With the fear of conflicts spilling over to other countries, several in the African continent are looking to amp up security with an overall increase in the region’s defence budget. SIPRI’s Military Expenditure reports show that Africa totalled $51.6 billion in 2023—22 percent higher than in 2022.

While 24 percent of African imports of major arms came from Russia, the USA stood at 16 percent in 2023, SIPRI’s Trends in International Arms Transfers report showed. China was the third largest supplier to Africa in 2019–2023 with 13 percent.

Regarding Indian industries’ efforts to establish a market for defence equipment in Africa, an Indian Ministry of Defence official said: “The African countries, with prolonged unrest in the region, need to secure themselves. India is keen on selling indigenous defence equipment to countries showing interest in our weapon systems. However, as a matter of policy, the country does not sell its weapon systems to two warring countries who may be friendly with India. India’s intention of doing business is not at the cost of increasing violence in the region.”

As part of the Indian defence industry’s outreach, Indian companies have been engaging with the African market by tying up with local industries to explore the market. Companies such as Zen Technologies, Larsen & Toubro and the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited are at the forefront of this.

Before the appointment of the new DAs, India only had five defence wings in Africa — in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt — looking after 13 countries in the region.

Defence wings are part of the Indian embassy in every country, headed by a defence attaché.

India has had active defence cooperation with several African countries for decades. But the focus has largely been on East Africa due to its proximity to the country, with experts even terming the region an “extended neighbourhood” for India due to centuries-old coast-to-coast exchanges.

In the last decade, India has gifted as well as sold defence equipment to African countries such as Mauritius, Mozambique and Seychelles. This equipment includes the Coastal Radar System (CRS), Survey Motor Boats (SMB), Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs) and Waterjet Fast Patrol (WFP) vessels.

Over the years, India has also sent training teams to African countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Namibia, Kenya and Mauritius. These training teams are meant to train soldiers to be proficient in various soldiering techniques such as infantry tactics, artillery, signals, engineering, logistics, peacekeeping operations or an overall training in the case of the Army.

India’s Navy and Air Force also send their teams to these countries.

Strategically, East Africa remains vital for security given the passage of huge global maritime trade through the western Indian Ocean. While the Navy has had regular interactions with East Africa, it has lately also started engaging with West African nations.

Over the years, the Navy has undertaken hydrographic surveys in African countries such as Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Tanzania.

Defence Trade With Africa

While India’s efforts for defence engagement with Africa have gone up in recent times, China has already made inroads in the region. One of the reasons for the country’s success in defence outreach to Africa today has been a result of its foreign policy since 1947.

Several African countries procured Chinese weapons systems as early as 1992. Armoured fighting vehicles, rifles, howitzers, helicopters, warplanes, artillery and aircraft are among the major equipment sold to several African countries.

In its report ‘China’s arms exports to Sub-Saharan Africa’, published in 2021, the French defence ministry said that between 2016 and 2020, China was the second-biggest supplier of arms to Sub-Saharan Africa — a region where, according to SIPRI’s Armed Conflicts data, there are high-intensity armed conflicts in 12 of 49 countries.

In addition, according to China Aid Data, the country has extended loans totalling $326.1 billion to Africa and, in 2017, even established a military base in the tiny African country of Djibouti.

India is now trying to catch up with China in expanding its influence over the resource-rich continent — according to Bloomberg’s 2023 interview with Harsha Bangari, the managing director of India’s Export Import Bank (EXIM), Africa has become the second-largest recipient of credit from the country. Bangari also said that India had extended 195 credit lines across Africa, three times the number it had within its own region over the last decade.

In the past few years, however, Chinese defence equipment has faced roadblocks due to poor quality, with its arms exports declining across the world — including Africa.

“In the case of India, the country is making the exact opposite pitch for the sale of indigenous defence equipment, which is affordable and adaptable, in the African market,” Abhishek Mishra, associate fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), said.

India’s Forays Into African Market And The Road Ahead

Even though Indian companies have been engaging with certain countries for decades, Indian defence industry outreach remains limited. However, declining Chinese defence exports could mean an opportunity for India to present itself as an alternative.

The key to this could be delivery time. According to experts, quick delivery, even for bigger items of defence equipment, is one of the reasons Chinese arms have been able to make a mark in Africa despite being substandard.


India has been trying to make inroads with indigenous equipment, with several major deals have yet to be sealed.

One such deal that India is eyeing is the sale of 35 Light Combat Aircraft Tejas to Egypt. Similarly, India is also looking to seal a $1 billion deal with Nigeria to upgrade its military-industrial complex and enable defence cooperation the country’s Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON).

Meanwhile, HAL is also exploring business opportunities in various regions in Africa and, as its export strategy, is focusing on certain regions where there is a potential demand for its aircraft.

HAL’s helicopters and Dornier Do-228 aircraft are in use in Namibia, Mauritius and Seychelles. Meanwhile, it has appointed marketing channel partners in African countries for the promotion of its products and services.

“More channel partners are planned to be appointed in the countries based on the leads received. HAL will also establish an office in some parts of Africa but it will be based on various factors and business prospects in such countries,” a source told ThePrint.

Private defence equipment company Zen Technologies has already been selling training equipment to African countries. It supplies various types of simulators such as small arms simulators, tank driving, tank gunnery simulators, firearms training simulators, and mortars integrated training simulators among other items such as anti-drone systems.

The company has also partnered with local companies in Africa to partner to provide support and maintenance for Indian exports.

In Kenya, meanwhile, the Indian defence industry is looking modernise its current equipment — including aerospace items. For this, Indian private companies including MSMEs and start-ups have been pitching to the region.

“One of the major reasons why African countries are looking to diversify in defence is because the continent will emerge soon. With economic growth, the need for greater security is felt increasingly. African countries have realised that the West and Russia were engaging with them in several areas including defence at the cost of their economic development, which is why they may have now turned to diversification” the source said.

There are other instances too. In 2015 Ashok Leyland supplied as many as 1,200 vehicles to six African countries — Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Djibouti, Seychelles and Botswana. It also delivered 633 of 670 troop carriers, buses, transport trucks, water tankers, fuel tankers, fire-tenders, ambulances, and light commercial vehicles to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.

Tanzanian forces already use 679 vehicles supplied by Ashok Leyland as part of a loan agreement with India. Likewise, Tata Motors has delivered 520 military vehicles ordered for at least four African armies taking part in the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali — including ambulances, jeeps, water and fuel tankers, recovery and refrigeration trucks and buses.

In November 2018, the DRDO and Nigeria’s DRDB signed an MoU for collaboration in defence research and development. According to Sameer Bhattacharya, an associate fellow at ORF, more African countries are expected to join this soon.

In 2021, India offered a $100 million line of credit to Mauritius to facilitate procurement of defence assets, and in March 2022, Uganda and India signed an agreement to provide maintenance and technical support for operating Su-30 MK fighter aircraft.

In April 2024, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), along with the MoD and the High Commission of India in Maputo, Mozambique, organised the India-Mozambique Defence Industry Delegation and Exposition.

“As the Ministry of Defence aims for 5 billion dollars of defence export by 2025, Africa will undoubtedly have a large chunk of it,” Bhattacharya said about the Indo-African defence ties. “Going forward, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Seychelles, and South Africa would be India’s top priority for defence export,”

But he believes that despite all of India’s efforts to make a foray into the African market, it still has a long way to go before capturing it.

“India hasn’t exported anything significant to Africa yet,” he said.

(With Agency Inputs)