The importance that India is giving relations to its relations with Africa can be seen in the light of increased official visits that New Delhi is making to various nations in the continent. This diplomatic ‘push’ towards Africa is being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who conducted an official visit of four African nations in 2016, followed up by a state visit that he made to three African nations – Rwanda, Uganda and South Africa – last year.
The prime minister’s visit is now being followed up by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who is making an official visit to Mozambique later this month. “Prominent on the agenda will be maritime security,” said Neena Malhotra, Joint Secretary, East and Southern Africa Division, Minister of External Affairs.
“Piracy, armed robbery at sea and maritime terrorism pose serious threats to the security and economy of the region. Incidents of the hijacking of ships and oil tankers with Indian crew on board have taken place. We are determined to fight it together,” she added. Malhotra, who was speaking at a round table organised for African defence attaches based in the national capital, underscored the importance of the Africa relationship and underlined major steps that were being taken in this regard to build this relationship, especially in the defence sector.
The round table entitled ‘Indian Defence Products and Platforms’ was organised by digital platform bharatshakti.in. It brought defence equipment manufacturers from the public and private sector to speak to these attaches and showcase Indian defence products and capabilities which could be required by their respective nations.
Manufacturers of advanced electronic products for the Indian Armed Forces like Bharat Electronics and Systems4Ever demonstrated their product range whereas body armour manufacturer SMPP Limited, and manufacturer non-chemical repellents for defence use major C-Tech Ltd., also made their presentations. Naval platforms leader, Goa Shipyard and defence training solutions company Zen Technologies, also made presentations at the event.
The importance of the India-Africa defence relationship can be seen in the government’s bid to achieve Rs 35,000 crore worth of military exports by 2025. In this regard, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has drawn up a strategy to woo African nations to opt for ‘Made in India’ products as their priority.
With such ambitious targets to achieve, the government has mandated its defence attaches across the world to showcase Indian capabilities. In this new initiative, defence attaches will be given an annual budget of up to $50,000 each for promoting exports of ‘Made in India’ defence products by participating in exhibitions, conducting market research, organising events and publicity as ‘Team India’ for both public and private sector manufacturers. Such initiatives will only benefit African nations, many of whom are still unfamiliar with Indian defence products.
Unveiling the government’s plan, Sanjay Jaju, Joint Secretary, Department of Defence Production (DIP) said: “In a bid to scale up its defence and security engagements with Africa, India has opened up Lines of Credit for Indian military equipment to African countries.” He added that the Ministry has put in place a plan for the next five years to enhance defence production cooperation with African nations.
India has already invested heavily in Africa. Trade with the continent is currently at US $69 billion making the country the fourth largest trading partner of Africa. India has become the fifth largest investor in Africa with cumulative investments of US $54 billion, generating thousands of jobs for Africans.
Lauding the efforts of staging such an event, the Dean of Defence Attaches of African countries, Staff Colonel Ayman Farouk Taha of Egypt, called upon the Indian industry to conduct market research for visibility of defence-related needs and requirements of African countries before pitching a particular product to them.
Col Taha said that Africa needs different sets of products with small budgets. “We don’t have big budgets for the procurement of defence equipment so therefore I urge the Indian industry to make Africa their manufacturing hub keeping African requirements in mind.” Underlying the role of Line of Credits, the Military Attache said that these concessional loans can be used for procuring defence items to strengthen military ties amongst India and Africa.
India is already doing all it can to respond to Africa’s concerns. Addressing the gathering, Sanjeev Chadha, DDG, Export Promotion Cell, Department of Defence Production stated, “More than 40 per cent of LoCs has been extended to African countries. We are working together with EXIM Bank to streamline our defence assistance to Africa.”
Malhotra agreed and pointed out that India and Africa were already moving towards greater military cooperation. “We have military-to-military cooperation with about 20 African countries. Our military training teams are deployed in Botswana, Ethiopia, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia. We are one of the largest contributors to peace-keeping in Africa, with sizeable contingents currently in the Democratic Republic of Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Somalia and South Sudan which gives us the credentials to scale up our military engagement with the continent.”
The senior bureaucrat went on to say: “Defence ties with Africa are on the ascendant and I urge Africa to let us know your requirements. We will provide platforms, systems and sub-systems to support and cooperate seamlessly for your choice of products or transfer of technology. We can even explore and open co-production opportunities as well.”
While such initiatives are welcome, India has a number of challenges to face regarding the selling of defence equipment to Africa. Many representatives of African countries state that they do not have the budgets to go for expensive modern equipment and thus look for grants rather than a Line of Credit or other soft loans. This remains a major impediment in the procurement of defence-related requirements by them.
While there are no easy solutions to this problem, one possible way forward lies in India increasing investment in the defence industry in African countries. Representatives of African nations at the gathering stated that they were also of the view that Indian defence manufacturers should set up units in the continent to better understand Africa’s concerns and requirements and tap the vast opportunity there. It now remains to be seen as to how India and India’s defence industry manufacturers respond to this call.