A New Era of India-Africa Defense Cooperation

As India moves towards becoming a major exporter of defense products, achieving the target of exporting $5 billion by 2025, Africa will play a crucial role in realizing this goal. The convergence of Mahatama’s country of birth and the continent of his adoption on all platforms would be essential to secure a safe and prosperous environment. 

As Jomo Kenyata, the founding father of Kenya said: “Our Children may learn about heroes of the past, our task is to make ourselves architects of the future,” the ‘future’ is in the making as recently witnessed during the Second India-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) held at the 12th Defexpo, in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. There was the presence of defense ministers from 19 African countries along with the chief of defense staff and senior dignitaries representing other African nations. 

Peace, development and security are interrelated

As India and Africa break the shackles of the dark past of colonialism and become the architects of a prosperous and secure future, co-developing and co-producing in the defense sector could prove to be a catalyst. Thus, delivering the keynote address at the event, the Defence Minister of India iterated that “African priorities are our priorities”. That set the tone for the 12th Defexpo. In his speech, paying tribute and mentioning freedom fighters from Africa – Jomo Kenyata, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Sam Nujoma, Patrice Lumumba – he went on to mention that India and Africa share a multi-faceted defense and security cooperation.  

The African countries and India have had humble beginnings and with continuing shared principles of non-violence and peace, both regions are important for buttressing and raising important south-south cooperation concerns at various multilateral groupings. Africa has a sweet spot in India’s foreign policy as this was widely visible during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Uganda in 2018 where in a speech, he mentioned that “African priorities are Indian priorities”. This was reflected in the first edition of the IADD held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in 2020 as well. 

Thus, this defense partnership is embedded with shared values, principles of quality, and commitment to peace, security, stability and prosperity, and is driven by common aspirations and admiration for standing up against the piracy, terrorism and duped policies of other countries. For instance, safeguarding maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region is a combined responsibility of India and Africa and they should get ready to face future conflicts and challenges by joining forces for co-developing and co-manufacturing cutting-edge emerging technologies in the security sector.

Here, it is important to mention that a defense manufacturing ecosystem has been created in India and it is widely recognized in various policies and initiatives rolled out by the current government. Africa and India, with the added advantage of an abundance of technical, skilled and semi-skilled labor, should work together to fulfill the continent’s defense requirements. 

By forging public-private partnerships, including Indian defense industries working with their African counterparts, will have a positive snowball effect. With the emergence of the defense-industrial complex, other manufacturing hubs would bring in investments, particularly in new critical technologies. This could be an answer to a large looming worry, the staggeringly high rate of unemployment and scarcity of jobs!  

Cooperation everywhere – land, water, air and outer space

The defense ties between the two have stood the test of time and entered the seventh decade of direct engagement. India’s direct military involvement started in 1960 by sending in troops under the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission to the Republic of Congo. Since then, India has been among the top three contributors to the UN’s peacekeeping mission and has regularly been a part of many such missions in the African continent. 

India’s partnership with Africa is centered on the 10 guiding principles as articulated by the Indian Prime Minister in 2018. It is based on a robust framework of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region). This year’s theme was adapting strategies for energizing and strengthening defense and security cooperation and finding new areas of convergence in defense such as building capacity, training, cyber-security, maritime security and counter-terrorism and cooperation in outer space and developing new age weapons essential for robust space diplomacy.

This year’s Defexpo was unique as it showcased only Made-in-India products. Having witnessed them from close, I would say – India is “walking the talk”. Despite no countries being provided separate display pavilions at the exhibition this time, African nations were specially invited. This proves that Africa holds a special place and a sweet spot in India’s foreign policy. 

Thus, Africa will play an important role by being closely engaged with in this Amrit Kaal (Great Period) of India as the country is celebrating the 75th Anniversary of its independence and should look at co-developing defense equipment and becoming a market for the world. In short, Africa has a huge role to play in India’s future goals of becoming a net security provider and a major defense exporter. Our defense relationship should meet the same fate and receive the same respect as the Mandela-Gandhi relations.

[Photo by Vranitzky, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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