Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ongoing four nation tour to Africa — Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya — comes at a time when Africa is changing fast, with this change auguring well for India-Africa relations.

In South Africa, an aspirational middle class is, by reliable accounts, splurging in malls and global coffee chain outlets. Mozambique is the latest market where the Made-in-India hatchback Renault Kwid has just gone on sale.

In Tanzania, the mobile phone sector is one of the most sophisticated in Africa, not to forget Kenya, where growth of digital banking has ushered in next generation ATMs to help make bill payments and reduce wastage of time at long queues.

An important sojourn Modi’s visit is significant from two perspectives.

First, it is a build-up of the momentum struck during the India-Africa Forum in October last year, which was the largest gathering of pan African leaders in India.

The second factor is the growing importance of India and Africa to each other economically and strategically. India has been a strong partner in Africa’s growth story, underlined by progress, potential, profitability and expanding footprints of Indian industry. Africa’s is an emerging force with the continent’s collective GDP expected to touch $3.6 trillion by 2020, up from $2.1 trillion in 2011 and a burgeoning market projected to expand to $1.4 trillion by 2020, from $860 billion in 2008.

Africa is key to India’s economic and maritime interests in the Indian Ocean region. The Prime Minister’s emphasis on the “blue economy initiative” which aims to build on maritime trade links between India and the countries situated along the Indian Ocean is significant. With South Africa, Kenya and Mozambique among these, is important for India to establish deeper links with Africa so as not to get crowded out by other Asian giants.

More to gain Even as a vibrant India and a resurgent Africa bond over economic and strategic complimentarities, industry would like to see a more robust partnership in trade and investment.

Industry believes that manufacturing has tremendous potential. Africa’s automotive sector is growing on the back of rapid urbanisation, a growing consumer base with rising disposable income and a huge regional market. It needs investments for creating infrastructure in ports, roads and railways, and training programmes to build a skilled labour force. These are incentives Indian auto manufacturers need to tap. India’s capability in high value-added production and manufacturing along with African products and technology would help in developing a mutually rewarding long-term partnership. Our expertise and human resources in building roads, airports, ports, railways, economic zones and industrial corridors should be shared.

Farming and IT India must not overlook the prospects of commercialisation of Indian innovation and technology in Africa. For instance, a unique opportunity lies in Africa’s agriculture sector which suffers from low productivity, limited use of technology, lack of high yielding varieties of crops and good quality seeds. This opens a window for Indian entrepreneurs in high social impact sectors including agriculture, information and communication technology, pharmaceuticals, energy and healthcare.

There is a growing interest among Indian entrepreneurs to invest in Africa in diverse sectors including mining. A natural and lucrative partnership between India and Africa is waiting to happen in renewable energy. India has set a target of adding 175 Gigawatts of capacity in the next seven years and East Africa is witnessing significant advancements as well. Indian solar energy firms can partner with African banks to advance low-interest loans for purchase of equipment — solar panels, and solar-powered water heaters, lamps and TVs — and then invest in facilities to manufacture solar equipment. There are gains on both sides.

Further, opportunities are abundant in agriculture and agro-processing as well.

India can also unleash massive possibilities in digital penetration in the continent. The Digital India initiative can be useful as Africa steps up its IT spend on e-government solutions, new banking platforms, security to information management. Indian industry has technical expertise in these areas as well as in setting up low cost IT parks which could be an asset to Africa’s nascent IT sector.

It is obvious the possibilities in relationship building are infinite. All we have to do is to push the boundaries.

 The writer is President of FICCI