The Africa-Asia trade is on the rise to promote the development of Africa, according to a scholar who studies historical and current ties between the two continents.
Tulane University Professor of African Studies Gaurav Desai told Xinhua that relations between Africa and Asia peaked in the 19th and 20th centuries.
"However, as the economies of both regions begin to rise, their trade will occupy a central role in their development efforts," Desai said at the launch of the book on the Africa-India trade in Nairobi on Tuesday.
The book dubbed Commerce with the Universe details Africa's trade with its Indian Ocean neighbors since the medieval times. The book was authored by Desai.
According to experts, the recently accelerating Asian trade and investment in Africa hold great promise for Africa's economic growth and development -- provided certain policy reforms on both continents are implemented.
They say skyrocketing Asian trade and investment in Africa is part of a global trend towards rapidly growing South-South commerce among developing countries.
China and India each have rapidly modernizing industries and burgeoning middle classes with rising incomes and purchasing power.
These societies are demanding not only natural resource- extractive commodities, agricultural goods such as cotton, and other traditional African exports, but also diversified, nontraditional exports such as processed commodities, light manufactured products, household consumer goods, food, and tourism.
Desai said in the past, Africa used to export ivory and other agricultural products to India, while it imported textiles and other manufactured goods from their Asian counterparts.
He said Sultans of Zanzibar played a big role in promoting Africa-Asia trade.
"They invited Indians to eastern African coast so that they could conduct trade," he said.
The Sultans had a taste of foreign goods which the Indian merchants were able to supply. Some of the merchants chose to remain in the Africa while others returned to their homelands.
Their descendants still remain in Africa, while others have migrated to the west, especially after Ugandan strongman Idi Amin expelled Asians in the mid-1970s.
Economic reforms in both China and India have made some Asian nations the biggest trading partners of Africa. Desai said both regions are still developing.
"Trade has therefore tended to be on an equal basis," he said. "The governments on both sides have emphasized that trade should be based on mutual friendship and tolerance," he added.
The developed countries in the West have tended to be the biggest trading partners of both Africa and Asia. But the declining influence of the West has led to changing trade patterns.
"As of now, not all terms of global trade are dictated by middlemen from the West," Professor Desai said. New opportunities in Africa are now attracting Chinese and Indian investors into the continent.
Africa has now emerged as the second fastest growing region in the world. The perceived risk that made foreign investors to shy away from the continent has been replaced by optimism.
The region now offers one of the highest returns on investments. In addition, the eurozone economic crisis has made the West a much less attractive destination for capital. With rising trade, cultural exchanges have also being on the increase. "African students are now pursuing higher education in India and China," Desai said. He said cultural products such as arts and films from Asia are now making inroads in Africa. In many Africa cities, it is now common to find universities offering the Chinese language course through partnerships with the Confucius Institutes.