Monday, April 27, 2009

Capitalism from India and China

By TARUN KHANNA, Daily Nation [Kenya], Posted Tuesday, March 10 2009

Capitalism — maligned in these bailout-ridden recessionary days — is reshaping Africa inexorably. What is different today is that it is emanating from China and India, rather than the West.

Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon in Bangalore, brings health relief to India’s masses through his Narayana Group of Hospitals.

Years ago, I witnessed his early experiments with rural telemedicine.

In a visit last month, the wall was adorned by a map of Karnataka state festooned with coloured pins, to indicate he now served most district capitals. A world map showed outreach to rural areas of East Africa and Southeast Asia.

All this comes from carefully acquired experience — technical and sociological — with delivering expert medical advice through teleconference.

Shetty’s team has participated in telemedicine consultations with hospitals in 14 African countries.

This effort is part of then Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam’s pan-African e-Network project to link all 53 African capitals to hospitals across India.

Shetty is a healer, first and foremost. But he is also an entrepreneur, and this is the latest effort to create low-cost, but cutting-edge medical ecosystems in tough locations worldwide.

He aspires to reshape medical care that the world’s indigent need, and in Africa more than most locations.

Cynics say India’s e-Network is currying favour with Africa in exchange for natural resources. Perhaps. But in that effort, India must contend with its neighbour, China, which speaks with a louder voice and carries a larger stick.

Chinese Communist Party President Hu Jintao’s peripatetic diplomacy across Africa has ensured the Chinese are omnipresent there.

CHINA HAS TRADED MUCH INVESTMENT in physical infrastructure in places otherwise shunned — Angola, Sudan, and Zimbabwe — for access to natural resources.

Witness also an unprecedented convening of 48 African heads of state and senior officials in Beijing in 2006 to signal unequivocally that China would speak with the loudest voice.

India tried to mimic the event, with an India-Africa summit in New Delhi in 2008. Fourteen countries attended to discuss food price inflation and energy needs.

Alas, India’s voice was drowned out, not by China’s attempts to provide medicine and education to Africa, but by the sheer magnitude of Chinese investments in physical infrastructure.

But loud voices need not be the most effective. Indian influence will no doubt exploit assets less available to others, particularly the Indian Diaspora in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

India and Africa have been linked over the centuries by trade, religion, and post-imperial political consciousness. Gandhi and the Non-Aligned Movement remain important symbols.

Indians are more part of Africa’s social tapestry than the Chinese, a fabric that has been strengthened through opportunity and adversity through the ages.

The connection between Nigerian cashew farmers and Devi Shetty’s paediatric cardiac surgery is that they both represent decentralised private activity, undertaken through the market, unlike the operations of the China National Petroleum Corporation, Sinopec, and others in Darfur and elsewhere.

They all add value, but decentralised market-based activity appears likelier to engender goodwill and beat Africa’s addiction to aid.

The writer is professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.