The global order is currently undergoing major geopolitical churns characterised by great-power realignment and recalibration of relations among major middle powers. Being two important growth poles of the ‘Global South’, any development in India and Africa’s ties always tends to pique the interest of policymakers. While it could be argued that India and Africa are yet to realise the true potential of their partnership, the political will to augment and elevate their relationship from both sides is clearly visible.
Over the last few years, India has been consistently attempting to cultivate closer ties with African countries in the domain of defence and security. What was primarily limited to joint patrolling of African waters for ensuring the safety of Indian ships and seafarers and the participation of Indian forces in various United Nations Peacekeeping Missions in Africa, has now diversified and become more broad-based. In addition to India’s traditional focus on training and capacity building, issues such as counterterrorism, extremism, prevention of money laundering, transnational crimes and working for free and open oceans, have come to the forefront. Four reasons explain this increase in outreach.
The global security environment has been rapidly transforming with the emergence of new forms of transnational organised crimes and maritime-blue crimes. Combatting such threats and ensuring security requires a joint, collaborative effort between India and its African partners. Secondly, both India and Africa understand and recognise that peace, security, and development are interlinked. Without one, the other cannot be achieved. Thirdly, both sides acknowledge that the scourge of terrorism has a profound effect on a country’s ability to achieve economic development and ensure social stability. Both have been victims of terrorism and radical extremism
from outfits such as Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, and Jaish-e-Mohammad, among others. Subsequently, rooting out terrorism in all its form and manifestations, eliminating financial channels (hawala system), and halting cross-border movement of fringe elements, has become a priority.
The global security environment has been rapidly transforming with the emergence of new forms of transnational organised crimes and maritime-blue crimes.
Finally, India is well-aware of the China challenge in Africa. Many African countries use Chinese arms and military equipment which Beijing sells by using enticements like below-market prices and favourable financing. To a large extent, China has been able to carve out its own segment in the African market
, particularly when it comes to promoting its own weapons systems and drones as possible alternatives to some Western country systems.
Given such developments, it is understandable that India does not want to be left behind. Despite our geographical proximity, political support, and a rich tradition of military training and engagement, India and Africa’s journey can be categorised as one of the missed opportunities. However, recent concerted efforts in the form of new initiatives and platforms institutionalised by India point towards a willingness to become Africa’s partner of choice and preferred security partner.
One such initiative is the Africa-India Field Training Exercise (AF-INDEX) which aims not only “to promote a collaborative approach in capacity enhancement of African armies”, but also to project the efficacy of Indian indigenous and new-generation military equipment to the troops of participating African nations. The second edition of AF-INDEX
is currently underway in Pune from 21-29 March which witnessed the participation of military contingents from 24 African nations, with the inaugural edition being held back in 2019. Essentially, the objective of such an exercise is to share Indian experience in the management of security crises and enable the participating African contingents to hone their tactical skills in joint operations for UN Peacekeeping and humanitarian mine actions. Regular exercises like this will help to improve interoperability and cohesive operational ability and create better synergies between Indian and African armies. The current edition of the AF-INDEX aims to promote the idea of Africa-India Militaries for Regional Unity (AMRUT) which aligns with the objectives of Africa’s Agenda 2063
and continental initiatives like the African Union’s Silence the Guns
by 2030 initiative which aims at conflict prevention, management, and resolution.
The second edition of AF-INDEX is currently underway in Pune from 21-29 March which witnessed the participation of military contingents from 24 African nations, with the inaugural edition being held back in 2019.
The other important development is the establishment of the India-Africa Defence Ministers (IADMC) and Chief’s Conclave
. This dialogue has been institutionalised to be held biennially during successive DefExpos and gives an opportunity for Indian and African armed service personnel to explore opportunities for joint ventures and investments in defence equipment software, cyber security, maritime security, counterterrorism, and provisioning of defence equipment, spares and their maintenance. A by-product of such collaboration can be understood if we take a look at what India is doing in Tanzania, a close partner across the Indian Ocean. In May 2022, the Indian High Commission in Dar-es-Salaam organised a mini DefExpo
where a number of government and private sector companies participated to explore opportunities in the defence industry. Both countries have even agreed to set up a joint task force
to prepare a five-year roadmap for enhancing bilateral defence cooperation. Such collaborative efforts should act as a template for India and other partners like Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, etc. to replicate and follow.
In the maritime domain as well, Indo-African cooperation has been progressing rapidly. The Indian Navy has increasingly come on its own as a security provider in the IOR and its role as a protector of international norms and order and a ‘net security provider’ in the IOR has been growing. The concept of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) encapsulates India’s vision for the IOR as per which India seeks to partner with IOR littorals and uphold a climate of trust and transparency, demonstrate sensitivity to each other’s interests, and work towards a peaceful resolution of maritime security issues.
Apart from regularly providing training to African naval officers, coast guard and marine police personnel in Indian institutes, conducting hydrographic surveys and maritime surveillance missions, India is engaging in new forms of trilateral partnership with African nations. In October 2022, the navies of India, Mozambique and Tanzania conducted their maiden joint maritime exercise dubbed as IMT TRILAT
. The purpose of the exercise was to provide training and share best practices, improve interoperability, and strengthen maritime cooperation between the three nations. However, India must ensure that such exercises do not end up being simply ad-hoc measures but are regularly conducted in the future. The Indian Navy also participated in both the 2021 and 2023 editions of Exercise Cutlass Express
, held in the East coast of Africa and the Gulf region, respectively. This exercise is conducted by the US Naval Forces Africa and aims to promote national and regional maritime security in this region, which is broadly known as the Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR).
The Indian Navy also participated in both the 2021 and 2023 editions of Exercise Cutlass Express, held in the East coast of Africa and the Gulf region, respectively.
Another important development is the growing India-France bonhomie in the African waters. Both have similar geopolitical and maritime interests and have conducted coordinated and joint surveillance missions and ocean mapping operations in the WIOR. In the last year alone, the Indian Navy’s maritime reconnaissance patrol aircraft Boeing P-8I and French Navy’s Falcon M50 conducted three joint surveillance missions
(March, May, and November 2022) off Réunion Island and the Mozambique Channel. In addition, the Indian Ocean Region-Information Fusion Centre (IFC-IOR), based in Gurugram, and the Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC) based in Seychelles signed an MoU in February 2023
to enhance information sharing and maritime domain awareness (MDA) in the IOR. India also has access to eight Coastal Surveillance Radar (CSR) Stations across Mauritius with a range of 50 kilometres that feeds information into the IF-IOR. There are five systems installed in Mauritius’ main island and one each in Rodrigues, Saint Brandon and Agalega islands. In Seychelles, India has access to six CSR systems – two in Assumption island and one each in Astove, Alphonse, Farquhar, and Mahe.
Next edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit?
While these new initiatives, platforms, and exercises attest to the growing synergy in Indo-African defence and security partnership, the true potential continues to remain untapped
. The fact that it’s been over seven years since the last edition of the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) was held way back in 2015 in New Delhi points towards a lack of continuity in our engagement. The problem gets compounded given the fact that Africa’s other international partners like China, Japan, Europe, US, and even Russia, have hosted their respective forum summits within this period. Although the fourth edition of the IAFS which was slated to be held in 2020, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, other countries went ahead and held hybrid summits with African leaders in the last couple of years. India could have done the same, but it makes sense to hold a large summit of this nature physically.
It is useful to point out that symbolism, through personal visits, and sustainability in relations, through frequent interactions, matters for African countries and their leaders. If India wants to uphold the trust, goodwill and image of a responsible world power it has garnered over the decades in Africa, it must hold the fourth edition of IAFS at the earliest feasible date.
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