It’s time to ride the blue economy

Date: September 15, 2015

Source: Stop Illegal Fishing Blog

TWO recent discussions brought home the potential and missed opportunities of Africa’s maritime environment. A West African admiral said the continent doesn’t really know the sea. “Navies don’t do coups, so governments don’t pay them much attention,” he said.

And a military chief pointed out that even fishermen from his Atlantic island nation build their houses facing away from the sea.

It would seem our colonial legacy forced countries to look inward and neglect their coastlines. And one of the most capable naval powers operating in Africa is France, through its presence in the Indian Ocean.

This neglect is frequently called sea blindness. It has meant massive missed opportunities for a continent surrounded by the Indian and Atlantic oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea, a land mass on which 38 countries have a combined coastline of more than 26,000 nautical miles.

Our lack of a broader maritime culture has too often concealed from African leaders the oceans’ importance to development, a gap filled by others who profit from our rich marine resources in a harmful way.

Africa’s seas should contribute to economic and environmental security, but are too often a story of stolen resources, drowning refugees and missed opportunities.

The consequences are astounding.

Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa about $1bn a year in lost revenue. Somalia-based piracy cost an estimated $7bn in 2011. This was more than the calculable Somalian annual GDP. And it is estimated that 50-60 tonnes of cocaine move through West Africa to Europe annually.

Yet states on all coasts of Africa depend heavily on a secure sea. More than 90% of Africa’s trade is seaborne, fishing contributes to food security for more than 200-million African citizens, and vast oil and gas potential lies off the coast.

Our blue economy is not just underdeveloped; it is threatened too.

Most African countries lack policies for ocean governance. Only five countries in Africa have dedicated coast guards, though many navies effectively conduct coast-guard operations. The lack of extensive maritime air surveillance and satellite imagery make it almost impossible for African countries to effectively monitor their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

The consequences are damaging, from coastal communities to states. They also fuel global security problems.

While piracy around the Horn of Africa is declining, seafarers are still at risk and many remain in captivity. Between 50% and 80% of piracy incidents might be unreported. And the Somali pirates haven’t gone away. They are just doing other illegal business.

Maritime crime is increasing in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea, stretching from Angola to Ghana, including piracy, people and drug smuggling, and arms trafficking. This fuels onshore instability.

Illegal waste dumping, infrastructure maintenance and port security constitute major concerns for Africa’s oceans. Other threats come from boundary disputes and potential conflict over resources.

AFRICA’S marine environment is globally significant too, as much international shipping passes through our seas. Maritime schedules are worked out years in advance, so even a single incident of piracy, or the failure of just one port to prevent armed robbery, spreads ripples through the global economy.

Fortunately, African states and international organisations are paying increasing attention to maritime security, and there is serious international interest in African-led efforts to secure and develop their maritime domains.

However, the seas are huge. It’s a fantasy to imagine any African country can secure its maritime domain alone; not even the US is capable of that kind of control. The seas don’t have fences, fish don’t respect borders, and oil and gas deposits tend to straddle multiple territories. Criminals can easily cross boundaries to evade capture.

So the best chance of overcoming challenges and creating prosperity is through international co-operation.

The African Union’s (AU’s) Agenda 2063 sees the marine economy as a major contributor to growth, and the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy recognises the vast wealth creation potential of Africa’s oceans, lakes and rivers. Adopted in January last year, the strategy is an important step towards securing Africa’s maritime interests.

It covers fishing, oil and gas, security, piracy, pollution, biodiversity, transport and harbours; and calls for marine education and development of an African ship-building industry. It takes account of the potential of new marine industries such as aquaculture and offshore renewable energy.

It is intended as a framework for African maritime strategies and proposes, among other things, greater co-operation through the eventual establishment of a combined African maritime zone.

It also looks to capacity building in marine defence, scientific research, tourism, fisheries, maintenance and building of harbours, and, one day, a pan-African shipping fleet. There is also a large number of national and regional maritime strategies, and concerted international interest and support for African maritime security.

Maritime strategies adopted by West African and Southern African states are important building blocks which will contribute towards the effective implementation of the strategy. East Africa has a maritime strategy under development.

So, now we have strategies.

But we won’t protect our fish, stop pirates or build a maritime economy just by waving a strategy. Political will and resources are needed. Agreeing to the 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy was a vital first step, but governments must now prioritise and deliver, with strong leadership from the AU, and more investment in research, science and technology.

NAVAL capability in the Southern African Development Community is limited, and its maritime strategy is confidential despite being adopted in 2011. So SA takes the lead until other navies can build capacity.

There are moves in the right direction. SA, Mozambique and Tanzania have worked closely together in Operation Copper, aiming to create maritime security in the Mozambique Channel by deterring any attacks from Somali pirates.

Co-operation agreements have been signed to establish maritime domain awareness centres to share information in Mozambique and Tanzania, which could be linked with other centres in SA.

SA, Angola and Namibia are finalising an agreement on maritime co-operation, focusing on the Benguela current.

Mozambique is spending €200m on 30 French patrol ships, and South African-built offshore patrol vessels are due by 2018. Yet many African maritime strategies seem more like wish lists than practical plans.

SA’s Operation Phakisa represents efforts to profit from our position at the southern tip of Africa. It is a guide to what is possible; and SA’s experience could contain valuable lessons for other African countries.

Operation Phakisa, initiated in June last year and modelled on a Malaysian project, aims to create wealth and development by exploiting untapped maritime resources. It includes detailed plans for marine transport and manufacturing, offshore oil and gas exploration, aquaculture and marine protection, and ocean governance.

The announcement that 9-billion barrels of oil and 11-billion barrels’ equivalent of natural gas lie within SA’s exclusive economic zone is attracting the greatest interest. However, making a profit in such a capital-intensive sector without creating environmental harm will not be easy.

This has prompted the prominent role of the Department of Environmental Affairs in leading Operation Phakisa, which is reassuring. President Jacob Zuma has said these initiatives could see SA attain 5% growth target by 2019, create about one million maritime-related jobs, and add R177bn to SA’s gross domestic product by 2033. That’s worth going to sea for.

″ Walker is an Institute for Security Studies maritime security researcher

SOURCE: Business Day Live

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