India-Africa Defence Relations can be represented by this quote-

“We fought against colonial rule together. Let us fight for mutual prosperity together.”

President Museveni at the 3rd India Africa Forum Summit in 2015

The African continent has a vast coastline with 38 of its 55 countries being either coastal or island nations. Its maritime environment is globally significant, as huge amount of international shipping passes through its maritime zones. Therefore, the security of Africa’s vital shipping lane is crucial for all countries including India. 

Piracy in the region has substantially been repressed if not eradicated view deployment of maritime forces from several nations, however political instability in the main land has led to spill of maritime crime in the region, consequentially affecting the smooth progress of international maritime trade. Recently, most African countries have realised the importance of maritime security to bolster national development, however most of them are in nascent stage towards developing military infrastructure and assets to ensure security of their maritime zones, so as to reduce dependence on external forces. 

The frequent incidents of piracy in past off the East African coast in Gulf of Aden and off West African coast in Gulf of Guinea has brought the issue of African maritime security to the world’s attention. But, unlike the relationships built with political and economic interests, India’s involvement and enthusiasm stems from a common concern – India, like Africa, has a vast coastline and a huge population that depends entirely on seas for their livelihood. The increasing rate of maritime crimes like illicit fishing and maritime smuggling in the East Coast of Africa, not only threatens the safety of this maritime population but also affects the Indian trade & fishing in the region. 

With this in mind, the Indian government since 2008 has deployed various Indian Navy including Coast Guard ships to extend assistance to any ship/mariner in need along the 490 nautical mile long Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor. And now with the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) Initiative and the India Africa Defence Dialogues (IADD), the Indian government aims to promote trade, trust, transparency and cooperation in the maritime domain, with the African countries.

But before we discuss India’s vision of SAGAR and the Indian Navy including Coast Guard’s role in the execution of this initiative, lets apprise ourselves with the historical linkages between India and Africa. 

A Quick Look At India – Africa Maritime Cooperations

The historical links between India and African nations dates back to the Indus Valley civilization, however it was during the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty that direct trade with India through the maritime domain was established. Using the Red Sea and the monsoon winds for navigation, the Greek administration established a 400-year long period of bilateral trade with Indian states. In fact, the evidence of this relation is reflected in the architecture of various African nations till today. 

During the medieval period as the trade routes were discovered and developed, diplomatic ties between India and African nations further strengthened.

  • The Smithsonian Magazine cites a story of Kenya’s Malindi traders bringing tributes of giraffes for the Bengal sultan.
  • The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama also records the presence of Hindu traders in the south eastern African coast of Mozambique. 

Apart from this, there are also number of stories of Africans who in India rose to significant positions in the courts of Mughal Kings and Sultan of Hyderabad. In fact India and Pakistan’s ethnic group called Siddi (also known as the Sheedi, Sidi, or Siddhi) are originally the descendants of the Bantu of the Zanj coast in Southeast Africa and Ethiopia. 

Present Status: India – Africa Relations 

“Africa will be at the top of our priorities. We will continue to intensify and deepen our engagement with Africa.”

Prime Minister Modi in Uganda on July 25th 2018

With an Indian diaspora of over 3 million in Africa, it is crucial for India and Africa to further their strategic relationship and revive the glorious historical ties. Today, approximately 8% of Indian imports are from Africa and approximately 9% of Africa’s imports are from India. India has been constantly hosting diplomats and ministerial representatives to strengthening trade and investment with African countries.

Interestingly, it is not just the investments or the loans that have strengthened India and Africa’s relations in the 21st century. The India’s support in developing democratic practices, processes, institutions and people to people engagement in Africa has been significant ingredients towards strong bonding. Additional areas of cooperation that are being focussed by Indian authorities to accelerate growth of African countries are in the fields of training and skill development, IT, ITES, education and healthcare services. 

India and Africa Defence Relations – Reinforcing Maritime Strategy

“We will work with African nations to keep the oceans open and free for the benefit of all nations. The world needs cooperation and competition in the eastern shores of Africa and the eastern Indian Ocean.”

Prime Minister Modi in Uganda on July 25th 2018

The outcome of the 2nd India Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) that was conducted during the 2022 Defence Expo was the Gandhinagar Declaration that aimed to give a boost to defence cooperation in training, maritime cooperation, countering terrorism and transfer of defence equipment. One of the most important aspects of this Declaration was ‘maritime engagement’. 

India and Africa Defence Dialogue

The IADD identified maritime security an important concern. The African nations on numerous forums have expressed their concerns about the security challenges that their coastal nations face – like piracy, maritime terrorism, Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, trafficking and natural calamities.

Stepping up Maritime Engagements

The Indian Navy has played a crucial role in fostering maritime cooperation, undertaking anti-piracy operations, professional interactions and expanding defense partnerships with African countries. Considerable efforts have been made to strengthen relationships and promote security, diplomacy, and cooperation between the two regions. In fact, Indian Navy was one of the first respondents when the African nations were struck with the Covid–19 pandemic. Under the Vaccine Maitri initiative, Indian Navy ensured supply of about 25 million doses to 42 countries in Africa. And again, when Cyclone Idai ravaged Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March 2022, the Indian Naval ships were at the front providing medical aid, logistics support and conducting search & rescue operations all along the affected African continent.

india-africa maritime engagement

Over the last four months there have been 16 port visits to 8 East African countries. The Indian Navy has been actively engaging with countries on the East coast of Africa, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles.

Joint Maritime Exercises

Indian Navy has conducted joint maritime exercises and coordinated patrols with the navies of Mozambique, Seychelles, and Mauritius to combat piracy, smuggling, and illicit trafficking in the Indian Ocean region.

Capacity Building and Training

The Indian maritime forces especially the Indian Navy regularly conducts training programs for African naval personnel ranging from basic training at the Indian Naval Academy to specialised training in various training schools. Such training not only equips them with the skills necessary to address emerging security challenges effectively but also strengthens the maritime security architecture in the region. The Indian Navy has also been actively working with African navies to enhance their Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) capabilities, including the exchange of information on maritime threats, piracy, and illicit trafficking, thus nurturing a common understanding of the maritime security environment.

india and africa defence relations

“Just as India and Africa fought colonial rule together, we will work together for a just, representative and democratic global order that has a voice and a role for one-third of humanity that lives in Africa and India.”

Prime Minister Modi in Uganda on July 25th 2018

India’s SAGAR, Ten Guiding Principles, Africa’s 2020 AIM Strategy and a continued effort for India and Africa defence relations are a good start to rekindle historic relations for promoting regional ties which will definitely help in shaping a prosperous and secure future for African countries and India in the realm of economic growth, strategic relations and socio-cultural enhancement.

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