Article by Mr. Purushendra Singh
This year’s Defexpo was 12th in the edition of occurrence but still the most unique! Unique as only made-in-India products were up for display. The rhetoric of Atma Nirbhar or self-reliance was widely witnessed across the length and breadth of the expo with over 1300 exhibitors and over 30 ministerial-level dignitaries from around the globe turning up to witness as India moves towards becoming a major exporter. Atmanirbhar Bharat is fueling defence exports, but that is just a part of the bigger picture which would not be put in perspective without the south-south cooperation led by forging India-Africa relations.
Combined with our ‘Jagat Guru’ title for vaccine diplomacy and providing relief to the African nations during the past two years of the pandemic, India’s bid to co-develop and co-manufacture enhances the south-south cooperation, enhances the stature and strengthens deep trust.
The Day Has Come When Africa Writes Its Own History
As India and Africa break the shackles of colonialism’s dark past and become the architects of a prosperous and secure future, co-developing and co-producing in the defence sector could prove to be a catalyst. Thus, delivering the keynote address at the event, the Defence Minister of India iterated that “African priorities are our priorities”. That set the tone for the 12th Defexpo. In his speech, paying tribute and mentioning freedom fighters from Africa – Jomo Kenyata, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Sam Nujoma, Patrice Lumumba – he went on to mention that India and Africa share a multi-faceted defence and security cooperation.
It was in 1960 when India got engaged with the peacekeeping mission in the African country of Congo, the revolutionary leader, Patrice Lumumba said “The day will come when history will speak, Africa will write its own history”, indeed the day has come! Africa has a sweet spot in India’s foreign policy as this was widely visible during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Uganda in 2018 where in a speech, he mentioned that “African priorities are Indian priorities”. This was reflected in the first edition of the IADD held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in 2020 as well.
Thus, this defence partnership is embedded with shared values, principles of quality, and commitment to peace, security, stability and prosperity, and is driven by common aspirations and admiration for standing up against the piracy, terrorism and duped policies of other countries. For instance, safeguarding maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region is a combined responsibility of India and Africa and they should get ready to face future conflicts and challenges by joining forces for co-developing and co-manufacturing cutting-edge emerging technologies in the security sector.
Here, it is important to mention that a defence manufacturing ecosystem has been created in India and is widely recognised in various government policies and initiatives. Africa and India, with the added advantage of the abundance of technical, skilled and semi-skilled labour, should work together to fulfil the continent’s defence requirements.
Forging public-private partnerships, including Indian defence industries working with their African counterparts, will have a positive snowball effect. With the emergence of the defence-industrial complex, other manufacturing hubs would bring in investments, particularly in new critical technologies. This could answer a large looming worry, the staggeringly high unemployment rate and scarcity of jobs.
Time for Maritime Strategic Alliance
The defence partnership is embedded in shared values, principles of quality and commitment to peace, security, stability and prosperity. This was widely visible during my visit to this year’s Defexpo.
India’s partnership with Africa is centred on the 10 guiding principles as articulated by the Indian Prime Minister in 2018. It is based on a robust framework of SAGAR (Security And Growth for All in the Region). This year’s theme was adapting strategies for energising and strengthening defence and security cooperation and finding new areas of convergence in defence such as building capacity, training, cyber-security, maritime security and counter-terrorism and cooperation in outer space and developing new age weapons essential for robust space diplomacy.
This year’s Defexpo was unique as it showcased only Made-in-India products. Having witnessed them from close, I would say – India is “walking the talk”. Despite no countries being provided separate display pavilions at the exhibition this time, African nations were specially invited. This proves that Africa holds a special place and a sweet spot in India’s foreign policy. There has been an increase in joint naval exercises, maritime cooperation and large scale of training has taken place, in particular the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)
Our defence relationship should meet the same fate and receive the same respect as the Mandela-Gandhi relations. The world is eyeing the dark continent for its rare earths, minerals and oil. China making deep in-roads but its debt trap policy is taking a hit now, Africa is rebuffing the Europeans and their dark past, and has opened with India and India should reciprocate their trust with respect and same admiration. The defence relations usher into a new age with redefined commitment towards co-developing and co-manufacturing.