The first India-Africa Defence Ministers’ Conclave was held in Lucknow in conjunction with ‘DEFEXPO INDIA’. It was a major initiative by India to enhance defence cooperation with countries in the African continent. It also provided India a platform to create fresh opportunities for exporting India made equipment to African continent in keeping with long standing defence partnership since the 1950s. Over 154 delegates from Africa including Defence Ministers from 14 African countries, Members of Parliament, 19 Defence and Service Chiefs and 8 Permanent Secretaries from African countries participated in this Conclave attesting to the high priority accorded to India-Africa engagement in defence and security.
Peace and security are currently a key priority for the African countries. “Silencing Guns: Creating conducive conditions for African Development” is African Union’s theme of the year. The African Union’s road map for attaining this vision acknowledges the linkage between peace, security and development. This matches with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region).
Defence and security engagement has been a part of India-Africa ties for several decades. It may be recalled that in the post-colonial Africa, India had assisted to set up military academy in Ethiopia, Defence college and Naval war college in Nigeria besides setting up Air Force in Ghana and training military personnel in number of African countries. India has also contributed to peace in the African continent through active participation in the UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO).
During the conclave, African Nations acknowledged the strides made by India in the field of defence production and urged wider defence and counter-terror ties with India amid growing challenges. Recognising the importance of the oceans and seas to the livelihood of people, the conclave sought to increase cooperation in maritime domain. India has also promised to make available defence equipment and supply to African countries through its robust India-Africa development partnership. This effort will be considerably enhanced in line with Prime Minister’s vision for defence cooperation and with his 10 guiding principles for enhancing India-Africa engagement. Conflicts continue to spread in parts of the Horn of Africa, North Africa, West Africa, the Sahel and the Great Lakes region. There are a large number of terror groups including Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) operating in that continent. Maritime challenges such as piracy, armed robbery, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, smuggling, human and drug trafficking also have long troubled the Indian Ocean littoral countries in Africa.
To tackle the growing maritime insecurity in the region, the African Union has adopted a pan-African maritime strategy, known as ‘2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime (AIM) Strategy’. This strategy is unique as it calls for both reduction of traditional maritime challenges and also sustainable development of the African ‘blue’ economy.
Remarkably, India’s increasing engagement with the diverse continent is not akin to interests of Africa’s other external partners. India’s engagement in Africa is totally inclusive and based on African priorities. It is worth mentioning that in the conclave, India has been highly appreciated for its non-exploitative approach to the relationship. Recently, one of India’s neighbouring countries has faced severe criticism due to its debt-trap diplomacy for taking over Djibouti’s Doraleh Port.
India has a robust maritime security cooperation with Indian Ocean littoral states in Africa. India has deployed its navy for anti-piracy patrolling, surveillance and humanitarian and disaster relief operations on request from African countries across the Indian Ocean region. The military to military ties are being expanding as India is seeking to emerge as a net security provider in Africa amid common challenges from terrorism and piracy. With this aim New Delhi is also focusing on increasing joint military exercises with the African nations.
The brain-storming sessions of the Conclave resulted in a greater understanding of mutual concerns and priorities. It is hoped that India-Africa development partnership will be enhanced meaningfully in the coming days. India’s partnership with Africa is transparent as it stands on the principle of equality.
Script: Uttam Kumar Biswas, Defence Analyst