New Delhi - India's Prime Minister began a six-day trip to Africa on Monday, aiming to strike deeper economic ties with a continent rich in minerals and commodities but where Asia's third-largest economy lags far behind rival China.
Manmohan Singh will travel to Ethiopia and Tanzania for only the fourth African visit of his eight-year premiership, pledging development support in exchange for trade agreements to fuel continued growth in India's resource-intensive economy.
He was expected to arrive in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa later on Monday.
At an address to an India-Africa summit in Addis Ababa, Singh will trumpet historical and cultural links with the continent to representatives from 15 African Union members in an attempt to emerge from Beijing's shadow.
"The India-Africa partnership rests on three pillars of capacity building and skills transfer, trade and infrastructure development," Singh said in a departure statement.
"Africa is emerging as a new growth pole of the world, while India is on a path of sustained and rapid economic development."
Rival emerging economies India and China are scouring the globe to secure energy resources, minerals and food.
Both nations are also trying to extend their influence in Africa as they emerge as economic powers and appear keener to flex their diplomatic muscle.Head start
China is around a decade ahead of India in getting into Africa. Beijing's investments in Ghana, for example, topped the entire Indian investment in the continent in 2006. Standard Bank, Africa's largest lender, is 20% owned by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
India is trying to secure a greater presence as well as obtain African support for its bid for a permanent place on the UN Security Council, as the body is reformed to include emerging powers and developing nations.
"India is massively playing catch-up to China in Africa, and only in recent years is it trying to engage the continent in a serious way," said Brahma Chellaney, professor at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.
"But they are trying to build political and economic ties, and position itself as different to China, which has acquired the image of being a new imperial power."
Singh is expected to announce new lines of credit to African nations totalling around $600m, local media said, as he looks to promote India's development promises on the continent as an alternative to China. India's state-run oil firms are beginning to invest in countries including Nigeria and Kenya, while China has pumped billions of dollars into Sudanese oil, mineral-rich Zimbabwe and Zambia's mining sector, among other countries.
India imports 70% of its crude needs, and energy demand is expected to more than double by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. India's fledging investments are headed by telecoms firm Bharti Airtel's $9bn acquisition of Zain's African assets last year.
After addressing a joint session of the Ethiopian parliament and holding bilateral talks with his counterpart Meles Zenawi, Singh will travel to Tanzania for talks with President Jakaya Kikiwete, his office said.