a merchant class.”
Following each investment promotion seminar, the delegates visited state of the art company facilities with an objective to increase their awareness of the types of investments that could be brought into East Africa as well as to establish contact with local industry.
As part of its work to strengthen institutional linkages, SITA also facilitated visits to the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) in Chennai followed by the Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI). In fact, as a direct result of the visit, the Ugandan delegation decided that it was time to explore a closer relationship with CLRI, with respect to support in designing programmes in leather technology at local universities in Uganda.
Such positive outcomes shaped the mission, underscoring the eagerness of both Indian industry actors and East African delegates to jointly explore investment prospects in the textile, apparel and leather sectors. Trade and investment linkages between India and East Africa have been ever present, but now more than ever, a new wave of fruitful opportunities for collaboration is coming to light.