Global Insecurity and Evolving India-Africa Defence Cooperation

By Samir Bhattacharya
Article Global Insecurity and Evolving India-Africa Defence Cooperation
NOV 28, 2023 LISTEN

India and Africa have long collaborated on defence matters. As requested by Emperor Haile Selassie, Indian Prime Minister Nehru decided to establish India's first overseas training facility in Africa in 1956. In 1958, the Imperial Military Academy in Harar, Ethiopia, was founded and opened for business. This institution, over time, educated a generation of Ethiopian military officers from several other independent African nations.

India has earned a lot of goodwill in Africa by making special arrangements to train African military personnel at important Indian institutions like the NDA, IMA, DSSC, and NDC. Several African countries have sent army personnel to India for training. Up to six African military leaders, from both present and past, have received their training in India. Muhammadu Buhari, the outgoing president of Nigeria, attended Wellington's Defense Services Staff College in Tamil Nadu.

India has been a part of UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO) since the first mission in the Congo and has taken part in nearly all African missions. Two Indian Missions took part in UNPKO between July 14, 1960, and June 30, 1964, as Congo attempted to send out UN troops to stop secession and reunite the country after Belgian rule ended. India is currently the fourth-largest supplier of soldiers to PKO in Africa. Since gaining its independence, India has sent about 200,000 soldiers and police officers to serve with blue helmets. Currently, 4,483 Indian soldiers are engaged in peacekeeping operations in the following five African countries: Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Congo, and Morocco.

Since 2016, India and the United States have collaborated to build the capacity of African troops for UN peacekeeping operations through the annual UN Peacekeeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-III) programme. As a result, the first United Nations Peacekeeping Course for African Partners (UNPCAP-01) was launched by the Centre for United Nations Peacekeeping in India (CUNPK), New Delhi.

India has established defence academies and colleges in several African nations, including the military academy in Ethiopia, the Naval War College in Nigeria, and the Ghanaian Air Force. India has also dispatched training delegations to many African nations. Together with their counterparts in Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, and Seychelles, these military training units have conducted joint exercises.

An all-female police force from India was deployed to Liberia in 2007 as part of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). In the history of UN peacekeeping, this was the first all-female police unit. They were praised as role models for their nine years of service in Liberia. Their inspiration largely contributed to the increasing number of women soldiers in different security forces.

Africa-India Field Training Exercise-2019 (AFINDEX-19), India's first-ever joint exercise with African nations, occurred in Pune in March 2019. The first iteration of the exercise included participation from 17 African countries in total. The AFINDEX-19 exercise was created to assist participating nations in organising and carrying out peacekeeping and humanitarian mine action (HMA) operations.

India has solidly expanded its maritime security cooperation along with several other coastal African nations, including Mauritius, the Seychelles, and others. India has frequently been the first nation on the scene in HADR (humanitarian aid and disaster relief) crises and is guided by the SAGAR doctrine regarding maritime security. India's humanitarian and disaster relief efforts have been acknowledged and highly praised, including the Indian Navy's prompt assistance and meticulous professionalism during Cyclone IDAI in Mozambique in 2019. The right moment has come to advance this collaboration.

The first India-Africa Defence Ministers' Conference (IADMC) was held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in February 2020 as part of the DefExpo military exhibition. The establishment of the IADMC successfully institutionalised the defence cooperation between the two countries. The Indian government also suggested making the India-Africa Defence Dialogue an official side event to the DefExpo. The biennial gathering is anticipated to hasten the development of existing relations between India and the participating African nations and identify numerous new cooperation areas requiring teamwork.

In March 2022, on the sidelines of DefExpo 2022, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, hosted the second iteration of this defence conversation. Under the theme of "India-Africa: Adopting Strategy for Synergizing and Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation", was attended by fifty African countries, including twenty Defence Ministers, seven CDS/Service Chiefs and eight Permanent Secretaries.

India's maritime cooperation with African nations, particularly those in the East & Southern African region, is also growing. Along with the navies of Brazil and South Africa, the Indian Navy took part in Exercise IBSAMAR-VII in October 2022 in South Africa. During the harbour phase, professional exchanges, such as DC & FF drills, VBSS/cross-boarding lectures, joint diving operations, the interaction between special forces, and cross-deck visits. The sea phase took place on October 12 and included a variety of maritime operations. The debrief and closing ceremony was held onboard the INS Tarkash off Port Gqeberha.

Every two years, the Indian Navy also holds the Milan Exercise. After a four-year hiatus, Milan 2022 was held in March 2022 and featured participation from over 40 nations and 26 ships. Due to the widespread pandemic, many African countries withdrew. However, African nations like Kenya, Mauritius, and Seychelles took part.

The future of India's defence cooperation with Africa

India came a long way from licenced production in 1960 to developing the fifth generation of weapons. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership, India has strongly emphasised defence manufacturing over the past eight years. Rajnath Singh, the Indian defence minister, gave two rapid interceptor boats to the Mozambican Navy during his 2019 visit.

Africa may benefit the most from these native Indian products as it works to reduce its reliance on traditional western allies for security. India can impart this knowledge to Africa as well. In particular, with air defence, air-to-air missile systems, and strategic weapon systems, the Indian industry can efficiently meet Africa's needs. India also provides financial support for the goal of a peaceful Africa. India supported AMISOM in Somalia in 2011 to the tune of $2 million. A similar $1 million in support was given to the UN mission in Mali in the previous year.

According to international standards, the Indian Air Force has produced some helicopters for African war and rescue operations. For example, most African nations could benefit significantly from the Dornier aircraft produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. India is the fourth nation to launch 1,000 drones simultaneously, following the United Kingdom, Russia, and China. India used indigenously developed drones to deliver covid-19 vaccines in many rural areas with poor connectivity, particularly in North-Eastern India.

India will be eager to share its military might and technological know-how with its African counterparts because it adheres to the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (all is our family) and SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in The Region) ideologies. The Indian defence industry is also open to joint ventures in African nations. An MoU for cooperation in defence R&D has already been signed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India, and the Defence Research and Development Bureau (DRDB), Nigeria. Soon, more African nations are anticipated to join the DRDO initiative.

Both India and Africa are becoming increasingly concerned about cyber security. Africa is embracing new technologies more widely thanks to the exponential rise in the ownership of mobile smart devices and the increased use of social media. Although this technological development is anticipated to aid in the development of the continent, it will also expose millions of uneducated and underprivileged Africans to the dangers and vulnerabilities that go along with them. India has a sophisticated cyber security infrastructure, a dedicated National Cyber Security, and a functional nodal organisation under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) called Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In).

Most commercial activities now take place online since the coronavirus. Many African nations are now eager to work with India and gain access to its knowledge of the digital network. With India, many countries, including Egypt, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Seychelles, and South Africa, already have a framework for cyber security cooperation. India is ready to help other African nations combat cyber threats and establish future cyber security technology collaboration.

India's defence and security cooperation model has emerged as more natural and need-based in contrast to China's aggressive efforts to increase its military presence in Africa, focusing on resource extraction and safeguarding its strategic assets. This model emphasises African counterpart empowerment through training, capacity building, and humanitarian assistance. India's maritime capabilities have become the "new frontier" in efforts to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR). India has a significant cost advantage over Africa's traditional security partners. The second-largest army in the world must work as hard in the African defence industry as the United States and China. As we advance, it is up to India and Africa to make the most of these opportunities to achieve win-win results.

Samir Bhattacharya
The author is Senior Research Associate with the Vivekananda International Foundation. The views expressed are personal.