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Africa Should Wake up to the Importance of an Integrated Maritime Strategy
8 October 2012

Annette Leijenaar,  Division Head Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, ISS Pretoria

There is an urgent need for African leaders to operationalise their maritime strategies through orchestrated implementation plans to ensure sustainable development and competitiveness in the Africa Maritime Domain (AMD). Despite numerous documents and strategies, including the draft African Union (AU) Africa Integrated Maritime (AIM) strategy, considered last week in Addis Ababa, Africa appears blind to the maritime domain`s importance to its development. More often than not it leaves others to profit from its vast adjoining oceans and rich resources. Stronger leadership from the AU, more investment in research, science and technology, and real commitment from African countries are needed for us to go beyond the mere adoption of resolutions and policies.

Strategically located between emerging Asia to the east and developing South America to the west, the continent is dependent upon ship-borne cargo while millions of Africans depend upon fishing for daily sustenance. Altogether, 38 of Africa`s 54 countries are either coastal or island states with a coastal line of 26 000 nautical miles. The continent boasts more than 100 ports, of which 52 handle containers and numerous forms of cargo. Despite this, no single port in Africa ranks among the 70 most productive in the world and many, such as Mombasa, operate at below-optimal capacity.

Like the rest of the world, more than 90% of Africa`s imports and exports are carried by sea. If one includes the illegal market in military arms and logged forest products, Africa has a maritime economy estimated at US$1 trillion a year, representing 90% of its overall commerce. However, African-owned ships account for less than 1,2% of the world`s shipping and only 9% by gross tonnage.

The consequences of this lack of attention are astounding. Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is estimated to cost sub-Saharan Africa approximately US$1 billion a year; Somalia-based piracy came at a price of between US$6,6 and US$6,9 billion in 2011. This is more than 110% of the Somali annual GDP. And it is estimated that 50-60 tons of cocaine move through West Africa to Europe every year, much of it moved by sea from places such as Colombia. In addition billions worth of maritime oil is stolen from and thousands of litres of hazardous waste material is illegally dumped in African oceans and seas.

Clearly African states have not achieved the expectations that came with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC) after the third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) of 1970. The LOSC came in force in 1994 and its preamble states that it will ‘promote the peaceful uses of the seas and oceans` and contribute to the ‘realization of a just and equitable international economic order`. This is not due to the absence of grand plans and lots of hot air. The list of policy efforts is a long one, including the Maritime Transport Charter and Plan of Action that was adopted by AU maritime transport ministers in 2009; the draft AIM strategy discussed in Addis Ababa from 1 to 3 October; the Djibouti Code of Conduct that came into effect after the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) initiative in 2009 to deal with piracy; the SADC Maritime Security Strategy of 2011; the ECCAS Maritime Safety and Security Strategy of 2008; the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) agreements to enhance safety and maritime security in the eastern Atlantic Ocean; and the integrated maritime strategy currently under preparation for ECOWAS. Africa remains the continent that suffers most from illegal and unregulated fishing, maritime terrorism, piracy and armed robbery at sea, poor legal and regulatory maritime regimes, illegal drugs, arms and human trafficking, a lack of effective communication and other technological maritime requirements, and last but not least, unsuitable ships and ports.

The LOSC provides broad principles and guidelines, whereas national, regional and continental legislation is required to exercise the rights of the LOSC. Many African countries have not developed the judicial frameworks for the implementation of its provisions. The majority of African countries are unable to pursue ocean governance measures due to a lack of ocean policies. Due to resource limitations, such as the lack of maritime air surveillance and satellite imagery, it is also impossible for African countries to monitor the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of up to 200 nautical miles.

Clearly Africa`s maritime security structures are misaligned with the challenges posed and our capabilities poorly match the requirements, as these often reflect a mix of design and suitability based on the international purchases and donations on which Africa remains dependent. Only five countries in Africa have navies that are defined as coast guards. Maritime security and policing management is an inter-departmental/agency function that is extremely difficult to coordinate and achieve. Among others it requires good governance, an industrial infrastructure, technological competence, effective information sharing mechanisms and political commitment. Few African countries, if any, meet these requirements.

What is required then to ensure that Africa will constructively ‘promote the peaceful use of the seas and oceans` that surround it, to the optimal benefit of its people? The first is leadership. Our oceans do not respect man-made borders and the solution to the monitoring and implementation of effective responses to these challenges must necessarily start at the regional level. Hence the AU needs to assume leadership and give organisational effect by establishing a unit with dedicated leadership to drive its proposed integrated maritime strategy and allocate specialised resources. The key requirements here are coordination, collaboration, information sharing and capacity building to increase maritime wealth creation for Africa. 

What we need is effective maritime legislation, the establishment of a combined exclusive maritime zone, good governance, education and training, ports and harbour management, maritime scientific research, inclusion of the private sector in developments, risk management, maritime defence and security, tourism, establishment of regional maritime early warning centres, common fisheries policies and a naval component within the ASF. To achieve this the AU will need to ensure the support of the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, the IMO, the World Bank, international non-governmental organisations, regional economic communities and academic institutions, as well as private companies such as Maersk that have a vested interest in the successful management of the AMD.

What should the next step be? The first is simply gathering information, because very little is really known of what is going on in African waters and the information that is available is dispersed among various agencies, donors, NGOs and national governments. In this regard Africa and its international partners should focus their efforts on the establishment of maritime information and research centres and invest in academic institutions that can provide critical analytical input. At the same time a truly massive effort is required to educate and create an awareness of the extent to which ours is a maritime continent, dependent upon shared care of the surrounding oceans that feed us, allow us to transport our goods and provide pleasure and sustenance.

As former South African president Nelson Mandela said in an address in Cape Town in 1998, ‘Africa`s long and beautiful coasts and the abundance of marine resources can contribute to providing economic, food and environmental security for the continent. These coastal and marine resources, like the rest of Africa`s environmental resources, continue to be exploited in a manner that does not benefit Africa and her people. This is a paradox of a people dying from hunger, starvation and poverty when they are potentially so rich and well endowed.`  

 

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