The cultural cooperation between India and Africa is moving beyond traditional exchanges to focus on education and capacity building initiatives which can become "a part of the national idiom", says Suresh Goel, director general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
The ICCR, which functions under India's external affairs ministry, has taken the lead in cultural cooperation between India and Africa with a series of exchange programmes since 2011, when representatives of Indian and African countries met in Addis Ababa May 20-25 for the second India-Africa summit.
"Our primary aim was to promote understanding between cultures through traditional exchanges, but we find that to develop sustained understanding in future, we need to build studies and academic collaborations with Africa," Goel told IANS in an interview.
He said that till April 2012, 516 scholarships were given to African students.
"But this year, we have increased the number of scholarships to 900. The subjects of study include every discipline in science, humanities and the arts," Goel said.
He said "chairs have been set up to promote Indian studies in Africa in countries like Mauritius, Nigeria and South Africa, which has a chair of political studies sponsored by India".
"Similarly, we support a Nelson Mandela chair in India," Goel said.
"We are trying to deepen the understanding between India and Africa so that it becomes a part of the national idiom. Education exchanges help put such understanding on the people's psyche. The cooperation should not remain a visual experience; it should be discussed and taught in universities and public forums."
Goel said "the broad focus of India's cultural and diplomatic ties with Africa is an ideological kinship, people-to-people contacts and recognition of each other's needs".
"This kinship is rooted in the shared history dating back to pre-history, early anthropological history, colonial history and the legacy of de-colonisation. History says the roots of the friendship are nearly two billion years old with the drift of the continental landmass. There is evidence of trade-related travel from India to southern and eastern Africa," Goel said.
The Gandhian legacy of South Africa, home to the young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who began his civil disobedience movement in Pretoria in the late 19th century, is another broad cultural linkage in the Indian and African psyche.
The first India-Africa Forum Summit, which was held April 4-8, 2008, in New Delhi is the basis of the resurgent bilateral ties between India and Africa under their south-south cooperation.
Culture is the cement of the bilateral ties between African nations and India in the contemporary times, Goel said.
"Our collaboration in performance arts has increased tremendously in the last two years. This year, in November, African musicians will take part in the World Percussion Festival in the national capital and a group from South Africa has been invited to perform Krishna Leela," Goelsaid.
Explaining the increased cooperation in numbers, Goel said between April 2010 and March 2011, 16 Indian troupes performed in Africa.
"In comparison, between April 1, 2011, and March 31, 2012, 28 troupes from Africa performed in India. In addition, at the India-Africa Festival in Africa last May, India supported groups from nine African countries to perform with Indian artists. Later, we supported the Grammy winning African musician, Toumani Diabate, a Kora player from Mali," Goel said.
On June 18-19, six African countries brought their ethnic performance traditions to India in a two-day Africa Festival sponsored by the ICCR.
Goel said the ICCR has been lending its name and support to several private initiatives in involving Africa in the arts and handicrafts sectors as well.
"The ICCR cultural cells in cities like Cairo, Dar-es-Salam, Phoenix (Mauritius) and Lagos (which will be operational soon) have been pushing the soft power of Indian culture in Africa. The large population of Indian origin in Africa helps consolidate cultural understanding and exchanges," Goel said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)