Tracing the Future of India-Africa Defence Cooperation
Samir Bhattacharya, Senior Research Associate, VIF

In his address to the Ugandan Parliament in July 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi enunciated the ten guiding principles of India's engagement with Africa and elucidated the importance of each principle. Principle number seven of India's development cooperation articulated by PM Modi was explicit with regard to combating terrorism and promoting peacekeeping and cyber security. And true to his promise, in the last 4-5 years, security cooperation between India and Africa has emerged as a prominent area, offering unprecedented opportunities of collaboration. Given India's long-standing partnership with Africa in defence sector and its bright prospects, the current article attempts to deep dive into the current levels of defence cooperation and evaluate the future course of action, optimising this collaboration for mutual benefit.

India-Africa Defence Cooperation

India has actively supported Africa in its cybersecurity, peacekeeping, and anti-terrorism efforts in recent years. However, India’s defence cooperation with Africa began long ago. In 1956, following Emperor Haile Selassie's request to Indian Prime Minister Nehru, India decided to open its first-ever overseas training institution in Africa. [1] The Imperial Military Academy at Harar, Ethiopia, was established and became functional as early as in 1958. Over the years, this institution trained a generation of Ethiopian military officers and from several other African countries that were in the process of gaining independence.

Special offers for the training of African military personnel at major Indian institutions such as the NDA, IMA, DSSC and NDC have helped India to build friendships in Africa. The training courses offered by the Indian Army are professionally made and of apolitical nature. Therefore, they are highly popular in Africa and thanks to its widespread admiration, India has trained army personnel from several African nations. As a matter of fact, as many as six current or former armed forces chiefs in Africa were trained at India's military institutions. The incumbent President of Nigeria, H.E. Buhari, has studied at Defence Services Staff College at Wellington in Tamil Nadu.[2]

Since the first UN Mission in the Congo, India has been part of UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) and has participated in almost all the African missions so far. In 1960, when Congo sought to deploy UN soldiers to prevent secession and reunify the nation following the end of rule by the Belgian administration, two Indian brigades participated in UNPKO between 14 July 1960 and 30 June 1964. [3] And today, India is Africa's fourth-largest supplier of troops to PKO. India has contributed around 200,000 soldiers and police forces as part of the blue helmets since its independence. Currently, 4,483 Indian soldiers serve in peacekeeping missions in five African nations: Congo, Morocco, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somalia. [4]

Since 2016, through the annual UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-III) programme, India and the United States have teamed together to develop the capacity of African troops for UN peacekeeping activities.[5] Accordingly, the Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping in India (CUNPK), New Delhi started the first United Nations Peacekeeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-01).[6] Additionally, India has also established Defence Academies and Colleges in various African countries such as Naval war college in Nigeria, military academy in Ethiopia, and air force in Ghana.[7] Furthermore, India has sent training teams to a number of African countries. These military training units have collaborated with their respective counterparts in Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, Mauritius, and Seychelles. [8]

In 2007, India sent an all-female police force to Liberia to be deployed with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). This was the first all-female police unit in the history of UN peacekeeping. Their nine years of work in Liberia were highly appreciated; they were hailed as role models and contributed to women's participation in security forces in Liberia and beyond. During the end of their mission in 2016, praising the all-female Indian police unit, the then Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said

"If I could, I would have suggested that a different UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) unit depart so that the Indian Formed Police Unit (FPU) could continue to stay in the country."[9]

In March 2019, India held its first-ever joint exercise with African countries, Africa-India Field Training Exercise-2019 (AFINDEX-19), in Pune. In total, 17 African countries participated in the inaugural edition of the exercise. [10] The AFINDEX-19 exercise was designed to help participating countries plan and execute humanitarian mine action (HMA) and peacekeeping operations (PKO).

In addition, India has firmly developed maritime security cooperation with Mauritius and Seychelles, as well as with several other coastal African countries. India is guided by the SAGAR doctrine in maritime security and has frequently been a first responder in HADR (humanitarian aid and disaster relief) crises. India's humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, such as the timely assistance and thorough professionalism of the Indian Navy during Cyclone IDAI in Mozambique in 2019, have been recognised and highly appreciated. [11] The time is opportune to take this partnership to the next level.

In February 2020, on the sidelines of the DefExpo military exhibition, the first India-Africa Defence Ministers' conference (IADMC) took place in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. [12] The establishment of the IADMC successfully institutionalised the defence cooperation between two countries. The Government of India also proposed to institutionalise the India-Africa Defence Dialogue as a side event alongside the DefExpo. [13] The biennial event is expected to accelerate the strengthening of current ties of India with participating African countries and bring out many new areas of cooperation requiring joint work. The second edition of this defence conversation was scheduled to take place in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in March 2022. The broad theme was tentatively fixed as 'India-Africa: Adopting Strategy for Synergizing and Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation'.[14] But it was postponed due to the prevailing pandemic.

The maritime element of India's cooperation with countries of Africa, especially in the East & Southern African region, is also expanding. In 2018, the Indian Navy participated in Exercise IBSAMAR-VI in South Africa with the South African and Brazilian navies. [15] As part of the exercise, Indian ships were also deployed in the Southern Indian Ocean Region countries of Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Madagascar and Comoros. During the deployment, the Indian Navy also participated in Phase III of EX-VARUNA at Reunion Island.[16] Earlier in 2005, INS Satavahana conducted a full-fledged introductory submarine course for the South African Navy. [17]

Indian Navy also conducts Milan Exercise biennially. Milan 2022, which took place in March 2022 after a gap of four years, saw the participation of over 40 countries and 26 ships. Given the prevailing pandemic, many African countries withdrew. Yet, African countries like Seychelles, Mauritius and Kenya participated. [18]

Security Issues in Africa

Today, the African continent is grappling with defence and security challenges, including terrorism and violence, transnational organised crime syndicates, maritime security and piracy mainly caused by the maritime border disputes and most recently, the resurgence of Jihadists in several parts of Africa. The most direct response to these challenges is the security reforms. However, in parallel, bilateral and multilateral defence cooperation are equally important.

Although Islamist or jihadist terrorism, has become a global phenomenon, some regions of Africa are particularly susceptible to terrorism driven by extremist Islamist groups. The Sahel region of West Africa is currently the most exposed to the menace of radical Islamism. Islamist militants frequently assault security personnel and civilians in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. In this region, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, India has enormous investments in oil reserves, and due to its unique location, the region is strategically important to India. [19]

In the Horn of Africa, Somalia, the easternmost country of Africa, has been suffering from the tyranny of Islamist group Al Shabaab. Al-Shabaab, the Al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, is regularly wreaking violent attacks on both civilians and security forces in different parts of Somalia as well as in other East African neighbouring countries. [20] In southern Africa, Islamist militants have been plaguing parts of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique since 2017. As a response, in July 2022, the European Union was forced to approve a package of 89 million euros for Mozambique. [21]The fund will be used for the training of the Defence and Security Forces and to purchase of non-lethal protective equipment.

Finally, in central Africa, the Islamic State's affiliate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) is increasingly destabilising the Democratic Republic of Congo with its violent actions. And now, making the situation worse, Congo's popular rebel group, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) is also working along with ISIS. In fact, they have referred to themselves as 'the Madina at Tauheed Wau Mujahideen' or the City of Monotheism and Holy Warriors (MTM). [22] Most recently, ISIS has branded the ADF, alongside fighters in Mozambique, as its "Central Africa Province" (ISCAP). [23]

The recent surge of military coups in many countries, including Mali, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Guinea, is another dangerous trend and threat to peace and stability in Africa. Although African Union (AU) is the principal security provider at the continental level, without international partners, AU cannot prevent this upsurge alone. And currently, AU depends heavily on global cooperation from organisations like EU, UN, and NATO.

The Convergence of India-Africa Security Interests

African priorities drive India-Africa Defence cooperation. Recently, African Union has launched its flagship project, "Silencing the Guns by 2030", to attain a conflict-free Africa', which is also embedded in 'Africa's vision 2063'. [24] India's defence cooperation with countries of the eastern African coast hinges on SAGAR, announced by PM Modi in 2015 in Mauritius. [25] During the inauguration of SAGAR, which means sea in Hindi, PM Modi emphasised the importance of security for sustained growth.

From licensed production in 1960 to the 5th generation weapons that India is working on, India has come a long way. India has placed a strong emphasis on defence manufacturing during the previous eight years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership. In January 2022, India struck a $375 million deal with the Philippines to export the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile. [26] This was the largest defence export in the history of independent India. Currently, the Philippines have also shown interest in procuring India's indigenously-developed advanced light helicopters (ALH) and Tejas light combat aircraft to beef up its combat capability. [27] Many other countries of Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, may show interest in buying defence equipment built in India. [28] And as the Ministry of Defence aims for 5 billion dollars of defence export by 2025, Africa will undoubtedly have a large chunk of it. [29]

During his visit to Mozambique in 2019, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh presented the Mozambican Navy with two rapid interceptor boats. [30] Africa could be the biggest benefactor of these indigenous Indian items as it seeks to minimise its reliance on traditional western allies for security. India can also share this know-how with Africa. Indian industry can meet Africa's requirements much more cost-effectively, particularly in air defence, air-to-air missile systems and strategic weapon systems. India also contributes financially to the cause of violence-free Africa. In 2011, India provided $2 million worth of support to AMISOM in Somalia. [31] Similar support of $1 million was provided to the UN mission in Mali in 2013. [32]

Although a few ASEAN countries use Indian ships for their police services, the Indian shipbuilding industry has remained mostly a missed opportunity. [33] India's flagship initiative, Sagarmala Project, has remained focussed on ports. Going forward, a thriving shipbuilding industry will help attain PM Modi's Atmanirbhar Bharat goals, which will also benefit Africa. The unmanned underwater system is one such example.

Similarly, the Indian Air Force has made several helicopters per international standards and can be used in war and rescue missions in Africa. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has produced Dornier aircraft which would be very useful in many African countries. India is the 4th country after UK, Russia and China to launch 1000 drones simultaneously.[34] India used indigenously developed drones to deliver covid-19 vaccines in many rural areas with poor connectivity, particularly in North-Eastern India. [35]As India believes in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (all is our family) and SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in The Region), India will be keen to share its military power and technological know-hows with its African counterparts. The Indian Defence industry is also open to joint ventures in African countries in the field of defence. The Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India has already signed an MoU with the Defence Research and Development Bureau (DRDB), Nigeria, to cooperate in Defence R&D. [36] More African countries are expected to join DRDO in the coming days.

Military vehicle export is another area where India can collaborate with Africa. Indian military vehicle manufacturers such as Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland are already part of the network. Between February and July 2015, Ashok Leyland supplied 1200 vehicles to six African countries: Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti, Seychelles and Botswana. [37] In July 2015, Ashok Leyland delivered 633 of 670 troop carriers, buses, transport trucks, water tankers, fuel tankers, fire-tenders, ambulances and light commercial vehicles to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces for a cost of $50 million. [38] In addition to Zimbabwe, Ashok Leyland also supplied 679 vehicles to the Tanzanian defence force as part of a $36.5 million loan agreement with India. [39] On the other hand, Tata Motors has delivered 520 military vehicles ordered for at least four African armies taking part in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), including ambulances, jeeps, water and fuel tankers, recovery and refrigeration trucks and buses. [40]

Finally, cyber security has become a rising concern for both sides. With exponential growth in mobile smart device ownership and increased use of social media, Africa's adoption of new technologies is expanding. While this technological advancement is expected to contribute to the continent's development, it will also expose millions of impoverished and uneducated Africans to the associated hazards and vulnerabilities. India has advanced cyber security infrastructure, a dedicated National Cyber Security and a functional nodal agency, Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). As coronavirus pushed most business activities online, many African countries are keen to collaborate with India and benefit from its expertise. Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Seychelles, and South Africa already have a cyber security cooperation framework with India. [41] India is willing to assist other African countries in dealing with cyber threats and forging cyber security technology collaboration in the future.

Way Forward

The importance of Africa in India's foreign policy is visible from the increasing number of high-level visits from both sides, where new areas of cooperation aregetting added regularly. Today, the bilateral trade between the two has increased from $34 billion in 2009 to $69 billion in 2019, underpinning the growth of the India-Africa economic partnership. [42] And as per IMC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the number is expected to reach $100 billion within a few years. [43]Today, with bilateral trade of approximately US$ 89.5 billion, India is Africa's 3rd largest trading partner. [44] And cumulative investments from 1996-2021 touching $73.9 billion, India is currently the 5th largest investor in Africa. [45]

Trade, commerce and economic development, all hinge on peace and stability. Therefore, India-Africa's strategic partnership needs to incorporate defence cooperation as the priority. Indeed, military diplomacy between India and Africa is a long-term strategic need for both continents. Prime Minister Modi echoed this sentiment in his historic speech to the Ugandan Parliament. In that speech, PM Modi reiterated the importance of India's role in combatting terrorism, peacekeeping and cyber security in Africa.

In the face of China's aggressive efforts to expand its military footprint in Africa, which is focussed on resource extraction and protecting its own strategic assets, India's model of defence and security cooperation, which focuses on African counterpart empowerment through training, capacity building, and humanitarian assistance, has emerged as more organic and need-based. In humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) efforts, India's maritime capabilities have emerged as the "new frontier."Compared to traditional security partners of Africa, India offers a huge competitive cost advantage. The Indian Army is the second largest in the world and must work in the defence sector in Africa with the same vigour as the USA and China. Going forward, the onus lies on both India and Africa to make the best use of these opportunities toward mutually beneficial outcomes.

Endnotes :

[1]Ministry of External Affairs.” India Ethiopia relations”. 2012.
[2] “Nigeria's new president was trained in India”. Deccan Herald. April 3, 2015.
[3]Ministry of External Affairs.“UN Peacekeeping: India’s Contributions”. November 8, 2019.
[4]Ministry of External Affairs.“Address by External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar at the Launch of Book: India-Africa Relations: Changing Horizons”. May 17, 2022.
[5] “India, Africa and the future of peacekeeping - Part I”. Africa Portal. May 28, 2019.
[6] “United Nations Peacekeeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-01)”. PIB. July 25, 2016.
[7] “India-Africa brainstorm to add strategic heft to growing partnership”. The Economic Times. September 8, 2019.
[8] “India pitches as reliable defence supplier to Africa.” The economic Times. February, 6, 2020.
[9] “Hailed as ‘role models,’ all-female Indian police unit departs UN mission in Liberia”. UN News. February 12, 2016.
[10]Ministry of Defence. “Opening ceremony: Africa-India Field Training Exercise-2019”. PIB. March 18, 2019.
[11]Upadhay Shishir. “Cyclone Idai and India’s Role as a New Security Provider”. March 26, 2019.
[12]Ministry of External Affairs. “1st India-Africa Defence Ministers Conclave 2020, Lucknow”. February 6, 2020.
[13] “India–Africa Defence Dialogue to be held biennially at every DefExpo”. Adda 247, September 15, 2021.

[14]Ministry of Defence.“India–Africa Defence Dialogue to be held alongside every DefExpo”. September 13, 2021.
[15] “IBSAMAR VI: India, Brazil & SA Navies train to build interoperability”. Financial Express. October 2, 2018.
[16]Embassy of France. “Third phase of Varuna bilateral exercise” April 21, 2022.
[17] “INS Satavahana trains officers of South African Navy”. Zee News. October 12, 2005.
[18] “Naval exercise MILAN concludes in Visakhapatnam”. The Hindu. March 5, 2022.
[19] “Insa sends SOS to GoI to help Deal with piracy menace in gulf of guinea”. The Week. February 3, 2021.
[20] “An attack on a military base in Somalia shows al-Shabab's deadly power”. Washington Post. July 17, 2022.
[21] “Mozambique: EU Approves €89 Million for Fight Against Terrorism”. All Africa. July 28, 2022.
[22] “What is the Allied Democratic Forces armed group?” Al Jazeera. November 20, 2021.
[23] “Islamic State claims responsibility for eastern Congo jail break”. Reuters. February 5, 2022.
[24] “Communique of the 1055th meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) held at Ministerial level on 14 December 2021 on the theme: Interdependence between Peace, Security and Development”. Relief Web. December 16, 2021.
[25] “Show gratitude to India, Mauritius PM tells oppn as Agalega Island row adds to snooping fire”. The Print. January 20, 2022.
[26] “India, Philippines ink $ 375 million deal for BrahMos missiles”. The Economic Times. January 29, 2022.
[27] “After BrahMos deal, Philippines wants to buy advanced light helicopters from India”. The Federal. July 17, 2022.
[28] “Hitting The Bullseye! BrahMos Looks To Outdo US Harpoon Missiles To Win Lucrative ASEAN, M.East Deals”. August 2, 2022.
[29] “India’s defence exports touch Rs 13,000 cr, private sector leads way with aerospace manufacturing”. The Print. July 8, 2022.
[30] “Visible, credible and responsive presence: Rajnath on Navy in Indian Ocean”. Business Standard. April 29, 2022.
[31]Ministry of External Affairs. “India: Providing for Peace in Africa”. October 25, 2015.
[32] “India pledges $1 million to UN-backed mission to Mali”. The Mint. 31 January, 2013.
[33]Admiral Arun Prakash retd.“Shipbuilding is our maritime sector’s ‘missed opportunity’. It needs its own ministry”. July 23, 2021.
[34] “Beating Retreat: India 4th country to achieve this feat, says Jitendra Singh as 1,000 drones set to light up sky”. The Times of India. January 29, 2022.
[35] “India deploys drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines”. World Health Organisation. October 29, 2021.,and%20Andamans%20and%20Nicobar%20Islands.
[36] “Nigerian DRDB and Indian DRDO sign MoU to produce IED detectors”. Counter-IED Report. November 23, 2019.
[37] “Ashok Leyland And Tata Motors Equip African Armies With Heavy Military-Grade Vehicles”. Intelligent Briefs. September 23, 2015.

[38] “Indian Companies Stake Claim to African Vehicle Market”. Hinduja Group. September 2015.
[39] “Army of Tanzania has received 591 military vehicles from India including Ashok Leyland trucks. Army Recognition. August 21, 2013.
[40] “Made-in-India vehicles for U.N. mission in Mali”. Tata Motors. August 17, 2015.
[41]HHS Viswanathan and Abhishek Mishra, “The Ten Guiding Principles for India-Africa Engagement: Finding Coherence in India’s Africa Policy”, ORF Occasional Paper No. 200, July 2019, Observer Research Foundation.
[42] “African Union, with 8.52% of global trade, is India's fourth largest trading partner”. Business Today. June 11, 2022.
[43] “Great untapped potential for trade between India, Africa: IMC Chamber of Commerce”. The Economic Times. November 7, 2020.
[44] “India is now Africa’s third largest trading partner”. Bilaterals. July 10, 2021.
[45]Ministry of External Affairs. “Address by External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar at the 17th CII-EXIM Bank Conclave on India-Africa Growth Partnership”. July 19, 2022.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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