Spotlight: pointing to blue on the African map


The economic potential and security risk from Africa’s oceans is moving into the mainstream of continental policy and planning, with technical support and guidance from the ISS.

Africa’s 30 500 km coastline and enormous maritime domain are abundant with the food and energy resources countries need to develop. The coast is ripe for infrastructure and tourism development. But it all needs protecting as a sustainable source of future prosperity.

‘For years the blue on African maps was the preserve of foreign navies, ignored by African leaders and exploited illegally by foreign vessels,’ says ISS maritime security senior researcher Tim Walker. What happens at sea is not visible to voters or to policy makers on land, so was not an African priority. That is changing, says Walker.

The ISS now helps to coordinate the technical expertise and planning focus of the African Union (AU) to implement Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy (AIMS 2050). The strategy is an innovative document that has to date lacked leadership backing and capacity to take the  next steps.

‘Great economies are built on healthy trading relationships, and at least 90% of African imports and exports move by sea,’ Walker says. ‘The ISS is showing how a secure and prosperous marine economy can enable the continent to achieve its social and development aims.’

Maritime growth which is well integrated with land infrastructure provides multiple spin-off benefits in jobs, logistics and skills development. And because neither fish nor pirates respect international boundaries, maritime policies are by their nature cooperative and transnational.

‘Harnessing Africa’s maritime potential requires international cooperation, development of navies and port infrastructure, dedicated research and new skills,’ Walker says.

ISS research frames the maritime debate and the ISS is consulted by the UN, AU and regional bodies

The ISS has become a vital resource for Africans and international partners seeking to build the blue economy. Its authoritative research is framing the maritime debate, and the ISS is consulted by the UN, AU and regional bodies at the highest level.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) sees the ISS as a vital partner on the continent, and this is one of the ways the ISS is bringing Africa’s once-marginalised voice into international maritime discussions.

Walker is also guiding defence attaches in Addis Ababa on their engagement with the AU, and is setting up a collaborative AU maritime working group to help officials tasked with implementing AIMS 2050 and other maritime codes and charters. Diplomats and AU officials welcome Walker’s briefings on maritime law and IMO regulations. ‘We’ve become well known for our maritime security research and are well positioned to give policy advice,’ he says. 

The ISS is also working closely with South Africa’s transport, environment and international relations departments. With South Africa as current chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Walker is seizing the moment to put the African maritime agenda on the global stage.

‘Maritime security is key to maritime prosperity,’ says Walker, who is familiar with most of Africa’s 38 coastal states and attends senior leadership seminars by the US Naval War College. He was a presenter at recent US-funded naval exercises off Africa’s east coast, where African sailors worked with international crews to build the continent’s seaborne strategy and defences. The aim is to see greater African control and governance over African waters and the sustainable development of ocean resources.

Walker is working with East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to implement a regional maritime security strategy. The initiative is part of a formal ISS-IGAD collaboration to develop African maritime security governance. The ISS also runs events to build maritime awareness and capacity among IGAD member states.

For more information contact:

Timothy Walker, ISS: +27 72 689 5825;

Picture: Jacqueline Cochrane/ISS

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