African countries must overcome their sea blindness to tackle maritime threats and develop a marine economy worth up to a trillion dollars a year.
Thirty-eight African countries have a combined coastline of more than 26 000 nautical miles (47 000 km). More than 90% of Africa’s trade is seaborne, fishing contributes to food security for more than 200 million Africans, and vast oil and gas potential lies off the coast. Yet this ‘blue economy’ is underdeveloped and threatened; and African states lack the ability to monitor and secure their waters.
‘Africa has a strategy to protect and benefit from its oceans; now it needs political will and committed resources to make it happen,’ Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Timothy Walker told a conference on implementing Africa’s maritime security strategies.
The high-level event, organised by UK policy forum Wilton Park and the ISS, gathered researchers, diplomats and naval leaders from 21 countries and international organisations.
‘Africa’s seas should contribute to economic and environmental security, but are too often a story of stolen resources, drowning refugees and missed opportunities,’ said Walker.
Piracy remains a threat, while drug smuggling and illegal fishing are increasing. Additional threats come from boundary disputes, conflict over resources, smuggling and human trafficking. Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa approximately US$1 billion a year. Thousands of tons of hazardous waste are dumped at sea.
Africa has more than 100 ports, many operating below capacity. African-owned ships account for less than 1,2% of the world’s shipping.
‘Much of Africa lacks a maritime culture and is blind to the oceans’ importance to its development. More often than not it leaves others to profit from its rich marine resources,’ said ISS senior researcher Barthelemy Blede.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063 sees the marine economy as a major contributor to growth, and Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy 2050 (AIMS 2050) recognises the vast wealth creation potential of Africa’s oceans, lakes and rivers.
Adopted in 2014, AIMS 2050 represents an important step towards securing Africa’s maritime interests. It covers fishing, oil & gas, security, piracy, pollution, biodiversity, transport and harbours; and calls for marine education and development of an African ship-building industry.
AIMS 2050 proposes a combined African maritime zone, and prevention of pollution and piracy. It seeks capacity building in marine defence, scientific research, tourism, fisheries, maintenance and building of harbours, and a pan-African fleet.
‘But you can’t protect your fish, stop pirates or build a maritime economy only by waving a strategy,’ Blede said. ‘AIMS 2050 was a vital achievement, but governments must now show political will, identify priorities and start delivering on the maritime strategy.’
Maritime strategies adopted by West African and southern African states are important building blocks towards effective implementation of AIMS 2050. East Africa has a strategy under development.
Maritime threats are transnational so collective action is essential. No single country can secure its maritime domain on its own, Blede said.
The event, from 4-7 May 2015 in South Africa, aimed to promote awareness of African maritime security, and assist its implementation by African governments. The event was supported by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Defence Command Denmark, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oceans Beyond Piracy, and the TK Foundation.
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Wilton Park is a global forum for strategic discussion organising 65 events a year in the UK and overseas, bringing together over 3 000 representatives of 130 countries from the worlds of politics, business, academia, diplomacy, civil society and media. We focus on issues of international security, prosperity and justice, and help advance the global foreign policy agenda by provoking lively debate and encouraging inclusivity. Wilton Park meetings provide a neutral environment where conflicting views can be expressed and debated openly and calmly, allowing acceptable compromise and resolution to be achieved. Discussions are non-attributable to encourage frank exchanges and open dialogue.
The Institute for Security Studies is an African organisation that aims to enhance human security on the continent. It does independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance.
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